It has been a frustrating year for Aaron Gordon. As the Orlando Magic gear up for the Playoffs, Gordon needs a strong showing.
The forward has made his name as a high-flying dunker. His exploits in the Dunk Contest are his claim to fame. But he has carved a solid career, taking all that raw talent and turning it into something.
But ask him about the Playoffs and the jovial Aaron Gordon gets a little more serious. His eyes widen and you can tell he is thinking back to an experience he is determined to get again.
His first playoff experience was a whirlwind.
He said Game 2 was his welcome to the Playoffs moment. After the Orlando Magic stole Game 1 from the Toronto Raptors, they came back in Game 2 and put the clamps on the Magic. The noise, as Gordon often says, was unlike anything he ever experienced.
The Raptors had a clear answer to slow down the Magic’s offense. They bottled up Nikola Vucevic and left everyone on the team feeling disappointed with their effort. Coach Steve Clifford said he was disappointed because he thought the team would be able to compete better after Game 5.
This season was as much about growth as some measure of redemption. The Magic got their taste of the playoffs and they wanted more.
Gordon said as much. Any public appearance where he was asked about his first playoff showing, he said that was the most intense basketball he ever experienced and he wanted more.
It was eye-opening for Gordon. And more than any other player, his showing was most encouraging. Gordon averaged 15.2 points per game on a 53.2-percent effective field goal percentage. While Kawhi Leonard still poured in bucket after bucket, Aaron Gordon rightfully got credit for slowing him down some. His defense was as good as it could be.
The lesson should have been Gordon was good and still expanding his potential. Entering the season everyone believed Gordon was due to make a leap.
But that has not happened. The most disappointing aspect of this season was how much Gordon regressed offensively.
It is for this reason that Gordon needs the playoffs more than anyone else. With the way he played heading into the hiatus after the All-Star Break, a strong finish and postseason are even more important for him to prove his place in the league once again. Let alone his place in this team’s future.
A strong finish could once again erase a lot of the frustration from this season.
Aaron Gordon’s frustrating season
Aaron Gordon’s season has not gone to plan. For the second straight year, his scoring is set to decrease and his 3-point shooting dove off a cliff after promising signs the last two seasons.
He is averaging 14.4 points per game while shooting a 47.9-percent effective field goal percentage. His rebounding, passing and defensive numbers all track the same. But Gordon’s struggles to shoot and expand his offense have hurt the team.
Injuries played some role. He got hurt early in the preseason and then got hurt in mid-November. He came back from that ankle injury too quickly and dealt with nagging issues in his ankle and hamstring through December and January.
It was only around the All-Star Break — and his breakout 2020 Dunk Contest performance — that he finally seemed healthy.
Gordon averaged 15.4 points, 9.1 rebounds and 6.8 assists per game while shooting a 51.4-percent effective field goal percentage. The Magic picked up their pace and started using Gordon closer to the basket, unlocking some of his playmaking and his efficiency.
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Orlando finally hit on something to get Gordon moving. As the league picks itself back up, Orlando wants to continue seeing this version of him.
The season’s hiatus could not have come at a worse time for Gordon. It felt like the Magic had finally found the best way to use him and get the most of his versatile talents and Gordon had finally found the rhythm to take advantage of all the opportunities in front of him.
Things could not have stopped at a worse time for him. But all the pressure still remains.
Aaron Gordon’s uncertain future
Undoubtedly, the Orlando Magic are also eager to see Aaron Gordon play and play well again. That would give them more bargaining leverage and perhaps an easier decision on what to do with the team’s future.
Just as Gordon was surely disappointed with his season to date, the Magic are too. They hoped to take the leap into the upper tier of the playoffs. Instead, they are fighting for Playoff scraps again.
They might be able to say injuries kept them from firmer playoff ground. But it is hard to think even with perfect health they would make up the six games to catch the Philadelphia 76ers and Indiana Pacers for sixth place.
Orlando wants more and the team should be thinking and looking for ways to get better.
A strong playoff showing, even under these circumstances, will be informative for the team to figure out exactly what it needs to look like to succeed on that level.
The Magic do not want to see the same struggles as last year repeat. And change is clearly on the horizon as Orlando looks to continue to grow.
That will undoubtedly put Gordon on the chopping block once again.
Playing him alongside Jonathan Isaac only adds more to the mystery and unknown of Aaron Gordon. There is still some hope they can play together. But the problems are certainly present. As is the idea that Gordon and Isaac duplicate each other’s skills too much and stand in their way.
And as good as Jonathan Isaac has been defensively, Aaron Gordon is still the most trusted defender on the team. He typically gets the first shot at the best perimeter player as Isaac can still be a bit jumpy and out of position despite his ability to recover and make plays. Gordon is much better at containing the ball.
As much as anyone, Gordon needs the Playoffs and to finish the season.
He needs it as much to prove that All-Star potential still exists within him — he is still only 24 years old, after all — as it is to get that Playoff experience once again.
Gordon described how special last year’s Playoff experience was on several occasions. He said the feeling in Game 2 when the Toronto Raptors came back at them was unlike anything he ever experienced.
Seeing just how far Gordon’s increased playmaking and pace could go and how he would look with Playoff experience behind him will help the Magic determine his future with the team. More than anybody, Gordon’s finish tot his season is valuable information the Magic have to have to make some bigger decisions beyond this year.
Everyone anticipates the beginning of the rest of the season soon.
Saturday’s public acknowledgment from the NBA that they have begun discussions with Disney about resuming the season at ESPN’s Wide World of Sports complex is the first clear sign the league will get back to work and restart its season.
Teams now have something very clearly to look forward to — although it still seems clear from listening to players like Jonathan Isaac speak that players are still in the dark on the finer details of the return plan.
There is still a lot to get to before training camps begin likely in June and the season kicks back in July.
A team like the Magic is somewhat caught in the middle. They are likely to make the playoffs and would be included in the resumption of the season. But the disappointment of this season is that they are not going to do much more. Orlando is likely a quick first-round exit for either the Toronto Raptors or Milwaukee Bucks.
There are undoubted benefits from finishing the season. While there will not be a playoff atmosphere when the playoffs begin, the preparation and process of playing in the postseason are vital to the team and its development.
Gordon needs it as much as anybody else.