There was no denying when the Magic selected Aaron Gordon that his offense would be a major project. It was easily recognizable from his stats in college — 12.4 points per game, 49.5 percent field goal shooting, 42.2 percent free throw shooter. For someone who prided himself on getting to the basket, some of those numbers are a little alarming.
Gordon was the youngest player in the last draft class however. At 18 years old, he still has a lot of time to improve on his offensive game and continue to expand it.
There is the question about his position — is he a small forward or a power forward? Unlike point guard, that is not a position you can “fake” and grow into like Victor Oladipo. Size does play a role there.
The Summer League was not about finding a spot on the floor offensively for Aaron Gordon. That is a process that is going to take a whole lot longer to resolve. Injuries to Romero Osby and Dewayne Dedmon did not help as Gordon spent the entirety of practice playing small forward and then was suddenly thrust into playing the power forward position.
His averages of 7.8 points per game and 5.0 rebounds per game were not that impressive. Even more concerning was his 35.0 percent field goal shooting (14 for 40) and 0 for 10 shooting from beyond the arc. His stroke looked inconsistent and there were some ugly, ugly misses.
“I think he’s pressing a little bit,” assistant coach Wes Unseld, Jr. said during Summer League last week. “Some of that is nerves, some of that is probably feeling like he has to do too much. Letting him settle in and get a rhythm, it’s tough for him. With five practices, it is tough to really get a guy a steady diet. But he has got to learn how to play out of the flow. He’s going to defend for us, he’s going to rebound. When you get an opportunities to run and attack, take advantage of it.”
This does not take away from what Gordon can possibly do on the defensive end. But, you have to be able to account for yourself offensively. Teams will exploit Gordon’s struggles from the perimeter.
For now, that is where Gordon says he is most comfortable. He seems prepared to play wherever the Magic need him to, but it was relatively clear his preference is to be a small forward playing out on the perimeter.
So the Magic have to ask themselves entering this year and as they develop Gordon, where does he fit in the offense?
“It’s definitely tougher to get to the rim,” Gordon said of his first NBA experience. “It’s quicker, and you have to be more efficient with every move you make. You have to be lower with each dribble you take. You live and you learn. I know the vets on this team are behind me 100 percent. I’m going to stay confident and I’m going to keep doing what I’m doing.”
Gordon was great at drawing fouls at Arizona. He had a 47.1 percent free throw rate. Obviously, teams knew to foul him instead of letting him get to the basket where his athleticism around the rim was more evident.
As Kirk Goldsberry of Grantland notes, Gordon made just 23 percent of his midrange jumpers. There likely is not enough data to give much thought to Gordon’s efficiency from the right wing beyond the arc. It is clear though his key is getting to the basket.
That was an area Gordon struggled at in Summer League last week. He seemed to be stuck on the perimeter and unable to get by his defenders off the dribble. He would often over-dribble and get caught in traps. It felt like Gordon was over-thinking things a bit. He is still learning to use more than just his athleticism to beat players — although he is still probably the best athlete on the floor.
“I’ve got to come back and that’s what I got to do,” Gordon said. “Use my body to get people off balance and get to the rim and then everything else will come in, my jumper will start falling, everything like that. That’s what I got to base my game off of right now. I got away from it a little bit. I’ll make the necessary adjustments.”
There will be a lot of adjustments and work to come for Gordon. There will also be some adjustments for the coaching staff too as they figure out how to use him.
Obviously the best way to get Gordon going offensively is to get him out in transition where he can use his athleticism to score. Elfrid Payton said he can do a few things to help Gordon get easy touches. Transition is an easy way to do that, so too would be getting it in the post. Everyone is still learning exactly where Gordon is comfortable with the ball offensively.
One thing that was certain was that nobody is worried about how Gordon will progress throughout the summer. He will figure out a way to make things work. That is one of the reasons the Magic drafted him in the first place.
“Aaron Gordon is an intelligent individual who really understands and has the awareness, I think, to identify where his strengths lie and where the different areas of his game that need improvement lie,” Magic general manager Rob Hennigan said. “He’ll be the first to tell you that he needs to improve his free throw shooting and he’ll be the first to tell you he’s excited for the challenge of being able to do that.”
Wes Unseld, Jr., anticipated Gordon will be working on a lot this offseason. His ballhandling, his shooting, his ability to play off the ball. Those all need improvements, as they would for most rookies. Unseld is confident it will come.
What Summer League became for Gordon is the opportunity to establish a base and move forward from there. This was just his toe dipping into the pool of the NBA. He still has time before he gets thrown into the deep end.
My last thought for him was just think of this as a springboard,” Unseld, Jr., said. “You’ve established now a base and you know where you are right now at this point in the summer. You take that point and move forward, you know what you have to work on.”