Orlando Magic need post-All-Star-Break Aaron Gordon when season resumes

Aaron Gordon and the Orlando Magic were on the attack to defeat the Houston Rockets. (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images)
Aaron Gordon and the Orlando Magic were on the attack to defeat the Houston Rockets. (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images) /

Aaron Gordon is going to need to take his game to the next level once this year’s playoffs are ready to tip-off. And the Orlando Magic will need it.

Aaron Gordon has had a weird season, to say the least.

After an impressive playoff run, Aaron Gordon seemed ready to lake the leap. But because of lingering injuries since preseason, Gordon was never able to play consistently.

Gordon struggled offensively as he could not find a rhythm, seeing his shooting numbers nosedive. He did not take the leap everyone seemed to believe he was due for.

Then things suddenly flipped. After the All-Star Break, Gordon seemed rejuvenated. Whether it was his health finally coming around or the energy from an impressive showing at the Dunk Contest, Gordon picked up his play.

And the Magic picked up along with him.

Now that the season is going to resume, eyes are turning to Gordon. The questions of what version of Gordon is going to show up are rising as the team hopes to return to the Playoffs and improve on last year’s five-game finish.

Gordon will once again play a key role for the team and its potential success.

It is a last chance to reclaim the progression everyone expected from Gordon. And a last chance for the Magic to make the progress they hoped for from the beginning of the season.

Rise interrupted

After a seemingly steady rise throughout his career, Aaron Gordon has seen a drop in scoring average for the last two years.

This year, he is averaging just 14.4 points per game to go with a 47.9-percent effective field goal percentage. His shooting was worse only during his rookie year.

The Magic still put a lot of trust in Gordon. He is one of their best individual defenders. He still leads the team in minutes per game. But the offensive development did not seem to be coming.

That All-Star leap everyone hoped no longer seemed on the horizon.

But after the All-Star Break, Gordon played better and showed flashes of what he could be yet again. And this turn was as much a part of the Magic’s surge up the standings as anything else. The Magic seemed to find the best way to use Gordon as they increased their pace and took better advantage of his athleticism.

Since the All-Star Break, Gordon has averaged 15.4 points, 9.1 rebounds and an impressive 6.8 assists per game. That includes his first career triple-double against the Minnesota Timberwolves.

The Magic focused on working him closer to the basket. He has not hit his 3-pointers at a great rate — 25.8 percent from deep after the break — but is taking fewer of them — down to 3.4 per game from 4.0 per game before the break.

Then, in the plus/minus box score, he went up from a -3.9 to a 4.2 per game. Gordon is finding different ways to help the Magic win games.

Gordon can be a passer, and this game against the Memphis Grizzlies is a prime example of that.

Gordon could not find a rhythm. He scored eight points on 3-for-8 shooting for the game. But instead of forcing his shot, he continued to be a passer and move the ball.

By the end of the game, he had nine assists. This version of Gordon is dangerous because he can help his team in many different ways. This was a simple read and part of the Magic’s increased pace.

Orlando initiated its offense quickly and Gordon makes a decisive and difficult bounce pass to find Terrence Ross streaking to the basket.

Playing at a quicker pace clearly helped Gordon. It gave him more space and freedom to make these reads. It felt like a more natural fit.

Offense to defense

But his improvements after the break were not just limited to his offense.

While there is still lots of hope for Gordon to develop offensively and become a more consistent scorer, his defense is still his most useful skill. The Magic rely on Gordon to defend the best player on the other team and he is an anchor for the team’s identity.

The Magic’s defense has scuttled a bit since the break. But Gordon still gets down to defend and makes plays on that end.

Here, Gordon gets beat on the backdoor cut along the baseline. But he reacts quickly and gets the steal.

Aaron Gordon is not the defensive juggernaut that Jonathan Isaac is. Isaac can come over and make defensive plays after he makes mistakes. But Gordon too has the capability to make up for mistakes with his speed and athleticism.

That was on full display after the All-Star Break.

Since the all-star break, he is averaging 1.3 blocks and 1.3 steals per game from averaging 0.8 steals and 0.5 blocks per game. He has been more focused defensively and been active in the passing lanes.

Gordon has stepped up is game on both ends of the court, which raises all of the optimism that this is going to be the Gordon the Magic are going to get in the bubble.

Room to grow

With all of that being said, Aaron Gordon has still struggled to shoot the three since the All-Star Break. Gordon has shot 25.8 percent from three after the break. Gordon shot the ball well in February shooting 40 percent from three, but an abysmal 8.3 percent in March.

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Gordon needs to find consistency when it comes to his shooting. That is still the key to unlocking any of his offensive potential. And that will become even more important in the playoffs when teams focus on each team’s weakness.

The Magic have started using Gordon differently, trying to center his focus inside the paint. They have posted him up more and tried to have him work more in the paint. That has helped his efficiency and his scoring.

By increasing the pace too, the Magic get him on the move a lot more. That is where his athleticism really shines and he can put more pressure on the defense.

Coach Steve Clifford said he would make some adjustments to the team’s offense after studying the team’s games during the long hiatus. One change that is likely to be permanent is how the Magic used Gordon after the break and the pace the team played at.

But with no injuries being reported, it seems Gordon is healthy for the season’s restart. It is going to be important Gordon plays at the level he was before the season went into its stoppage.

Gordon is going to have the chance to prove he can be a star in this league.

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He played well in last year’s playoffs, and with the uncertainties of whether or not Isaac is going to be ready to play, Gordon is going to need to take his game to the next level once this year’s playoffs are ready to tip-off.