Entering the season, no one knew what Aaron Gordon could be. He ended the season forcing the franchise to ask big questions about his future in a good way.
The first game of the season was an inauspicious beginning for Aaron Gordon.
He looked more like the same player from the years before. A jumpy, athletic forward who could get to the basket and score, but whose offensive game still lacked refinement. It seemed to start the season — 14 points on 4-for-13 shooting in that win against the Miami Heat — Gordon was much of the same player. Still lacking refinement and definition.
And, to be more of the same, Gordon suffered an injury in that game. It slowed him down some at the end of the game and kept him out of the Orlando Magic’s second game against the Brooklyn Nets and the following night against the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Gordon still had a lot of work to do it seemed. And the Magic’s future was in the balance. His future was in the balance.
That first game back from that minor ankle injury was the revelation — and the beginning of a complete change to Gordon and to his role on the team.
Gordon scored 41 points against the Nets at home, making big shots to help the Magic close out a tight game. He made all five of his 3-pointers and 14 of his 18 shots. It was an onslaught of scoring from Gordon. A surprising one. Gordon had never done anything like this before.
To see him follow that up with seven of his next games scoring 15 points or more and continue to put up strong shooting performances more consistently — not to mention his share of 30- and 40-point games the rest of the season. Gordon became a consistent fixture and feature in the Magic’s offense.
Gordon led the team in scoring most of the season, only ceding the scoring average title on the last days of the season.
More than anything, in a hopeless season, Gordon was the one beacon of hope. His surprising breakthrough production and the questions that now surround him for the franchise’s future is why Gordon is the 2018 Full Season MVP for the Orlando Magic.
It was definitely a strange season for Gordon. He finished the year averaging 17.6 points per game and 7.9 rebounds per game. Both career highs. Everything for Gordon seemed to be a career best. He was paving new ground for himself and his career.
It finally looked like this bundle of potential was taking a form. Gordon’s future seemed a whole lot clearer.
He shot out of the gates too, setting a tone for his season and resetting expectations.
In his first 25 games, Gordon averaged 18.5 points per game and shot 49.2 percent from the floor and 40.1 percent from beyond the arc. This was the Gordon everyone wants to remember from the season. This was the Gordon who was clearly the best player on the team and a potential All-Star.
To be sure, this is the Aaron Gordon his agent will be selling to Jeff Weltman and the other teams around the league. This is the Gordon of what could be. He clearly has a lot of development and growth to go.
As the season wore on, things changed for him, muddying the waters.
Gordon suffered a concussion and then a thigh contusion that kept him out for much of the second half of the season. As good as he was in his first 25 games, he struggled with this added attention at the end of the season. And things were worse in his final 19 games.
There, he still put up an impressive scoring total. One that focusing solely on raw numbers would be promising in itself at 16.0 points per game. But his field goal percentage and efficiency dropped dramatically. He shot 40.6 percent from the floor and 31.6 percent from beyond the arc.
Gordon seemed to try too hard to be the star. Or at least do what he thought a star was supposed to do. His usage went way up and it seemed like he dribbled around without much purpose rather than playing within the flow of the offense. The wheels were turning for him.
It is hard to tell if this was just growing pains or a signal of his ego or stature on the team. With the Magic’s issues for the last six years, it is hard not to think the team’s losing culture and bad habits have embedded into his game.
Those are big questions for the offseason. But we got to that point unexpectedly. No one was sure what Gordon’s value was entering the season. He simply had not put together a fully healthy season. It was unfortunate it took four years to get here.
But Gordon successfully made everyone ask very different questions about his career. This season was about him putting some definition on the potential he had shown through the early stages of his career.
Gordon did that and much more than anyone anticipated. If the Magic had maintained their hot start, Gordon very well could have been the Magic’s proxy All-Star representative. It was asking too much of a growing young player to carry the team all year. He clearly still has a lot to learn.
The Magic did not have the season they wanted. And the questions Gordon brought up might be franchise-changing questions for better or for worse. Gordon is asking the team to make a hefty investment in him. A bigger one than they likely thought they would make in October.
But Gordon did his work to put those questions on the table this season. He still has a long way to go and a lot of growth to get where he wants to be. And now where the team needs him to be.
Part of the season’s disappointment is that Gordon did not take more of a leap. That is the truth of the matter too.
Orlando got a lot from Gordon. They need even more. And it felt like Gordon was scratching the surface.
In a season that ended seemingly devoid of hope. In a season that is essentially the franchise hitting rock bottom, Gordon was one of the few bright spots. He was one of the few reasons to believe the team will be better moving forward.
For that, he deserves the moniker of the team’s MVP this season. He produced like it at least and should be someone the Magic invest in moving forward.