Orlando Magic: Don’t even think about letting Aaron Gordon walk

Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images
Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images /

The recently returned Aaron Gordon is a restricted free agent this summer, and the Orlando Magic would be mad not to match whatever offers come his way.

While the 2018 NBA All-Star weekend was full of festivities for the entire league, the Orlando Magic had to contend with the somewhat depressing fact that they had no players taking part in any event.

This was made even worse by the fact that Orlando’s former No. 2 overall pick, Victor Oladipo, had himself a solid outing in the Slam Dunk Contest and was a first time All-Star as well.

Aaron Gordon was supposed to be there for the team, again taking part in the Slam Dunk Contest. This is what he’s known best for by casual fans of the NBA — something else that is sad to highlight.

In any event the regular season has returned, and so too has Gordon. He posted nine points, five rebounds and five assists in a home loss to the New York Knicks.

Gordon initially looked good, but ultimately proved to be a little rusty in his first game back, the rumors have begun swirling recently that teams are going to look to pry him away this summer. According to Sean Deveney of Sporting News, the Dallas Mavericks, Phoenix Suns and Indiana Pacers could be potential suitors.

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The Magic absolutely should not let this happen. With some of the teams mentioned, the fact they’ll be able to throw a lot of money his way is concerning — even more so if the Pacers get involved.

Magic fans have been through a lot, but seeing Oladipo and Gordon excel on the same team would be hard to take.

It goes without saying that a lot of fans think Gordon should and will be re-signed by the Magic’s front office.

Yet there were quiet murmurs from some during his recent injured stretch that the team actually looked better without him.

Not that being better is the name of the game right now, but they did rattle off a three-game win streak, including a win over the Cleveland Cavaliers, and looked more fluid offensively.

It should come as no surprise then, that Gordon’s usage rating of 23.7 percent is a career high this season. However, the team needs him to make things happen with the ball often, as it just doesn’t have many other players who are improving at the rate Gordon is.

Yes his defensive rating of 109.9 is the worst mark of his career so far and he looks to be trying less on that end. This is concerning because he has a head coach in Frank Vogel who shouldn’t be letting him get away with that. Perhaps Gordon thinks his offensive strides allow him to take plays off defensively?

Regardless, these are the two key negatives he is bringing to the team right now — having the offense flow through him a lot and poor defending.

Given where this team is in its development however, can you really blame him? He is still only in his fourth year in the league, and this season has made the jump in many categories:

  • 18.2 points per game (career high)
  • 8.3 rebounds per game (career high)
  • Effective field goal percentage of 51.3 percent (career high)
  • Offensive rating of 106.5 (career high)
  • 35.1 percent 3-point shooting (career high, although less impressive than earlier in the season)
  • Player Efficiency Rating of 16.8 (career high, but still not much better than the league average of 15)
  • Leads team in minutes per game (33.8), as well as scoring

So really there is a lot to like about what Gordon is giving this team on a nightly basis. The concern is whether he is becoming an “empty stats” guy, in much the same way Nikola Vucevic has in Orlando.

That 3-point shooting percentage, which has regressed throughout the season (he led the league at one point early on) is still a real positive, however. Gordon shot only 27.1 percent from deep his rookie season, and his first two-plus years in the league it looked like he might never extend his range out that far.

The fact that he has, and is taking 5.8 attempts from distance per game, is great to see, with 39 percent of all Gordon’s points scored coming from 3-point shots this season. That is a dramatic improvement on the 23.1 percent from his rookie year, and even the 30.9 percent of last season.

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Really, most numbers point toward a player who is continuing to improve, and the Magic would be mad to let another team come in and take him away as he begins to reach his peak as a player.

From a wider perspective, the Magic should want to hold onto Gordon to pair him with what many hope will be a franchise-changing point guard that the team drafts in the lottery this summer.

There looks to be a couple of them, and having a marquee player in their frontline already established and committed to the team for the long-term would really help.

It is spoken about less, but the team also needs Gordon as a kind of insurance policy in case rookie Jonathan Isaac continues to pick up niggling injuries as he has all season.

He has looked really good in parts when he’s been on the court, but it has been actually getting him out there that has been the problem. Hopefully a stint in the G League can help.

The dream scenario would be having Gordon and Isaac up front, with an energetic big like Khem Birch and a new point guard leading the way.

Throw in whatever this team can hopefully get on the trade market for Vucevic and the playoffs seem within reach once more.

If, however, they let Gordon go and he blossoms elsewhere, and then Isaac has problems staying fit, then all of a sudden they’re back in the midst of a rebuild. Again.

Next: 2017-18 Week 19 NBA Power Rankings

For the short and long-term, the Orlando Magic need to do whatever they can to keep Aaron Gordon around this summer. He might not be the guy to bring them all the way back to relevance, but there’s no question with his continued improved play that he is going to be one of the key pieces that can get them there.