POSTED: Jul 28, 2015 11:20 AM ET
The Magic's second-year forward had a productive stretch during Summer League in Orlando.
Nobody ever had questions about Aaron Gordon's body and athleticism being ready for the NBA. It was all those other little things: shooting, dribbling, being able to find his offense.
His rookie season became a virtual washout almost from the moment last November when Gordon fractured a bone in his left foot and missed two months. Despite the first double-double of his career in April, there was plenty of work to be done.
But it was a different, a more comfortable, a more confident Gordon who took the floor for the Magic at the Orlando Summer League and began to show why he was the No. 4 overall pick in the 2014 draft.
Gordon beat defenders off the dribble and finished with power dunks. He pulled up off the dribble and stroked jumpers like they were his calling card. He even nailed 3-pointers.
Put all those newfound skills together with the 6-foot-9, 230-pound body, explosive leaping ability and assorted athletic moves and Gordon is a candidate to make big strides next season.
"Last year there was a lot of being uncomfortable," Gordon said. "This year I'm a lot more comfortable. So it's easy for me."
The transformation was only "easy" because Gordon has logged countless hours of hard work inside the Magic practice gym at Amway Center and on the West Coast near his home in San Jose, Calif.
"A lot of people don't see the work that Aaron puts in," said Mario Elie, one of the new members of Scott Skiles' Orlando coaching staff. "When I first came here in June, he's in the gym working on his shot. I'm in the office all day. He'll go home and come back to work on his game again and I'm not surprised he was one of the top scorers in the Summer League.
"He's a young player who wants to be great. He has the right frame of mind, the right attitude," Elie said. "He's like a sponge. You tell him to do something, he goes out and does it. He can be a great leader for this young ball club. At 19 years old? This guy It's fantastic to see."
Payton Finds Gordon
Elfrid Payton finds Aaron Gordon who skies for the alley-oop dunk.
Gordon played power forward in his one college season at Arizona and then struggled when the Magic asked him to play small forward as a rookie. He was clearly nervous, constantly fidgeting and looking over his shoulder, almost lost each time he took the court a year ago in the 2014 Summer League.
Not being able to simply overpower defenders with brute strength at the rim, Gordon looked lost because he had no way to generate offense with his shot being so bad. The Magic hired shooting coach Dave Love to work with him and the results over the course of an entire year are now showing.
The difference in 12 months?
"Night and day," Gordon said. "I feel like I can pretty much control what I want to do on offense. I have a lot more improvement to go and it's just one day at a time. But I just have to stay focused.''
Even with the trade of Mo Harkless to Portland, the Magic still have a cupboard bursting with small forwards, including Tobias Harris, Evan Fournier, Devyn Marble and this year's first-round draft pick Mario Hezonja, who already comes with a full resume of pro experience in Europe. So Gordon is likely to get more minutes back where he's most comfortable at power forward.
Gordon Spins and Hits
Aaron Gordon spins baseline and hits the pretty floater.
"Last year I did play some 3 and 4 and I bounced back and forth and it was difficult for me just being a rookie," Gordon said. "There were all the different sets, the different defenses and I tried to step up to that challenge. I worked it out throughout the whole season, so now I'm ready to play either position."
Monte Mathis, another Magic assistant, spent a decade in Dallas and likened Gordon's dedication to perennial All-Star Dirk Nowitzki.
"His work ethic is one of the best that I've seen and I've been around Dirk Nowitzki for 10 years," Mathis said. "And that kid puts in the time and that's why he's going to get better and better.
"There's a learning curve in the NBA, especially at his position," Mathis said. "He played a lot of 4 in college, so he's learning to put the ball on the floor, learning when to drive, learning to shoot. It's something that's going to keep coming for him because he just keeps working at it."
Gordon was the second leading-scorer at 21.7 points per game in Summer League and led all rebounders (11.7). What's more, he shot the ball at a 50 percent clip from behind the 3-point line and looked almost silky smooth doing it.
After shining at Summer League, Gordon had a setback when he suffered a broken jaw while "horsing around" at home with his older brother Drew. He underwent surgery on July 14 and, according to the Magic, is expected to be ready for the start of the regular season.
More work, more challenges, more questions that Gordon is showing he's willing and capable to answer.
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