Orlando Magic forward Aaron Gordon can unlock his passing by keeping things simple

Aaron Gordon has taken on a larger playmaking role for the Orlando Magic since Markelle Fultz's injury. Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports
Aaron Gordon has taken on a larger playmaking role for the Orlando Magic since Markelle Fultz's injury. Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports /

Aaron Gordon is taking on a bigger playmaking role for the Orlando Magic now. They planned to use his passing anyway as they aimed to push the pace.

Aaron Gordon was not happy with how he played in Monday’s loss to the Milwaukee Bucks.

The Orlando Magic forward was a fish out of water with the way the team was forced to use him in this game and likely moving forward. But he still holds himself to a high standard.

While he tallied a season-high eight assists, he looked to the mark that tallied four turnovers. That was not something his team needed. And especially considering the Magic faded in the fourth quarter, giving up a 35-17 quarter to turn a close game with the Bucks into a blowout loss, Aaron Gordon felt like there was more he could have given.

"“I’ve got to cut down on some of the turnovers,” Gordon said after practice Thursday. “Some of the turnovers were not necessarily in the set of our offense. Coach said they were uncharacteristic turnovers from me. Just cut down on some of the turnovers basically. With the amount of usage I’m going to be having, that is basically the main focus is to take care of each possession and make sure I get a good shot.”"

Steve Clifford, usually full of tough love, was a little more forgiving of Aaron Gordon.

He said Gordon’s turnovers did not come in the half-court. They were more plays in transition where Gordon made bad reads. Even when the Bucks switched Jrue Holiday onto him, Steve Clifford said he was pleased with how Aaron Gordon got the team organized and into their offense.

He was a little tougher on his forward after Friday’s loss to the Boston Celtics. There Gordon had 17 points, three assists and two turnovers. Clifford said the team was less organized and less effective in the game with Gordon running the show.

Gordon bounced back with a better playmaking game Saturday against the Brooklyn Nets. With the responsibility to defend Kevin Durant, Aaron Gordon still tallied six assists against three turnovers.

It will be a work in progress. But to get the most of this opportunity, the Magic need Gordon to produce. And to put Gordon in the best place to succeed as a playmaker, they need to make sure he keeps things simple.

No one would fault Gordon too much for his turnovers. In that first game against the Bucks, one came because of a double team. another came on a bad transition play. The others were aggressive plays in the half-court trying to find teammates, perhaps making passes he was not ready to make.

The ambition was well taken.

But most of his assists in that game needed to be simple. Coming off simple pick-and-roll reads or rotations around the perimeter. It is still better when Gordon is not over-dribbling or trying to do too much with the ball.

"“We’re organized. I’ve watched a ton of film with him [Wednesday] and his first thing was I know I’m turning the ball over too much,” Clifford said after practice Thursday. “None of it was in the half-court. His turnovers were more playing ball. He’s putting a lot of pressure on himself to keep him organized. My other point to him was there is no better on-ball disruptive type guard than Jrue Holiday. Jure Holiday is an elite defender. Their adjustment the second time he was the point was to put Holiday on him and he was fine.”"

For sure, Gordon is in positions that are uncomfortable and unfamiliar to him.

But this is how things are going to have to be for the Magic for now. They are going to have to rely on their 6-foot-9 forward to handle the ball and initiate some offense. They are going to need him to be a point guard functionally.

That means he has to make plays off the dribble and in pick and rolls. He has to suck the defense in and find open shooters. It is something that he can do even with a little bit of flair as he gets more comfortable.

That wrap-around pass is certainly the exception. That same pass is what got him in trouble in Monday’s loss to the Bucks. But it shows the potential Gordon has as a playmaker.

The Magic have a 101.5 offensive rating with Gordon on the floor since Markelle Fultz’s injury.  That is not a strong offense at all. But the team has a 95.3 offensive rating with Gordon off the floor in that same time. The team has similar splits with Nikola Vucevic on and off the floor.

Gordon has had to take this role because of the injuries to Fultz and a host of others. They have had to put the ball in their best players’ hands more consistently. They have had to put the ball in his hands and rely on him to make plays for others.

Orlando Magic
Orlando Magic /

Orlando Magic

This was something the team has thought about doing even in the offseason. At the very least, the team wanted to leverage Gordon’s versatility and potential as a playmaker, something he showed in a triple-double just after the All-Star Break.

"“I think I’m pretty natural at it,” Gordon said of his passing in December before the season began. “I focused a lot more on shooting the ball. So guys have to continue to close out and I can continue to drive by. I think that sets up a lot of our offense too.“It’s about playing smart, making the right read and playing the game of basketball. It’s a good flow. When the guy is open in front of you, you hit him, whether it is in the post, finding people on the switch or in transition. It’s one thing for my team to trust me with the ball and another for me to take that trust and make the right play.”"

There was definitely room for improvement for Gordon, just as there is now.

Clifford hoped when the team was focused on improving its pace that they could use Gordon as an initiator in transition. Having someone who can get the ball off the glass and push the ball up the floor immediately is invaluable.

That is part of the versatility promise Gordon has always seemed to have. The Magic are trying to leverage that more.

They are certainly trying to do that more now that he is forced into the role.

But clearly, this is not Gordon’s most natural position or advantage. To find success in this area, Gordon has to keep things simple and let his natural talent and playmaking ability come out.

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Like with so many other things with Gordon, the more complicated they become, the bigger trouble he gets into.