Gordon Displays Maturity Beyond His Years

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By John Denton
July 6, 2014

ORLANDO -- Not yet 19 years old, Aaron Gordon is the youngest player on the Orlando Magic’s roster, but he acts, speaks – and most importantly plays – like someone well beyond his years.

To hear Aaron tell it, brother Drew (now 23 years old) and sister Elizabeth (now 21 years old) deserve all the credit for his advanced maturity.

``I always wanted to hang out with them when I was younger. And to do that I had to not only act, but be more mature. If I didn’t do that I got left behind. So I learned maturity at a young age,’’ Gordon said.

As Gordon’s high-flying, one-handed snatch block shot showed in Saturday’s Summer League opener, Gordon has a grown-up game on the basketball court. The 6-foot-9, 220-pound forward went high into the air for K.J. McDaniels’ flip shot and rather than batting the ball 30 feet away, Gordon showed enough maturity to grab the shot and keep possession for the Magic.

``A lot of people swat it into the second row and it’s unnecessary. But if you can get it and go the other way, (do it),’’ Gordon analyzed.

But that’s the point where some of Gordon’s youthful enthusiasm shone through and overwhelmed his maturity. After snatching the shot out of the air to the sound of oohs and ahhhs, Gordon tried dribbling behind his back on the fastbreak to continue his own personal highlight only to get the ball stolen away for a turnover.

All in that one sequence from Orlando’s opener Magic fans got to see the breathtaking athleticism, the advanced maturity and the needed development that teenaged Gordon possesses. Even with the miscue off the block, Gordon made quite an impression on his Magic teammates and Summer League head coach Wes Unseld Jr.

``Sometimes you forget (Gordon’s age) because he’s mature beyond his years,’’ said Unseld Jr., whose Magic (1-0) are off on Sunday and play the Houston Rockets on Monday at 5 p.m. ``Him, (Elfrid Payton) and Devyn (Marble), you don’t think about how young they really are.’’

Gordon, Payton and Marble – Orlando’s haul from the NBA Draft – were all making their NBA debuts on Saturday. Gordon started and played 25 minutes, while Payton (18 minutes) and Marble (17 minutes) were used off the bench. Payton struggled with traps early in the game, resulting in four turnovers before he eventually recovered in time to finish with five assists and two points. Marble, a guard out of Iowa, confidently stroked two 3-pointers early in the game and finished with 13 points.

``Gordon, the fourth overall pick in last month’s NBA draft, overcame some early nerves on Saturday and showed some of the flash that made the Magic believe that he will be a franchise building block for years to come. Gordon scored his first NBA points on a fastbreak dunk, blew by Hollis Thompson for a steadying layup in the third quarter and then pump-faked Philadelphia center Nerlens Noel into the air for a game-sealing basket in the final 90 seconds of Orlando’s 83-77 victory.

But there was so ugliness to accompany the sizzle that came with Gordon’s NBA debut. Neither of his first two shots hit rim and his first free throw glanced off the backboard before missing badly. Gordon is a high-flyer around the rim, but his jump shot is still very much a work in progress.

``My shots weren’t dropping, but I shot the right shots,’’ Gordon said in another mature-beyond-his-years answer. ``I played good defense, we talked on defense and we won. I made some good passes and I’m happy. It felt good being out there and in my book that’s a win.’’

Magic guard Victor Oladipo, who is competing in the Summer League action even with his rookie season success a year ago, is also a player who has had to work hard to get his jump shot better. A year ago, it was Oladipo who was nervously making his NBA debut and he offered up some advice to Gordon during Saturday’s game. Oladipo marveled at Gordon’s blocked shot and later offered up words of encouragement to the rookie when he was struggling.

``When I saw him do (catch the ball on the blocked shot), it was kind of amazing,’’ Oladipo said excitedly. ``Now, we’ve just got to get him to slow down a little bit. He’s like I used to be, going 100 miles per hour. But (the blocked shot) was an amazing play. He made some big buckets for us going down the stretch. There was a possession where they cut the lead to six and he drove in and got a layup. That juiced us.’’

A native of San Jose, Calif., he attended the University of Arizona largely so that he could work with coach Sean Miller on his shooter, but he rarely attempted 3-point shots with the Wildcats. He did try two 3-pointers on Saturday and he shot both with confidence even though neither went in. Gordon shot the ball well last month when he was in Orlando to work out for the Magic prior to the draft, and he’s spent the past few months working to improve his perimeter shot.

``I’ve worked on the mechanics of the shot, making little tweaks and trying to make my shot more fluid. It’s just about repetition, repetition and repetition for me. I have to try to take the anxiety out of shooting,’’ Gordon said. ``I just shot until my arm got sore. There would be days when I would wake up and literally my shoulder was sore from getting up so many jumpers, but that kind of work will help me.’’

Whereas some might see Gordon’s age as a negative, Magic GM Rob Hennigan said that Gordon’s rare combination of maturity and youthfulness made him an obvious pick at No. 4. The Magic are confident that with Gordon’s off-the-charts athleticism, his smarts and his desire to work will make him a key cog in their organization for years to come.

Like most youngsters in the instant gratification age, Gordon wants to be great now. But he offered up a bit of perspective on Saturday when he mentioned that there is a lot of basketball to play over the coming season and that in time he will learn to go at a pace that will be the most beneficial to him.

Undoubtedly, there will be growing pains in the months ahead and times when he blocks a shot, tears up the floor while dribbling behind his back and loses the ball all together. But Gordon has already displayed the maturity to know how to learn from his mistakes and be better in the future.

``I got a little excited (after the blocked shot) and tried to push it, but you aren’t supposed to try and go behind the back in open court. I broke a Cardinal rule and that’s not a smart basketball play,’’ he said. ``It’s just about reading the pace and playing at my own pace. I want to play faster, but sometimes the game isn’t needed to play faster and sometimes I do need to slow down. It’s just about getting experience. With each game I am just going to get more experience under my belt and be better.’’