Aaron Gordon must channel inner Paul George for Orlando Magic to succeed

Jan 2, 2016; Cleveland, OH, USA; Orlando Magic forward Aaron Gordon (00) brings the ball up court during the second quarter at Quicken Loans Arena. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 2, 2016; Cleveland, OH, USA; Orlando Magic forward Aaron Gordon (00) brings the ball up court during the second quarter at Quicken Loans Arena. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports /

The Orlando Magic are searching for a star and are hoping Aaron Gordon can take the next step. Much like Paul George did in his third year in the league.

Whichever way you look at it, Aaron Gordon is still the most exciting player on the Orlando Magic’s roster, despite this summer’s comings and goings. New additions Serge Ibaka and Bismack Biyombo are right up there. But, due to the fact he is as athletic and explosive as they come, Gordon remains the one to watch.

The only real problem is no one really knows exactly how high his ceiling may be.

One man who might have an idea is head coach Frank Vogel, who told Zach Lowe of ESPN earlier this week that he will be using Gordon in the same way as he did Paul George during his time with the Indiana Pacers:

"“If Serge Ibaka weren’t here, Aaron Gordon would be my power forward,” Vogel said. “But Serge is here. Aaron is going to be playing [small forward]. We are going to put the ball in his hands a lot. We’re going to use him like Paul George.”"

As Lowe points out, combining the two, along with Biyombo will make the Magic “huge and mobile”, something Vogel hopes will upset the small-ball revolution currently taking place in the NBA right now.

It certainly is an interesting move — going big when everyone else is going small. But Vogel did it in Indiana with a team that featured George Hill, Lance Stephenson, Paul George, David West and Roy Hibbert. And it looks as if he will be doing it again in Orlando.

The success of this experiment will be almost wholly reliant on Gordon’s ability to light it up on both ends of the floor, thus holding the whole thing together.

If the Magic’s second rebuild is going to take them back to the playoffs, Gordon is going to have to channel his inner Paul George.

Bizarre as that might sound, it is not beyond the realms of possibility. As, although George is largely considered a superstar today, he did not exactly enter the league as one.

In fact, he was considered by most as the kind of player most likely to add wing depth to a roster, perhaps getting more playing time later in his career.

George’s profile on NBADraft.net likened him to Scottie Pippen, but also described him as a “player most likely to be picked in the mid first round,” who “can fit in nicely with teams who have big men that frequently see double teams.” It was a fairly accurate prediction, as he was selected 10th overall in 2010 and flourished when Indiana added West and Hibbert to play alongside him.

He averaged 21 and 30 minutes per game in his first two years in the league, scoring 7.8 and 12.1 points respectively during that time. But in his third and fourth seasons George elevated his game dramatically, averaging 17.4 and 21.7 points per game in just more than 35 minutes.

1Paul George2011-12216629.7.440.385.510.8020.
2Aaron Gordon2015-16207823.9.473.296.509.6682.

Provided by Basketball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 7/28/2016.

The addition of the two bigs, along with increased ball-handling responsibilities and the trust of his coach, saw George pick up a couple of All Star appearances, appearances on the All-NBA Third team, one on the All-Defensive First Team and one on the All-Defensive Second Team. George also won the Most Improved Player award in 2013.

Magic fans would certainly take something similar from Gordon in the next couple of years, especially as the team is in desperate need of a star.

If Gordon can emulate George’s progression in that regard, he could become the home-grown lynchpin around which this roster shapes itself for years to come.

Of course though, one of the big concerns about Gordon’s game is still his shooting.

While Gordon’s jumper showed vast improvement during last season’s Summer League, he still averages less than 30 percent from 3-point territory and gets most of his looks in and around the paint. That said, he has shown a lot of confidence while training with team USA in recent weeks, spotting up for threes, knocking down Dirk Nowitzki-style turnaround jumpers from mid-range and, of course, finishing strong in the post and paint.

If he is able to do all these things on a regular basis in the NBA next season, Gordon could become the Paul George-eque Swiss army knife Orlando needs him to be. And there were some major positives to be taken from his 2016 campaign to suggest this can translate.

For instance, he showed major improvement from distance last year, making 34 percent of his field goal attempts from 10-16 feet from the basket (up from 10 percent in his rookie year) and 34 percent of his field goal attempts from 16-plus feet from the basket (up from 31 percent the previous year). His 3-point shooting also improved, as he went from shooting 27 percent in 2015 to shooting almost 30 percent this season.

It is important to remember Gordon did the majority of this while playing at the 4, surrounded by three perimeter players. As Lowe points out, he flourished there “as a hoppier and less refined version of Draymond Green; he finished better at the rim, drew more free throws, zipped canny passes and cut his turnovers.”

If Vogel’s insight is anything to go on, Gordon will be fulfilling an entirely different role next year, seeing a lot more of the ball while carrying the team on offense.

George was faced with a similar set of requirements in his third year and managed admirably, shooting 42 percent from the field and 36 percent from three en route to a 49-win season that saw the Pacers go on to lose the Eastern Conference Finals to the Miami Heat in seven games. It is important to remember George entered the league as a more effective offensive player though, who was comfortable playing on or off the ball.

On the plus side, Gordon possesses similar abilities on the defensive end, founded on the kind of length, athleticism and the ability to guard multiple positions that enabled George to make the likes of LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony look decidedly average back in the day. Of course, George did all that safe in the knowledge that West and Hibbert had his back, a luxury Gordon is yet to experience in the NBA.

With the rim protection Ibaka and Biyombo are going to provide, Gordon is likely to have a lot more fun and freedom on the defensive end next season. But for the new-look Magic to flourish, he is going to have to become a better all-rounder, taking the team by the horns and leading the way, just as George did for Indiana in 2013.

That is a lot of pressure for a man who is just 20 years old, but if he is able to follow a similar trajectory to George, getting the best out of his new teammates along the way, Gordon might just lead the Magic back to the postseason next year.

Next: Orlando Magic Daily Podcast: CARMELO Player Rankings

And if he does not succeed, Rob Hennigan may just have to trade in some of the length and blow the whole thing up again.