2017-18 Player Review: Aaron Gordon

by John Denton

ORLANDO – In a myriad of ways, Aaron Gordon’s up-and-down season proved to be a microcosm of the path that the Orlando Magic took in 2017-18.

A promising and prolific start for Gordon was interrupted by injuries and ultimately proved disappointing because of a frustrating finish. Similarly, the Magic opened at 6-2 and 8-4, got battered throughout by a myriad of injuries and slumped to a 25-57 finish that fell far short of expectations.

Gordon, 22, emerged from it all with career highs in points (17.6), rebounds (7.9), assists (2.3), steals (1.0), blocks (0.8), minutes (32.9) and 3-point accuracy (33.6) – numbers that he undoubtedly will use when he becomes a restricted free agent on July 1. He even floated out his ideal scenario when asked about the next contract he will soon sign.

``Ideal? Ideal is max – that would be ideal. Three letters (max),’’ Gordon responded to the open-ended question, adding that he hopes such an offer will come from the Magic. ``Definitely here (in Orlando), that would be ideal. If (GM) John (Hammond) and (President of Basketball Operations) Jeff (Weltman) made that investment, that would definitely be ideal to get those three letters on my name.’’

Gordon might find difficulty in landing such financial security based on the up-and-down nature of his season. Upon closer examination, Gordon’s performance was like night and day for a variety of reasons.

The 6-foot-9, 220-pound forward dominated action early in the season, twice scoring at least 40 points, hitting two game-winning 3-pointers and showing the confidence in his outside shot that he had lacked much of his first three seasons in the NBA.

By January, however, injuries robbed Gordon of his rhythm and early-season effectiveness. He still had moments of brilliance with his high-flying exploits, but he mostly struggled with his shot over the final 3½ months. Gordon suffered the second and third concussions of his career and a troublesome hip injury knocked him out of action for an extended period of time in February and prevented him from competing in a third straight Slam Dunk Competition at the NBA All-Star Game.

Still, Gordon has shown steady progress in each of his four NBA seasons and he’s confident that there is plenty more growth that will emerge in his game. Through hard work and a greater understanding of what is expected of him, Gordon feels he has superstar potential and that the Magic would be wise to invest in him for the foreseeable future.

``It would be a beautiful thing to go from one of the worst teams in the league to one of the best,’’ Gordon said. ``It would be a beautiful story. It’s a challenge, it’s something I look forward to and accept. That challenge is what we have here and if we keep building, we have the capability.

``With four years in the league at 22, I’m a young veteran and I have a lot of experience,’’ he added. ``I’m just looking to continue to grow and continue to learn. With John, Jeff and (Assistant GM) Pete (D’Alessandro), they have a lot to teach and I want to continue to learn from them and learn from the guys that we have here.’’

Here is a more in-depth breakdown of Gordon’s season and what lies ahead for the forward in the future:

PLAYER: Aaron Gordon
POSITION: Power Forward
NBA SEASONS: 4
AGE: 22

2017-18 SEASON STATS: 58 games (57 starts), 17.6 ppg., 7.9 rpg., 2.4 apg., 1.02 spg., 32.9 mpg., 43.4 percent FG, 33.6 percent 3FG, 69.8 percent FT.

2017-18 SEASON HIGHS: 41 points, Oct. 24 vs. Brooklyn; 15 rebounds, twice, most recently Dec. 6 vs. Atlanta; eight assists, March 24 vs. Phoenix; four steals, twice, most recently Jan. 18 at Cleveland; four blocks, Nov. 27 at Indiana; 45 minutes, Dec. 6 vs. Atlanta.

WHAT WENT RIGHT: Gordon was Orlando’s best player in October, November and December and an early top candidate for the NBA’s Most Improved Player award. In his first 28 games of the season, Gordon averaged 18.8 points on 49.8 percent shooting and a jaw-dropping 41.2 percent accuracy from 3-point range. He ended 2017 with a 39-point, seven-rebound and five-3-pointer effort against the Miami Heat. However, things quickly turned for Gordon after the calendar turned to 2018.

Though his play would tail off over the final 3 ½ months, Gordon set career highs across the board while also becoming a much more confident shooter from the perimeter. He led or tied for the lead in scoring 20 times and in rebounding 18 times.

In addition to pouring in the career-best 41 points against Brooklyn and another 40 against Oklahoma City, Gordon had game-winning 3-point shots against Memphis and Brooklyn early in the season.

WHAT WENT WRONG: For a variety of reasons, Gordon’s play fell off dramatically by early January. Twice he suffered concussions that knocked him out of action and out of rhythm. He also had hip and ankle injuries that also served as setbacks and interrupted his flow. Gordon also cited the trading of Elfrid Payton – his teammate of the previous 3 ½ seasons – for negatively impacting his play.

In 30 games in January, February, March and April, Gordon’s scoring average dipped (16.5 ppg.) while his shooting from the floor (38.4 percent) and 3-point range (27.2 percent) plummeted.

Gordon is still very much a work in progress in terms of shot selection and making other players around him better with his passing. He still struggles with walking the fine line of taking over games and setting up others when the defense focuses on him. The good news is that he is just 22 years old, he’s a hard worker and he's shown steady improvement over each of this four NBA seasons.

FUTURE ROLE WITH MAGIC: Free agency often brings uncertainty, but there is strong belief within the Magic – and with Gordon himself – that he will be back in Orlando next season. In many ways, he is Orlando’s most coveted commodity and the team is determined to keep him this offseason and focus future building around his many talents. Sure, Gordon still has some maturing to do in terms of shot selection and leadership, but the Magic know that he is still a diamond in the rough that could shine extraordinarily bright someday soon.

Note: The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Orlando Magic. All opinions expressed by John Denton are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Orlando Magic or their Basketball Operations staff, partners or sponsors.

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