Aaron Gordon Given Keys to Succeed From Magic

Feb 23, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Orlando Magic forward Aaron Gordon (00) examines his sneaker after it falls apart on the court during the second half against the Philadelphia 76ers at Wells Fargo Center. The Orlando Magic won 124-115. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 23, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Orlando Magic forward Aaron Gordon (00) examines his sneaker after it falls apart on the court during the second half against the Philadelphia 76ers at Wells Fargo Center. The Orlando Magic won 124-115. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports /

Aaron Gordon has been given the keys to succeed from the Orlando Magic.

The publicity from the 2016 NBA Verizon Slam Dunk Contest elevated Orlando Magic forward Aaron Gordon into the national spotlight that few players garner without putting up serious numbers. Having to predominately come off the bench to spell combo forward Tobias Harris, the aforementioned talent now won’t impede on Gordon’s ascension to prominence.

Orlando is focusing their efforts on the young and exciting core general manager Rob Hennigan has formulated through the draft. Dealing Harris to Detroit for salary relief and depth has opened up additional playing time for Orlando’s forwards, especially Gordon.

At a certain period, it was more appropriate to label Gordon a “combo forward”, due to entering the league without a discernible position. However, he’s become featured more at the 4 than any other position on the floor for head coach Scott Skiles this season.

Now that Harris is revving up for a playoff run in the Motor City, Gordon should soak up considerable minutes as Skiles’ diverse big man. He’s logged 28, 30 and 30 minutes, respectively, in his last three games and has contributed on both sides of the ball in the amplified role. Averaging 9.3 PPG, 11.0 RPG and 3.3 SPG, in his last three games (7.8 PPG, 6.4 RPG. 0.7 SPG on the season), the two-way impact Gordon has displayed has resulted in a 2-1 record after the All-Star break for the Magic.

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However, Orlando has given up 113.0 points per game total in their last three games. Gordon acknowledged the team’s inability to play consistent defense, leading up to their bout with Golden State tonight.

"“If we’re lazy like that, it’s not going to happen,” he said, per Brian Shmitz of the Orlando Sentinel. “We got to be more locked in. There were some mental lapses.”"

In addition, the Arizona product will have to diversify his offensive game in order to evolve into a high-end starter in the Association. Coming into the league, Gordon was labeled a possible reincarnation of Blake Griffin or a younger version of Shawn Marion. Based on his nearly two-year sample size, lets temper expectations on the athletic marvel.

The 6’9″, 220-pound 20-year-old’s build and style of play, at this stage of his career, is reminiscent of former Chicago Bulls power forward Tyrus Thomas‘. That isn’t a knock on Gordon’s ability, as Thomas started to progress into an NBA frontcourt starter in his third season, averaging 10.8 PPG, 6.4 RPG and posting a 104 DRtg (Defensive Rating).

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Gordon is probably going to have a stronger resume than Thomas as he enters his prime, but it’s promising that Hennigan has faith in his new starting power forward. In order for homegrown talent on rebuilding teams to contribute and grow, they need consistent minutes and be featured in the offensive game plan.

Orlando had that option with Victor Oladipo and Elfrid Payton occupying positions devoid of materialistic talent after shipping embattled center Dwight Howard to Los Angeles in 2012. Oladipo has been battling inconsistencies in his third season in the league, shooting just 41.4 percent from the floor and 33.7 percent from deep, but was handed the starting shooting guard gig, from the start, in 2013.

Payton, who was acquired via trade on draft day in 2014 from Philadelphia, also was immediately inserted into the starting lineup as a rookie last season. He’s yet to show the two-way ability he was projected to translate coming out of college in 2014 (10.7 PPG, 5.8 APG, 1.25 SPG), but Payton still has time to get acclimated offensively so that he’s not just labeled a defensive stopper throughout his career.

That’s where Gordon falls right now and what the Magic have prioritized throughout the last three drafts. Raw, athletic talent that needs seasoning in order to develop into competent offensive threats has been Hennigan’s trait of choice when making pivotal, franchise-altering selections. For the youth-laden Magic, maybe it is a positive to have guys that can literally jump out of their shoes.

Dunks and athleticism attract fans to games they might otherwise forego, but Gordon is more than just creative dunks and flashy substance. He’s loaded with athleticism that will carry his two-way game, even if he never finds the offensive spark.

Both Nerlens Noel and Gordon put on a dunking spectacle Tuesday night in Philadelphia, and Gordon carries similar traits to the Sixers’ defensive savant. Both are still limited offensively, using rubs on screens to find open looks or high percentage shots. Here, Gordon becomes a rim runner after realizing Payton is looking for an option to go to.

He’s a very intellectual player on both ends of the floor, despite lacking polish on both sides of the ball at just 20 and fueled by physical ability. The athleticism plays into his effectiveness in the paint rather than shooting jumpers — which he has yet to find consistency with.

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Gordon is shooting just 30.5 percent from deep, but will have to develop the perimeter game in order to complement the interior-oriented Nikola Vucevic. The Serbian also can space the floor, as a finesse big who is adept in the paint and venturing away from it on offense, but Gordon’s game will be synonymous with Harris’ based on the circumstances of capturing his gig.

Harris was the prototypical stretch-4 to pair with Vucevic. He could attack the basket, initiating contact, and have his opponent contest his perimeter looks. Gordon, currently, isn’t a capable jump shooting threat. He’s only making 34.4 percent of his catch and shoot attempts, and isn’t performing more admirably in his pull up shot attempts (33.3 percent).

It’s going to be a challenge for Gordon to replicate Harris’ offensive output, but he’s yet to fully tap into his offensive prowess. Gordon can make a living in the NBA as a lunchpail big offensively, who has put-backs and layups/dunks tie into most of his production. Checking out his shot chart this season, Gordon already is converting the easy looks near the basket.

Shotchart_1456382859749 /

Defensively, he’ll make Magic fans forget about Harris. Gordon has a plus-1.7 defensive box plus/minus, second on the team, which dwarfs Harris’ plus-0.5 he’s posted for both Orlando and Detroit in the 2015-16 season. Gordon also has the second-highest DRtg (103) on the Magic, which shouldn’t be a surprise to many. He entered the league with the ability to both block shots with vigor and pick-pocket both guards and bigs.

Gordon might not be putting up the desired numbers defensively (0.7 SPG, 0.7 BPG), but the third-year power forward has the physical traits to suggest he can pester defenders and make plays on the defensive end in the future.

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With a considerable amount of playing time on the menu for Gordon, he will get the necessary reps in order to blossom. He’s already one of the league’s most exciting players, now he can showcase the tools to become the next Matrix (Shawn Marion) in Orlando.