Aaron Gordon’s athleticism shines at the 4

Jan 6, 2017; Orlando, FL, USA; Orlando Magic forward Aaron Gordon (00) during the second half at Amway Center. Houston Rockets defeated the Houston Rockets 100-93. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 6, 2017; Orlando, FL, USA; Orlando Magic forward Aaron Gordon (00) during the second half at Amway Center. Houston Rockets defeated the Houston Rockets 100-93. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /

Is Aaron Gordon a three or a four? He has had much more success last season at the power forward slot than earlier this season at small forward, particularly on offense.

Since Frank Vogel’s arrival to Orlando last summer, the Orlando Magic made a decision to go big. They acquired Serge Ibaka to play next to Nikola Vucevic and Bismack Biyombo and doubled down on defending the paint from drivers. This pushed Aaron Gordon out to small forward, beginning an experiment to play the young forward on the perimeter more often.

The move had plenty of detractors, and rightfully so. Gordon was not an ace shooter and nobody knew if he could drive effectively enough to work out on the perimeter. His athleticism advantage dulled against other athletic wings.

The plan did not work out so well.

Gordon’s efficiency dropped playing largely at small forward. It seemed like the Magic misused that athleticism. He looked more normal trying to drive from the perimeter.

Gordon’s best asset was his powerful athleticism at the power forward position. He simply overwhelmed many with it as a young, growing player.

In the 2016 season, he shot 47 percent overall, a product of taking fewer 3-pointers and playing largely closer to the basket. This season, his numbers have dropped to 43 percent shooting. He has taken nearly twice as many threes this year (3.4 per game) as he did last year (1.8 per game). He relies more heavily on his jumper than on scoring in the paint.

Gordon has the athleticism and quickness to play the 3, but he does not have the shot to play it. That was the big thing the team learned.

As the Magic downsize, Gordon should have more opportunities to score and his athleticism should stand out more. Expect Gordon’s efficiency to get better while he is playing closer to the basket. His rebound rate also likely will go up too as he operates closer to the basket.

Gordon started back in his power forward spot during the team’s last two games against Portland Trail Blazers and the Atlanta Hawks. After the Magic crushed the Hawks in a 105-86 victory, Vogel noted that certain players — especially Aaron Gordon — have been playing in the wrong position for quite a while now.

Frank Vogel said after the game he felt Gordon is a better player at the power forward spot.

"“Everybody’s now in their right position, quite frankly,” Vogel said after the game. “I think Aaron being a four is better for him. He did well at the three defensively, but he’s better at the four.”"

Aaron Gordon also thinks playing the 4 helps the team space the floor and makes Magic’s offense run smoother.

"“The floor’s more spaced,” Gordon told the Orlando Sentinel. “I feel like we’re quicker. There’s a lot more room to operate on the offensive end.”"

During the Magic’s game against the Hawks, Gordon scored a basket when he cut to the rim and received a nice pass from Elfrid Payton and dunked the basketball. Gordon scored another basket when he set a perfect screen and then rolled to the basket and got the pass from Elfrid Payton, leading to a monster dunk.

These are the type of plays Aaron Gordon is really effective on offense. And these were the type of plays that were tougher to see when he was on the perimeter as a small forward.

Gordon’s ability to cut and work in the gaps of the defense off the ball were lost before.

Before the Magic traded Serge Ibaka, the Magic were too slow on offense. Now that Aaron Gordon is at power forward, this gives the Magic plenty of players on the court who are super athletic and fast. This really helps open up the floor for the Magic.

Gordon playing the 4 makes him more of a screen-and-roll player. He can operate effectively without the ball when he is playing closer to the basket. With Gordon’s leaping ability, he is the perfect player to throw lobs to in games. Defenses have to remain in contact with him to prevent these plays. And keep up with him in transition.

Gordon is also very good at beating his opponents off the dribble when going up against the bigger, usually slower, power forwards in the league. Whenever players like Paul Millsap, Al Horford, LaMarcus Aldridge and Blake Griffin defend Gordon, he is able to beat them off the dribble.

Orlando Magic
Orlando Magic /

Orlando Magic

More than that, those players have to respect and keep an eye on him lurking in the paint.

Gordon still needs to work on his ball handling and ball protection. It was a major weakness for him while he was playing small forward.

That does not mean that the Magic may not see Gordon playing the 3 ever again. Vogel still said Gordon’s perimeter defense at the 3 was valuable to the team. And the Magic are not about to give up using that skill.

Gordon could develop into a 3 if Magic’s shooting coach Dave Love helps Gordon work on his shot and Gordon spends another offseason work on his ball handling. But that seems a long way away still. And it may not be the reality for a modern NBA player.

For now, Gordon has found a home once again at the power forward spot. It has helped the Magic embrace their speed and athleticism again and created better spacing on the floor.

Next: Orlando Magic hope they can finally build momentum

It may have seemed obvious and it may have come too late, but the Magic are clearly better off with Gordon playing the 4 on offense.