Orlando Magic Third Quarter MVP: Aaron Gordon

Aaron Gordon has had a hard time getting himself going this season. But the Orlando Magic forward has started to realize his full potential. (Photo by Harry Aaron/Getty Images)
Aaron Gordon has had a hard time getting himself going this season. But the Orlando Magic forward has started to realize his full potential. (Photo by Harry Aaron/Getty Images) /

Aaron Gordon’s dunk contest performance will be one of the hallmarks of this Orlando Magic season. But Gordon also began taking a leap in his own game.

The highlights of a difficult and frustrating third quarter of the Orlando Magic’s season did not happen during the course of the schedule. It was not even a win.

It was the empty feeling of again doing everything they could to win and being left at the altar through no fault of their own.

Aaron Gordon put on another show for the All-Star Weekend crowd at the Dunk Contest. He leaped over Tacko Fall, spun around in a 360, catching and cupping the ball in one hand in one motion, displayed his power and leaping ability over and over again. Aaron Gordon picked up five 50s among his six dunks at the Dunk Contest.

Derrick Jones Jr. took home the trophy, but the public seemed to believe Aaron Gordon was the winner. He was once again “The People’s Champ.”

And the level of his annoyance from holding this honorific was clear when he sat down at the podium and Chicago and said, “What are we doing here?”

Gordon might have won the public, but he wanted the trophy. He wanted to join all the great leapers.

But just as quickly as the shock of that moment came, it was time to move on. He retired from the Dunk Contest after the showing and promised he’d be back. Maybe for the 3-Point Contest, but really his goal was to play on Sunday from now on. No more Saturday trips to All-Star Weekend, he wanted the big show.

That was what Gordon wanted at the beginning of the season. That is what everyone hoped for him at the beginning of the season. If the Magic were going to make a leap into the upper tiers of the Eastern Conference, it was going to be because Gordon made a leap in his game.

That leap never really came. Until now, it seems.

Gordon has started to come around and show that star potential. The athletic pieces that nobody seemed to know what to do with are starting to find direction again. And the Magic are a significantly better team.

Gordon was not the leading scorer, nor the leading rebounder nor the leading assists player in the third quarter of the season. It is hard to say he was the best the Magic could offer.

But in some respects, their two most consistent players — Nikola Vucevic (20.2 points per game, 10.3 rebounds per game and 49.0-percent shooting) and Evan Fournier (18.3 points per game, 40.8-percent shooting from deep) — are what they are. The Magic lost even with those two players producing at fairly high levels.

The team did not start picking up steam again until Gordon picked up steam. Pair that with his All-Star Weekend performance, a huge narrative and publicity moment for a franchise that largely toils in national obscurity, and Gordon becomes the clear choice for this quarter’s MVP.

Gordon averaged 16.3 points per game, 7.6 rebounds per game and 4.9 assists per game. He did this while shooting 46.0 percent from the floor and 38.0 percent from deep. He has seemingly come out of his shooting slump which has allowed for the rest of his game to grow and develop at a quick pace.

The third quarter of the season saw the Magic struggle mightily. They ended the first half of the season on the high of beating the Los Angeles Lakers on the road — Gordon scored 21 points and his 7 of 12 shots. But they struggled to build that into any forward momentum. In fact, Orlando has not really been the same since then.

The Magic lost nine of their next 11 games. Their defense has been in shambles since that point. They have struggled greatly to find their consistency in a part of the season that can be the dog days for some but also the part where teams really begin to separate themselves.

But the team finished with a solid closing kick. Orlando has won five of its past eight games. And Gordon was a big part of that turnaround.

In the last eight games, Gordon averaged 19.6 points per game, 9.6 rebounds per game and 6.9 assists per game. He shot 52.1 percent from the floor and 46.2 percent from beyond the arc.

It is a small sample size for sure, nobody is going to completely buy into this yet. But Gordon has seemingly elevated his game. He has reached that level the Magic always needed him to.

With the rest of the team struggling to put all the pieces together consistently. This run of play has been vital to maintaining the Magic’s place in the pecking order. And it will continue to do so.

Orlando has gone 7-12 in the third quarter of the season (the last game will play out Wednesday in Miami to start a four-game road trip, the last big road trip of the season for the team). The team has lost ground on fighting for sixth but remained in the race for seventh. They still have a comfortable margin for eighth.

At this point, the playoff race is the most important thing for the team. The rest of the season is about where the Magic finish, how the Magic grow and how they prepare for their second straight playoff role.

No one needs to go through this process again more than Gordon. Especially if this is him rounding his game into form. With Jonathan Isaac out likely for the rest of the year (there is still a small chance he returns), Aaron Gordon will have a big say in the team’s ultimate success.

It has been a difficult year overall for Gordon. Not anywhere near the season he wanted.

Injuries played a role for sure. He suffered a jaw injury in the preseason that slowed him down some. He sprained his ankle in November and missed three games. He came back too quickly and complained of ankle, Achilles and hamstring soreness throughout December and January.

Gordon happily reported he is feeling a lot better. And maybe that led to his sudden burst of inspired play.

Orlando Magic
Orlando Magic /

Orlando Magic

Gordon too struggled to find his place in the Magic’s new offensive landscape. They tried to put him in the post and it was only recently that things seemed to click for him. He seemingly tried to do too much, overdribbling and settling for mid-range shots.

A big part of Gordon’s season last year was understanding how to pick his spots and fill in gaps within the offense. This year, that balance was slightly out of balance. Gordon had not been able to get himself going or get the kind of shots that help him or his teammates.

Until this latest run.

Now the ball does not stick when he has hit. He makes quick moves toward the basket. He sets others up with pinpoint passes. And the Magic are doing everything they can to use him to set others up.

At long last, Gordon seems to be coming to the front.

This was the time of year last year when Gordon really started to come to the forefront. He was the best player for the team in last year’s playoffs. He will carry a lot of responsibility during the rest of the season.

Orlando will need Gordon to continue his strong run of play. That was the difference for the team in these last 20 games. It was not sustained (yet). But it was important.

Next. Orlando Magic must get back to defensive identity. dark

And ultimately Gordon’s narrative dominated the third quarter of the season.