Aaron Gordon is still central to Orlando Magic’s present and future

Aaron Gordon has had an injury-filled season but has shown some promise yet again for the Orlando Magic. Mandatory Credit: Kathy Willens/Pool Photo-USA TODAY Sports
Aaron Gordon has had an injury-filled season but has shown some promise yet again for the Orlando Magic. Mandatory Credit: Kathy Willens/Pool Photo-USA TODAY Sports /

The last time the Orlando Magic saw Aaron Gordon, he was limping off the court after rolling his ankle in an early February game against the Toronto Raptors in Tampa.

The Magic were finally looking a bit healthier than before and finding their footing with Aaron Gordon running the backup point guard spot. The team was finally finding some stability and comfort.

Gordon severely sprained his ankle while trying to break a full-court press and immediately left the game. He was ruled out for at least a month and everyone figured it would be until at least the All-Star Break, if not longer.

Things would only get worse for the Magic.

About a week later, Cole Anthony would fracture a rib and the team would hit the lowest point of its injury-filled season. The Magic played several games with just eight healthy players. They had to start over seemingly from scratch.

Any progress they were making was seemingly slow going. And then it would start and restart with Evan Fournier going in and out of the lineup with back spasms.

Injuries have been the story for the Magic through the first half of the season. What the rest of the season brings and how the Magic plan for their future likely depends on them getting healthy again — both the long-term injuries and the short-term injuries.

Orlando is certainly waiting for the on-court returns of both Gordon and Anthony. They will give the team another couple of scoring options and will better set up their rotation and add some much-needed depth. If the Magic’s problem is mostly injuries getting two starter-level players back will be a big help.

But Gordon especially would be a big and welcomed return.

The Orlando Magic are waiting for the return of Aaron Gordon to add another level of depth and perhaps even another shooter. But also to plan the team’s future beyond this season.

So much of the Magic’s future — both the immediate and the long-term future — is wrapped up in Gordon and his promise. Gordon is still an essential player.

This has been a rough season for the 25-year-old forward. Any chance of taking a major step forward was derailed with the lingering hamstring issue that slowed him down early in the season. Then there was the ankle injury that arrived just as he was finding his rhythm and carving out a place in a new role.

This year, Gordon’s scoring average has decreased for the third straight year. He is averaging 13.8 points per game to go along with 7.2 rebounds per game.

Things were not all bad despite the decrease in scoring.

He was posting a 50.0-percent effective field goal percentage, thanks in large part to an improved 36.9-percent shooting from beyond the arc. He is hitting a 53.9-percent effective field goal percentage and 1.11 points per possession on spot-up opportunities this season. And he is hitting on 46.7-percent on catch-and-shoot 3-pointers, among the best marks in the league.

This has quietly been one of the better parts of Gordon’s game. According to Basketball-Index, Gordon is even starting to get a bit of 3-point gravity.

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  • The run at point guard also has him averaging a career-high 4.2 assists per game. He continues to show his versatility. In addition to the usually strong defense he plays — all of Gordon’s defensive numbers are in line with previous seasons.

    In his 14 previous games before the ankle injury, Gordon averaged 14.6 points per game, 7.6 rebounds and 5.3 assists per game while shooting 41.4-percent from beyond the arc and 41.7-percent overall. If anything, Gordon’s biggest struggle this year is his trying to score in the paint and work as a cutter. Those areas of his game have greatly decreased this year.

    But those are also areas that are probably most hampered by his lingering hamstring issue. That might be the part of his game that comes back last when he does return to the court from this ankle injury — with the attendant sharp cutting and movement that occurs in that part of anyone’s game.

    Even if Gordon never reaches the mythical star status the Magic have been hoping for from him for so long, the team just needs another scoring threat. Especially if his outside shooting continues to improve. Just having another potential threat with a little bit of gravity will help the Magic improve.

    Orlando has had some good offensive games since Gordon’s injury — the team has a 107.0 offensive rating (26th in the league) since Feb. 1 — but the team obviously still needs as many offensive weapons as it can get.

    Gordon’s mere presence will make the Magic a better team just by giving them another scoring option. The Magic have a 104.9 offensive rating with Gordon on the floor this year (about the team’s average through Jan. 31). So it is not like he makes that big of an impact. And the team’s offense has played better since that point.

    But more options always help. And the Magic could use all the help they can get.

    Everyone is certainly attuned to the trade deadline in a few weeks. And Gordon still figures to be the biggest trade chip the Magic have.

    Orlando is certainly weighing whether it makes sense to pair Aaron Gordon and Jonathan Isaac long-term. The fact that the team did not have this season to further explore it, hurts the team’s ability to plan. But there feels like a decision point to be had. And Gordon feels like the odd man out — especially considering his contract will expire at the end of the 2022 season.

    The Magic then do not have to trade Gordon at this year’s deadline or even in the offseason. There is still a bit of time. But the team needs to have a sense of what his worth is and what they can get back for him if the decision is to trade him. And that is hard to do with Gordon on the sideline.

    Orlando Magic
    Orlando Magic /

    Orlando Magic

    Certainly, when it comes to this year’s trade deadline, it will be almost impossible to trade Gordon if he does not return to the floor beforehand with a few games to play. A team is not going to look to acquire a new player mid-season without a sense of how the player will contribute immediately. Especially considering the short time left on Gordon’s contract.

    Orlando needs Gordon to play just to present a better product to potential suitors when that seemingly inevitable trade comes down.

    To be sure, Gordon is the biggest trade chip the Magic have. And what they get for him could have major impacts on how this team develops in the next several years.

    The goal right now is to get Gordon back on the court.

    It is not clearly publicly how close Gordon is to returning. He will certainly be back at some point during the second half of the season. His injury is most likely not season-ending. And the Magic will certainly want him to play.

    But like everything else the Magic may be more willing to take their time to make sure he is back healthy, sacrificing short-term wins for a long-term view of his health and for the team.

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    Gordon still plays a huge role. That much is abundantly clear. And the team is waiting for him to make his return.