Orlando Magic coach Steve Clifford was asked what losing Aaron Gordon might mean to the team at the point guard position after watching him limp off the floor late in the third quarter of Sunday’s loss.
He quickly corrected the reporter and added that the loss would not just hurt the point guard rotation, where Aaron Gordon was filling in as the backup ball-handler following Markelle Fultz’s season-ending injury, it would also hurt the team’s power forward rotation.
Just like how losing Fultz seemingly knocked the Magic’s offense off-kilter and forced them to rethink a lot of the way they play, losing Gordon with all the other injuries the Magic have faced has seemingly knocked the keystone holding the Magic up once again.
The Orlando Magic will be without Aaron Gordon for the rest of the first half of the season, in all likelihood. The team again faces a daunting task to replace a key rotation player and stay afloat the rest of their season.
The Orlando Magic said an MRI confirmed Gordon suffered a high-grade sprain to his left ankle after rolling it in the third quarter of Sunday’s loss to the Toronto Raptors. The Magic say his return will depend on how he responds to treatment and that he will be out indefinitely.
The Athletic’s Shams Charania reports Gordon is expected to miss 4-6 weeks, probably taking him out of the lineup for the rest of the first half of the season and slating him to return after the All-Star Break, just a week before the NBA trade deadline.
To say the least, this is a major loss because of all the things Gordon is doing for the team and in the context of all the injuries the team has faced.
Gordon statistically was not having a strong season. He is averaging 13.8 points per game, 7.2 rebounds per game and 4.2 assists per game. It is the second straight year Gordon has seen his scoring decrease as he is shooting 42.7-percent from floor although his 3-point shooting has bumped up to 36.9-percent.
Since Fultz’s injury, Gordon was averaging 13.7 points, 7.3 rebounds and 5.9 assists per game. He shot 38.8-percent from the floor and 37.7-percent from the beyond the arc as he took on a bigger playmaking responsibility.
That experiment had its ups and downs, but he remained largely inconsistent. The Magic had the worst offense in the league since Jan. 6 when Fultz got hurt.
But at least it was a veteran player the team could trust to run the offense at least semi-functionally, even if it was not perfect. The Magic were desperately trying to stay afloat.
Since Fultz’s injury, the Magic have had a 102.3 offensive rating with Gordon on the floor, compared to 98.1 with him off the floor. The team has a -7.7 net rating with him on the floor compared to -20.1 off it.
It was not like Gordon was tearing things up, but the Magic were better with Gordon on the floor. That absence is going to be felt everywhere.
Having lost 11 of their past 13 games and already struggling, this injury and this absence for the next month is going to hit the team hard. Not unless Cole Anthony gets unleashed as the next great scoring point guard. There have not been many signs of that.
The Magic’s margin for error was already small this season. It felt like one injury to the wrong player could knock them off path.
But all these injuries? That is going to make it extremely hard to remain competitive on a night-to-night basis, let alone to win. Teams are already hounding and pressuring Nikola Vucevic, Evan Fournier and Terrence Ross, understanding those are the only real offensive options the Magic have.
But the team is already down several other key rotation players at positions Gordon played.
Jonathan Isaac has been out for the entire season with a torn ACL. Al-Farouq Aminu is still working his way back from a torn meniscus suffered in December 2019. And Chuma Okeke has been out since Dec. 31 with a bone bruise in his surgically repaired left knee.
Both Aminu and Okeke have been going through the non-contact portions of practice for several weeks now. Okeke was left off the Magic’s injury report on Monday and will be listed as available for Tuesday’s rematch with the Raptors.
That is at least a bit of good news to see the Magic’s rookie back on the floor.
The Magic have also been without Markelle Fultz with a torn ACL and without Michael Carter-Williams, who had a setback in his return from a sprained left foot. Their point guard and playmaking depth is also razor thin even with Gordon platooning at the position.
Okeke’s return will provide some respite for the Magic and a bit of stability to the frontcourt. But the Magic are obviously going to be cautious with Okeke and they are still going to face organization issues without an experienced point guard running the show.
The Magic’s season was already on the edge before this injury. Losing such a key player only increases the uncertainty and the likely inconsistency the team will face.
The team’s statistical profile was already one of the worst in the league and they have fallen to the fifth-worst record in the league, despite sitting one-half game out of the final spot in the play-in tournament. It is hard to see the Magic being able to stay competitive with Gordon missing so much time and with the schedule that lies ahead in the second half of the season.
Gordon will return though, hopefully after the All-Star Break ends at the latest. The Magic will try to stay afloat until then.
But things are indeed looking bleak. And Gordon’s injury almost certainly will make things worse.