Magic Love Rookies' Toughness and Intensity

By John Denton

June 27, 2014


Orlando Magic forward Aaron Gordon was about as blunt as a punch in the mouth on Friday when asked why he takes so much pride in being a fearless and scrappy defensive stopper.

``If somebody really can’t score on you, I think that’s what makes you better than them,’’ Gordon said while looking stone-faced and serious.

That short, yet very strong statement gives a glimpse into intensity and toughness that caused the Magic to fall in love with Gordon and ultimately select him with the No. 4 pick in Thursday’s NBA Draft.

Though he is still three months shy of his 19th birthday, Gordon exudes a supreme confidence, maturity and toughness about him that convinced the Magic that he is on a collision with greatness in the future. Throw in some off-the-charts athleticism and Gordon proved to be a rather easy pick for a Magic team looking to cull a dynamic piece from the draft.

``It was his heart, his intelligence, his humility and his skill – a conglomerate of things, really, that impressed us about him,’’ Magic GM Rob Hennigan said.

Hennigan was so convinced of the direction that the Magic needed to go in the draft that he disregarded all of the swirling trade rumors and chatter about other players and focused his attention on the 6-foot-9, 220-pound Gordon.
Stressed Hennigan: ``We targeted him and as we went through the process and, yeah, the night before the draft we were convinced he was the guy that we wanted.’’

Hennigan and Magic head coach Jacque Vaughn also felt strongly enough about the promise and toughness of Elfrid Payton that the team was willing to trade two future draft picks for the cat-quick point guard. The ability to put the two defensive-minded players on the floor with 7-footer Nikola Vucevic and long-armed wings Victor Oladipo and Maurice Harkless already excites Vaughn, who joked that he wished training camp practices opened tomorrow.

``I think you will see us having the ability to really fly around the court on both ends,’’ Vaughn said while smiling. ``We’re going to be able to be aggressive defensively and create a lot of havoc. And when you have the ability to get stops it allows you to get out and run and not have to play against set defenses. So I’m excited that we’re going to be able to run. Our roster is designed for us to play faster and really get up and down.’’

Gordon and Payton were joined by shooting guard Roy Devyn Marble, the 56th pick of the NBA Draft at Friday’s introductory press conference in Orlando. Shooting guard Evan Fornier, who was acquired from Denver on Thursday night for Arron Afflalo, is expected to be in Orlando next week for his physical.

Gordon and Payton already have a great deal of chemistry together from their time on the Team USA entry in the FIBA Under-19 Championships last summer in Prague. Gordon was the leading scorer on that team, while Payton overwhelmed foes with his quickness and his ability to hound the ball (2.33 steals a game). And the two often paired up in pre-draft workouts for other teams with some rousing success. Both pointed to a private workout for the Los Angeles Lakers where they teamed up and didn’t lose a game all day.

``There was this guard and I was like, `Who is this guy coming from Louisiana-Lafayette?’ There’s no way and he was just cooking and killing it on both ends of the court,’’ Gordon said of Payton from last summer. ``This dude is the real deal. Me and E didn’t even work out for Orlando together, but we worked out in other places and nobody could stop us. In all of the games that we played on the same team we probably lost twice. And interesting enough we ended up on the same team (in the NBA). I wouldn’t have picked anybody else in the draft to play with me.’’

Said Payton of his on-court kinship with Gordon: ``It was just pick-and-roll and Lob City for us. I’d break my man down and then drop the ball off to him. It was great, the chemistry that we had. It was nice, man.’’

Gordon displayed his workmanlike toughness and defensive grit as a freshman at the University Arizona when he averaged 12.4 points, 8.0 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 1.0 blocks a game. Advanced metrics showed that Gordon regularly held his opponent to a drastically lower shooting percentage in games because of his combination of size and athleticism.

``To play really good basketball, you’ve got to play both ends of the floor. That’s what we really believe,’’ Hennigan said. ``Any time that you can find players who truly compete at both ends and want to put forth the requisite effort to win, that’s a crucial element. And when we really started to analyze the draft and all of the players available, we wanted some hard-nosed dudes and guys who can get after some people. We feel like these three (Gordon, Payton and Roy Devyn Marble) certainly add to that quotient for us.’’

While Gordon features plenty of nastiness and a workmanlike attitude when it comes to his willingness to play defense, he also has a flashy side to him. He wore a neon blue suit to Thursday’s draft even though he said he had no clue that he’d be picked by the Magic.

On Friday, he donned a fitted cranberry-colored suit and he showed off his Magic jersey with the 00 number. A native of San Jose, Calif., Gordon contemplated wearing No. 32 in honor of Magic Johnson, but he decided against that because of Shaquille O’Neal’s history with that number in Orlando. Instead, he chose No. 00 for a variety of reasons.

``Double-zero, that was my first AAU number and I didn’t even know that it existed (in the NBA),’’ said Gordon, who joins Anthony Avent, Anthony Cook Amal McCaskill and Olumide Oyedji as the only other Magic to wear No. 00. ``I think it’s unique and I think not a lot of people have it. … The double-zero represents how wide I want the fans’ eyes to be when they see all of us playing. That’s what I want all of the fans to look like when they are watching us play.’’