Orlando Magic are a different team with this Aaron Gordon

Aaron Gordon's improvement as a passer and playmaker has unlocked a new level to his game and the Orlando Magic's game. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Aaron Gordon's improvement as a passer and playmaker has unlocked a new level to his game and the Orlando Magic's game. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images) /

Aaron Gordon recorded his first career triple-double as part of a solid string of all-around play. That makes Gordon and the Orlando Magic much more potent.

38. Final. 125. 86. 136

Ice was clearly strewn across the Orlando Magic locker room, quickly melting into the blue carpet trying to hide the devious act that had just been done before the media entered. Nobody was quite sure who started it or whether it was simply a spontaneous celebration.

But someone had to get dunked on.

Usually, it is Aaron Gordon doing the dunking on people. But as he entered the locker room after the game, the stream of water and ice was cascading on him. The Magic had reason to celebrate. And they have been waiting a long time to see this side of Aaron Gordon come out to prompt this celebration.

With Gordon recording his first career triple-double in a 136-125 win on a stat line of 17 points, 11 rebounds and 12 assists, Gordon seemingly made good on a skill set he had been hinting at for a long time. A complete game that could affect every facet of the team’s effort and the final result.

This is going beyond his scoring, always a point of contention and the glamour stat everyone turns to in the box score first. This was a player who as taking command of the game and becoming a true playmaker.

"“That’s what I’m looking to do,” Gordon said after Friday’s win. “I’m looking to distribute the ball and make the game easier for everyone else on the floor. They do the same for me. It works together and it works well. If we keep moving the ball and keep making the right play, numbers like that will come.”"

Gordon set the tone early with two assists on the Magic’s first three possessions. By the end of the first quarter, he had six points, five rebounds and five assists. He admitted to the media afterward that he had a feeling he was in for a big game.

But it has been a long stretch of play where Gordon has simplified his offensive attack and started filling up stat sheets. This is no Dunk Contest revenge narrative. Gordon has been on a tear for a while.

And it is his passing and all-around game that is changing the Magic’s offense completely — 113.0 points per 100 possessions in the last 10 games (11th in the league). It is this versatile play that is making the Magic a truly potent and dangerous team yet again.

In his last 10 games, Gordon is averaging 19.2 points per game, 9.6 rebounds per game and 6.1 assists per game. He is shooting 48.6 percent from the floor and 38.6 percent from beyond the arc. It is a major turnaround from some of the struggles he has had throughout the season.

"“He’s being efficient and he’s playmaking,” Evan Fournier said after Friday’s win. “As the 4, now that he is playing the 4, he is almost a second point guard because he is at the top of the key either with hand-offs or transferring the ball from one wing to the other. He has a huge role for us. We go to him in post-ups because he is going to pass the ball when somebody is open. We’re definitely better.”"

Gordon said the Achilles tendonitis issue that bugged him throughout December is largely gone. It does appear he is getting a better lift on his shot and is completely healthy. He probably would not have done the Dunk Contest if this was not the case. And that is translating on the floor.

Everyone had seen to this point Gordon be a solid scorer, albeit inconsistent. He had moments where he could dominate with his offense. And while finding the right balance for his offense is vital and as much a part of his turnaround, it is the development of this all-around game that matters more for him and the team.

Gordon has a ton of versatility and talent. Getting it all to come to the front while still allowing the offense to come to him is key.

He has only rarely shown flashes of this kind of passing. He has had 28 career games with six or more assists. Twenty-two of those games occurred in the last two years, showing this is a skill he has developed. But it is still rare to see this come out. He has 10 straight games with four or more assists, the second time he has had a run of four or more assists in five or more straight games (the other happened last December and January).

His passing has become so reliable Orlando is installing plays to cut off around him when he has the ball in the post. His 10th assist came from finding Terrence Ross cutting along the baseline for a tough reverse layup. It was perfect harmony between teammates.

When Gordon is playing this all-around game, he puts the team in a different place.

"“I think it adds another dimension to our team,” coach Steve Clifford said before Friday’s game. “As we go forward, you have to constantly look during the season that you can add to the offense.“I think it’s all coming together before him. It’s his defense. We’re getting out a little bit more in transition where he is very good in the open court. I’d say it’s a combination of all those things.”"

That analysis before the game was certainly prophetic Friday evening.

This stretch of games, especially considering the stakes for the Magic in the midst of the playoff chase after the All-Star Break, only adds to the importance of these wins and these performances.

This might very well be the best Gordon has played at any point in his still-young career. With all the expectations Gordon faced at the beginning of the season, things might be clicking for him to meet them.

Better late than never. But this is still at the heart of the mystery of Gordon’s career. And the question always remains whether such play is a new normal. What will Gordon do consistently?

Gordon has spent almost his entire career trying to figure out how best to use his athleticism. And there have been moments where he has had some delusions of grandeur and played a dribble-heavy isolation ball.

That is not how the Magic need or want him to play. And while he can indulge in that style on occasion, he is best playing as he did Friday night. He is best making quick decisions and staying on the attack rather than overdribbling and trying to force his way through the lane.

Gordon is better as a stick-and-move kind of player.

Last year, he tallied up several high assist games by being this utility tool for the team. He could do everything for the Magic and they relied on him to do a bit of everything through parts of the season.

Even though his scoring went down, he was much more efficient and kept the offense moving. He played the most minutes of any player on the team, showing Clifford’s trust in Gordon to lead the team in many ways.

Gordon has struggled to find that balance this year. But things seem to be clicking. And most importantly the team is starting to pick up wins as he picks up his play.

Gordon had a big individual night, but he cared more that it came in and was integral to a win.

"“I care more about the win than the stat every single day of the week,” Gordon said after Friday’s game. “We got the win. That means more than any number I could put up. Stats are only fulfilling if you win.”"

Grades: Orlando Magic 136, Minnesota Timberwolves 125. dark. Next

If Gordon keeps playing like this, there should be plenty more wins left this season. And plenty of more reasons to celebrate.