Orlando Magic 2017 Season Review: What Went Right — Aaron Gordon found a position

Nov 1, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Orlando Magic forward Aaron Gordon (00) dribbles past Philadelphia 76ers forward Richaun Holmes (22) during the first quarter at Wells Fargo Center. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 1, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Orlando Magic forward Aaron Gordon (00) dribbles past Philadelphia 76ers forward Richaun Holmes (22) during the first quarter at Wells Fargo Center. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports /

During the 2017 year, Aaron Gordon was lost a bit in the shuffle. That may seem to be a blip in his development as the Orlando Magic found his home position.

When the Orlando Magic surprised the NBA by taking Aaron Gordon with the fourth pick in the 2014 NBA Draft, the possibilities seemed endless.

Gordon was something of a blank slate. Here was a player with immense athleticism and skills that needed developing. He seemed to fit the versatile new reality of the NBA, able to defend and play on the perimeter as aptly as he could in the post.

There are countless stories of these freak athletes coming to the NBA and never truly defining themselves. That was part of the warning for the team as they came into his third season.

Injuries slowed down Gordon’s development — and would derail the end of his summer and start of training camp with a sprained ankle — but Gordon had never really defined himself and the player he could or would be.

His first two seasons, Gordon essentially split time at the forward positions. He and Tobias Harris switched seamlessly as Gordon tried to figure out the best way to fit in and grow his game. His skills were still poorly defined, other than a few glimpses of athleticism and jump shooting.

The 2017 season would be the time to define things. His team was ready to begin competing for the Playoffs seriously and Gordon would have to prove himself where his team needed him. Or pigeonholed him.

The Magic’s acquisition of Serge Ibaka and decision to play bigger lineups forced Gordon to play small forward full time. It was a risky move for the young player who had yet to prove himself anywhere, much less from beyond the arc or on the perimeter.

The Magic dutifully hyped up the decision in the face of all the skepticism.

Coach Frank Vogel touted his belief Gordon could become something like Paul George, a rangy athletic wing who could attack off the dribble and pull up quickly. There were hiccups expected, of course. Gordon was not George. But faith remained this experiment would work.

It did not.

Gordon struggled to shoot, making just 42.8 percent of his shots before the All-Star Break. He looked uncomfortable at times on the perimeter, unable to get past players off the dribble consistently. His 3-point shot was better at times, but still wildly inconsistent at 29.2 percent before the break.

The move to the perimeter seemed to neuter Gordon’s athleticism rather than unleash it. He was no longer near the basket to get rebounds and cause havoc for defenses.

He had his games where he scored and scored big. There were moments it looked like the experiment could work. But that seemed to be more his overall talent peaking through. Gordon had a good player (if not a transcendent one) in there. He just needed to be put in the right spot.

The Magic’s trade of Serge Ibaka before the All-Star Break and admission of defeat that going big was the wrong move, liberated Gordon.

After averaging 11.2 points per game and 4.6 rebounds per game before the All-Star Break, Gordon became a much different and much more effective player after the break. He averaged a much more stellar 16.4 points and 6.2 rebounds per game, shooting 50.3 percent from the floor.

At power forward, Gordon’s athleticism and versatility became much more pronounced. His on-ball skills were an advantage over opposing power forwards, who were slower and unable to keep up with his speed. Against small forwards, Gordon did not have these advantages consistently to beat his man one on one.

If there was one positive from Gordon’s season, it was the Magic firmly can answer the question: Aaron Gordon is a power forward.

Perhaps that was obvious beforehand. There were howls and warnings the Magic were playing Gordon out of position well before the season began.

Orlando Magic
Orlando Magic /

Orlando Magic

With this experiment completed, let there be no doubt the Magic are better off with Gordon at power forward. And Gordon is better off at this position too.

According to 82Games.com, Gordon posted an above-average 18.6 PER at power forward compared to the below-average 13.5 PER at small forward. Even defensively, he performed better at power forward.

If there was one thing gripping Gordon to the small forward spot it was his perimeter defense. That remains Gordon’s elite skill. And Vogel still tried to find ways to get Gordon defending the best perimeter player even after the switch permanent to power forward.

But that skill alone was not enough to hold Gordon at that spot. It could not. Gordon simply became a negative factor offensively most nights while playing on the perimeter. His matchup advantage was at the 4.

Vogel seemed willing to admit this when assessing the end of the season. He said on several occasions later in the year that it is clear Gordon is much more effective playing power forward.

The Magic being forced to play Gordon at the 3 was as much a sign of the poor fit that was evident in the Magic’s roster. It was clear the Magic, in trying to get the most out of their roster, were also not going to get the most out of several players on the roster.

Gordon was the biggest victim of this miscalculation. And, in many ways, he was the one player the Magic could not afford to miscalculate on. With Victor Oladipo gone, Gordon was the player with the most potential for growth.

Gordon took the whole thing in stride throughout the season. He seemed at least outwardly comfortable no matter where the Magic put him and eager to do what his team asked of him.

Much like when the Magic played Oladipo at point guard, the skills Gordon would gain trying to work off the perimeter will serve him well. They already seemed to when he switched full-time to power forward. Gordon showed a lot more confidence shooting off the dribble after the All-Star Break than he did before.

Another summer of work should only continue his improvement. The first half of this season will be a blip in his development.

Most importantly, Gordon will have an entire summer to work knowing exactly what his role will be next year. He will know exactly what his responsibilities will be and target his efforts to improve.

The Magic should now know exactly what Gordon can give them and how he can be effective. That will help guide their rebuilding this season.

Next: What Went Right: Going small

At last, Gordon has some definition moving forward.