Aaron Gordon’s next step is a big part of the Orlando Magic’s future

PHILADELPHIA, PA - FEBRUARY 24: Orlando Magic Forward Aaron Gordon (00) puts up a layup over Philadelphia 76ers Center Richaun Holmes (22) in the second half during the game between the Orlando Magic and Philadelphia 76ers on February 24, 2018 at Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, PA. (Photo by Kyle Ross/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
PHILADELPHIA, PA - FEBRUARY 24: Orlando Magic Forward Aaron Gordon (00) puts up a layup over Philadelphia 76ers Center Richaun Holmes (22) in the second half during the game between the Orlando Magic and Philadelphia 76ers on February 24, 2018 at Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, PA. (Photo by Kyle Ross/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images) /

The Orlando Magic resigned Aaron Gordon and entrusted him with a major part of the team’s future. How he develops will chart the team’s path.

Aaron Gordon has a buzz around him.

After averaging 17.6 points per game last season and setting career highs almost across the board, he seemed to have found his place in the NBA. At long last, the supreme athleticism that made him a national name at the Slam Dunk Contest had turned itself into true basketball skill. He was finally emerging.

It is easy to get wrapped up in the raw numbers and his age — just 23 years old — and see nothing but a bright future for him. Gerald Bourget of Hoops Habit named Gordon his player most likely to breakout this season.

Everyone believes Gordon can be an All-Star in the near future.

The expectations for Gordon are pretty high. There is a litany of things Gordon will have to do to get there. But his coach has the first idea.

As Aaron Gordon prepared to meet the media during the team’s media day last week, coach Steve Clifford standing nearby shouted, “All-Defensive First team.”

Clifford echoed that in his own comments about how Gordon takes the next step in his career.

"“I think the biggest thing for me is he is an All-Star caliber player,” Clifford said. “I think it starts on the defensive end now for him. He is 19 and 8 and if you become a good individual defender and a good team defender, he is an All-Star caliber player.”"

Gordon cracked a smile at this sentiment and agreed. A silent goal for Gordon and his next step in his growth, but by no means the only step he has left to take.

He arrived in Orlando saying he wanted to be an all-defensive team player but slowly strayed from that as the Magic tried to find him the right role. He said he still considers himself a two-way player in the end.

Last year, Gordon seemed to settle in a bit. He had a home in the lineup as the nominal power forward with some shooters around him. His own skill development helped with that. Gordon shooting 33.6 percent from beyond the arc was an important step for him.

With the way he finished the season, he can obviously do more. Defense is a part of that equation.

Gordon said in his discussions with Clifford that Clifford would note Gordon would get up for big games and big matchups against all-stars. He was trying to prove he was on their level. But that focus would wane in “lesser” matchups.

To take that next step as a player, Gordon has to set the example. To be an All-Star player, he has to be willing to play at a higher level every night.

"“To make everybody else better, that’s the mark of a great player,” Gordon said. “They make the people better around themselves. I am definitely going to look to make sure my teammates are happy and everybody is playing to the best of their abilities, getting to their spots and everybody is clicking.”"

There are a few areas where Gordon can do this. Defense is certainly one of them.

Gordon posted a 0.0 defensive box plus-minus, signaling a limited defensive impact. But he also had a 43.2 percent defended field goal percentage — an imperfect measure, but trailing only Terrence Ross among rotation players on the Magic last year. And his post defense, where he gave up 0.44 points per possession according to NBA.com, ranked him in the 97th percentile in the league).

Almost certainly, Gordon could have been better defensively. But he also clearly can make good on the immense defensive talent he has.

The next area is his passing.

As if to prove Clifford’s point some, one of Gordon’s most notable moments last year came in a pair of January games. Against the Milwaukee Bucks, Gordon scored 11 points on 4-for-18 shooting. In the late stages of that game, Gordon appeared to be forcing his offense trying to match Giannis Antetokounmpo.

The following game, Gordon again struggled from the floor — shooting 4 for 15. But he had seven assists and grabbed 10 rebounds, seemingly going out of his way to make passes.

No one would expect Gordon to flirt with a triple-double every night like he did that night. But he averaged 2.3 assists per game, another career high.

With Gordon, his playmaking is less about the number of assists he gets and learning when to pick his spots to score. His former coach Frank Vogel liked to say Gordon’s offense came best when it flowed naturally from the offense rather than when he forced things — 0.82 points per possession on 1.7 isolations per game last year.

Gordon had a strong offensive year. But it was piecemeal. He still has a lot to put together to continue growing with all of these elements involved.

"“He’s got to build on it,” Terrence Ross said. “You can’t let too many people talk to you about what they think you can become. You have to focus and lead. It’s easy to let things get to you. I think he has done a great job of that already.”"

Ross said he was impressed with Gordon’s maturity this offseason. He went from signing his new four-year, $76 million contract (that reportedly will pay him $21.6 million this year before declining) straight to the gym at UCF (the Amway Center practice court was getting refurbished) to get some shots up.

Orlando Magic
Orlando Magic /

Orlando Magic

Jeff Weltman said they were investing in the person as much as the player. And Gordon has always shown himself willing to work hard to get better.

But the true next step for Gordon has very little to do with his statistical output or the work he is putting in. The true next step for Gordon is about what his team does and how he helps them.

Wins will now be how Gordon and his career will get judged. That is the way things are supposed to be. And the next learning experience for Gordon will be finding out how he best fits in and leads a winning team.

"“At the end of the day, it comes down to winning,” D.J. Augustin said. “We all play for contracts, we all play for individual goals. Once you get those things it just comes down to winning. If you are on a team and you are doing all these things every year and you are not winning or making the playoffs and competing, no one is going to talk about. It comes down to winning for everybody. For AG, when we get over the hump and we finally make the Playoffs, it will solidify the type of player he is in this league.”"

No one doubts Gordon’s talent. No one doubts his potential or what he might become. There is tremendous faith in Gordon to continue pushing and developing his game to be better and better.

The advice he has received from so many players and coaches seems to remain — be yourself and keep working on your game.  But it also comes with that secondary warning: Nothing matters if you do not win with those numbers.

"“I feel like some people would feel the added pressure but I don’t,” Gordon said. “I am just going to go out and play the game that I love to play with the teammates that I love to play with. I know they will be there to help take the pressure off me and I will be there to take the pressure off them."

Gordon seems to understand part of this responsibility. He said he knows he sets the tempo and energy for the team. If his energy is low, everyone else’s will be low.

Orlando Magic Daily Roundtable: Training Days. dark. Next

That understanding will help him take the next step.