The Orlando Magic feature a balanced lineup that can compete with anyone. To take their next step, Aaron Gordon has to come to the front and star.
There are two competing narratives for the Orlando Magic for the upcoming 2020 season.
The first is that the Magic have an interesting roster of young players that still do not have a clear leader to grow around. Without a true young star to develop, the team has probably peaked as a difficult out but a team that is not due for anything more than a playoff cameo.
The second is that the team is ill-fitting, holding back its best stars and in need of a major overhaul. This current believes the team needs to make a major move to bring in that kind of a player. A true difference-maker on the perimeter.
It is clear by any measure the Magic are searching for a new star. Nikola Vucevic was an All-Star and can be again. But barring his becoming a Nikola Jokic-level passer, it is not likely Nikola Vucevic will take the leap into true stardom. There are still limitations to his game, even as he has worked to improve them.
But both of these issues dance around the biggest question facing the Magic perhaps. The same player.
Aaron Gordon is the player who provides the most potential for growth on the Magic. And for the Magic to take their next step as a team — winning a playoff series or competing for home-court advantage — Aaron Gordon is the one who has to take the star leap to get them there.
He had a solid year last year, averaging 16.0 points per game, 7.4 rebounds per game and a career-high 3.7 assists per game. He shot 44.9 percent from the floor overall and 50.7 percent effective field goal percentage.
Gordon was more efficient and effective on the floor, an improved playmaker. Defensively, he rediscovered his passion and his energy. While his scoring numbers were down, he did whatever his team needed him to do.
He definitely took a backseat himself for the best of the team, eschewing some of the mega scoring games that brought hope for his development in 2018.
In that sense, he took a step back in 2019. He had fewer of those scoring outbursts.
But the season was overall a success for Gordon. His game grew in so many ways and he showed more maturity in his approach.
If in 2018, he was trying too hard to be the team’s leading scorer, averaging 14.9 field goal attempts and posting a 24.7 percent usage rate, then 2019 was him swinging more in the other direction. He was more conservative with when he tried to attack — averaging 13.4 field goal attempts per game and posting a 21.7 percent usage rate — and selective when he tried to take over.
With how the Magic were humming along, that was far less often. His scoring was more consistent with fewer games where he struggled to contribute anything offensively but also fewer games where he dominated the scoring.
It was a trade-off that worked for the Magic. The team made the playoffs with Gordon playing that supporting, gap-filling role.
That perhaps changed in the playoffs. The Magic were struggling offensively and needed that extra burst. Vucevic was not giving it. Gordon still seemed a bit hesitant to take over.
That was until Game 4. In a third-quarter outburst, Gordon kept the Magic in his game on his way to 25 points on 10-for-17 shooting. That light bulb seemed to switch on for him as he aggressively attacked the defense and found his spots.
The whole series was not this way of course. Kawhi Leonard is a formidable defender to go up again, but when Aaron Gordon put his mind to scoring, he was effective. It is fair to say Gordon was the Magic’s best player in the playoffs, averaging a team-high 15.2 points per game (still down from his regular-season average) and shooting a 53.2 percent effective field goal percentage.
Looking at those numbers — and largely his numbers throughout the playoffs — the Magic should have turned to him more to ease the pressure off Vucevic. Gordon took at least 15 field goal attempts in just one game — Game 4 — throughout the series.
Gordon perhaps blended into the background too much last year. Thre is a balance that he needs to find between searching for his own shot and being a good teammate. But he has clearly earned a closer look.
Orlando Magic Daily 1d - Orlando Magic have more than enough to make a push for the playoffs
More headlines around FanSided:1d - Wesley Iwundu is a sign of Orlando Magic's success and its failure 1d - NBA: One thing every team should be thankful for this Thanksgiving 2d - Orlando Magic should make their play for a star 2d - Evan Fournier is still very valuable to the Orlando Magic 2d - Where the Orlando Magic are headed after a quiet offseason
Gordon’s maturation will be one of the keys to the entire season. Everyone senses how much talent he has, but what nobody seems to have figured out is what his ultimate potential could be.
There is a current of national media who believe the Magic inevitably have to trade Aaron Gordon to fill out other parts of the roster and give Jonathan Isaac more space to develop. But the Magic are nowhere near a point where they should abandon the Jonathan Isaac/Aaron Gordon pairing. It showed enough promise and both are young enough that they can continue experimenting with the group.
There is no rush to move on from Gordon. Where there is a rush is in understanding just how much more his game can grow.
Those are the biggest questions facing Gordon.
In The Step Back’s ranking of the 25 best players under 25, Gordon came in at a disappointing No. 21. That was largely because his career has faced so many ups and downs already. Everyone wants to see some consistency from him and to prove that he can be more than an ace, versatile defender.
Every member of the Magic, including coach Steve Clifford, has talked about not being satisfied with last year’s playoff appearance. They all seem confident that they can put in the work to have an even bigger year.
But undoubtedly too, the key to having that better season is for a perimeter player to take a big leap. And no player can take a bigger leap than Gordon.
He is at the stage of his development where he either takes this leap or he remains the palyer he is today. He can still clearly improve, the question is just how much and just how far that can take this team.
He has already shown star potential but has not played at that high level consistently. The Magic want to take the leap and Gordon is the one who could take take that leap.
It is all because of the various skills Gordon has shown. But that star leap can come because he finds the right balance of scoring and playmaking and because he finds his footing defensively as a great two-way player.
Gordon’s potential is too great to ignore. And he is so close to figuring out how to put it all together.
Entering his sixth season — at just 24 years old — it is getting to the point where Gordon has to define his potential more clearly. It is getting to the point where if Gordon is going to take that star leap, he has to take it sooner than later.
For the Magic to take their next step, Gordon has to take that leap now. And this season will be a big part of Gordon’s ultimate development.