Orlando Magic Season Review: What Went Right — Aaron Gordon

Apr 6, 2016; Orlando, FL, USA; Orlando Magic forward Aaron Gordon (00) drives around Detroit Pistons forward Tobias Harris (34) during the second half of a basketball game at Amway Center. The Pistons won 108-104. Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 6, 2016; Orlando, FL, USA; Orlando Magic forward Aaron Gordon (00) drives around Detroit Pistons forward Tobias Harris (34) during the second half of a basketball game at Amway Center. The Pistons won 108-104. Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports /

Aaron Gordon emerged as possibly the Orlando Magic’s brightest star, and the future is only more brilliant if he continues to work at his game.

Aaron Gordon had a bit of a rough, paradoxical rookie season. He had flashes. But to call the forays of his first NBA season any more than flashes would really be pushing it.

Even so, a talent lurked in Gordon that would eventually be shown. It began to unravel in Summer League, which was by all accounts a dominant performance by the Magic’s 20-year-old forward.

He hit 6 of 12 from 3-point range in his games that week while leading it in rebounding. Granted, that is some high success against many fringe NBA talents, but that was the point many Magic fans started to suspect the Magic really have something in Gordon.

Most likely still expected too much, but Gordon hardly disappointed this year.

He began showing more than just flashes. There was sustained play. And then, all of a sudden, he burst onto the national scene with what might be the highlight of the Magic’s entire season.

Now, there are few disputing that Gordon has a place in the league.

After his impressive showing in the 2016 Slam Dunk Contest, the cat was pretty much out of the bag. League Pass viewers now watch Orlando in hopes of seeing some of Gordon’s dunk feats, and there is nothing wrong with being exciting or known for that one art.

Those that watch him though will realize something else: He is also really good.

He may be Orlando’s most untouchable player, given the disparity between his actual value and just how good he really can be.

There was initially some question as to whether he would be a 3 or a 4, but that matter seems mostly settled. Gordon thrives as a power forward using his speed and activity to disrupt a defense. He was a threat on the offensive boards, and he creates second-chance looks for the Magic.

Gordon makes the occasional jaw-dropping block or otherwise standout defensive play, and his athleticism alone should render him an elite, lockdown defender in time.

For now, there are still things for Gordon to improve.

He shot just 31 percent from 3-point range, which by many accounts was a solid benchmark, but nothing to rest his laurels on. Even as a stretch-4, ideally Gordon should knock down at least 36 percent.

That is within reach for him, and his form is hardly any cause for alarm.

His shot is mechanically sound, and while he may never be an elite shooter, Gordon can make teams respect him, and certainly can drive past players not balanced enough on their closeouts. That is really all that is needed if the Magic put at least a couple elite shooters on the wings.

Gordon averaged 13.9 points and 9.8 rebounds per-36 minutes this season while tallying 2.2 blocks/steals. Those figures could be reasonable expectations as his minutes climb next season.

As for this season, Gordon averaged 23.9 minutes per game in his 78 appearances, including 37 starts. But if he is a full-time starter he should see 30 minutes per game more regularly. Gordon averaged 28 minutes per game in his last 10 contests — and for that span, he posted 12.2 points, 7.2 rebounds, 2.1 assists and 1.5 blocks/steals per game.

Gordon still needs to add some things. His mid-range jump shot is notoriously poor. He shot just 34 percent from 3-10 feet and 34 percent from 10-16 feet. Those shot ranges combined account for just 19 percent of his field goal attempts, but if he can hone a more effective mid-range jumper it would be even easier to get to the basket. It is another weapon to add slowly to his repertoire of athleticism.

Gordon often settles for off-balance looks when he looks to maneuver in the paint, and he will have to learn some discipline to avoid some of the bad shots he still takes.

When he gets rolling and gets into the paint, he becomes a major threat though. And not just for his dunking.

Gordon finished 65.4 percent of his looks at the rim this year while also getting to the line 5.2 times per-100 possessions. Gordon had his eight- and nine-free throw nights, but overwhelmingly he became silent on offense and failed to really get his offensive game going.

Some of those disappearances can be directly traced to Orlando’s own dysfunction on offense, but Gordon was also one of the few guys who did show full energy and effort every night. He was always willing to run where he would be most dangerous.

There was never a sense he was leaving much on the floor.

Gordon overall saw a pretty important role on the Magic team. Following the trade of Tobias Harris, a bigger role opened up for Gordon (and for Evan Fournier).

His best performance came when Gordon had a 20-point, 16-rebound effort in the six-point loss to the Golden State Warriors at Oracle Arena. His energy kept Orlando in that game, and every time Golden State made a run, Gordon seemed to be there to counter with a dunk or a key offensive rebound. He played the 5-spot as Scott Skiles forced Golden State to play its own game.

The approach worked, as Orlando nearly walked away as rare victors in Oakland.

However, just after that game he came out and laid a five-point, four-rebound dud against the Los Angeles Lakers.

Remembering only the good guys do can paint an incongruous picture, but Gordon needs to assert himself as a top offensive option, and he has only done that in Summer League up until this point. Some of that is his own skills rounding into form. He is still not a strong driver and his best offense is still based on energy plays, cutting and getting out in transition.

He did score in double figures 38 times this season, but his field goal attempts need to rise from 7.4 per game to at least 12. Maybe that happens without any real resistance given the Magic’s current starless approach. Maybe that happens as he continues to improve and develop his jumper.

So what is the next step? Consistency. Greater assertiveness in searching for his own offense. Hitting the boards even harder still.

All of these things are within Gordon’s reach.

The chance is there for Gordon to be a special player and do a lot of “point-forward” work. There is every indication he will work hard and continue to learn. When that is happening a lot of things tend to go right.

Gordon made enough quality improvements this year that pretty much everyone agrees he is a starting NBA forward. The Magic will have a lot of decisions to make this summer, but a team would have to really wow general manager Rob Hennigan to the moon to consider parting ways with someone as gifted as Gordon.

It may be that the Magic really hit gold with that No. 4 overall pick in 2014, because at this point Gordon is as good as anyone in his class outside Andrew Wiggins. The Magic have to be pleased with that and his continued growth through 2016.

Next: What Went Wrong: Close Games

Not to mention the highlights and notoriety Gordon rightly gave them that Saturday night in Toronto.