Aaron Gordon Ready to Take His Game to Next Level

By John Denton
Oct. 6, 2017

ORLANDO – Considering the comfort and grace with which he glides around the court and the hell-bent fury seething out of each attack of the rim, it might come as a surprise now that Orlando Magic forward Aaron Gordon is doing it all with a sizeable chip on his shoulder.

Now in his fourth NBA season, healthy and completely comfortable with his role on the Magic, Gordon looks very much like a jet that has just been given full clearance for takeoff and is ready to hit supersonic speeds this season. Even with a host of standout scrimmages to his credit and two strong showings this preseason, Gordon is quick to offer up this promising caveat for his future.

``There’s more to come,’’ said a sly, grinning Gordon, whose Magic (1-1) host the Miami Heat (1-1) Saturday (7 p.m.) at the Amway Center. ``There’s much, much more to come. It’s a long season and I’m having fun with it now.’’

Gordon’s analysis – usually extensive and peppered with sports psychology studied in an attempt to extract his full potential – is a bit clipped these days. To his credit, it’s as if he doesn’t want to come off as too boastful until he actually proves it on the floor. But, in many ways, Gordon sounds like someone who is fully aware of a secret and he is reluctant to let the rest of the world in on it just yet.

Deep down, Gordon is fully convinced that his time has come and he’s ready to take his game to the next level. The preseason is the ticking, and the regular season – which starts on Oct. 18 and can’t come soon enough for the eager 22-year-old forward – represents the time bomb about to go off on the rest of the NBA.

Clearly, Gordon wants to keep any and all predictions about this season focused on the Magic and he is resistant to shine the spotlight directly on himself individually. But there are occasional instances when Gordon drops his guard and allows his glowing excitement to shine through the façade he has built up to temper expectations. He desperately wants to show the basketball world that he’s ready for greatness and, in time, it will be on full display, he promises.

``It’s starting to (show), it’s definitely starting to (show),’’ Gordon said of the promising glimpses that he’s provided thus far. ``But like I’ve said, there’s more to come.’’

Others see it from Gordon and aren’t nearly as reserved in predicting that the 6-foot-9, 220-pound forward is on a collision course with a big-time season. They saw the beginnings of it late last season when Gordon took full advantage of the Magic’s shift to more of a small-ball lineup – one that allowed Gordon to play in his more natural position of power forward – when he averaged 16.4 points, 6.2 rebounds and shot 50.3 percent from the floor over the final 24 games.

They are seeing a continuation of that maturation now following an off-season where Gordon once again poured himself fully into growing his game. Other than a short vacation to Hawaii, Gordon spent most of his days either refining his already chiseled body or working on cross-over dribbles, catch-and-shoot jumpers or two-dribble pull-up tries from distance. Further proof of that work was on display on Thursday night in Orlando’s 112-89 whipping of Dallas when Gordon had 17 points, 10 rebounds and a 3-pointer in just 20 minutes of work.

The product on display all throughout Orlando’s training camp and this preseason has been one that has certainly been eye-catching to Magic types impressed with what Gordon has done already.

``He looks good, really good,’’ teammate Elfrid Payton said. ``He’s expressed that (desire to be great) and we’ve expressed that with each other. Obviously, we’ve both put in a lot of work and I see it paying off for him.’’

Then, there’s this from Magic head coach Frank Vogel, who witnessed other similar growth patterns from young NBA players, such as Paul George and Danny Granger: ``A lot of these guys are going to benefit from being in the same system two years in a row, but Aaron looks like he’s going to see a big gain from that and hopefully we’ll see a big jump in his production this year. The skill work improves you and when you put in the work like he does, your skill is definitely going to improve. Now, it’s just about applying it the right way on the court.’’

Someone who just might prove infinitely helpful to Gordon in handling that ``applying it the right way’’ and his growing properly as a player is newly minted Hall of Famer Tracy McGrady, who was hired by the Magic on Friday as a special advisor. After playing behind more veteran players and never averaging more than 15.4 points a game in his first three NBA seasons, McGrady signed with the Magic in 2000 and evolved into arguably the NBA’s best scorer. He averaged a whopping 28.1 points per game over the next four seasons and led the league in points production in both 2002-03 (32.1 ppg.) and 2003-04 (28 ppg.).

McGrady is all-too-familiar with what Gordon has had to endure while being forced to wait his turn until his body was fully healthy and his game was ready to blossom. Now, McGrady said, Gordon could be on the verge of a truly epic breakout season for the Magic.

``I’ve been talking to him and I know his potential,’’ McGrady said of his talks with Gordon. ``He’s extremely athletic and has all the athleticism in the world and now he just has to work on the mental aspect of the game. How do we take our physical ability and turn that into the same mental capacity in games? That’s what has to translate for him.

``He has to believe in himself with what he’s doing and let’s see if he can do that,’’ McGrady added. ``I think he has all the tools to do that – almost 6-10 and a freakish athlete – but it’s still a growing process for him. It’s a transition he’s going through and for me to be around here and having gone through that, I can help him in so many ways.’’

Seemingly, all that is left now is for Gordon is to make ``the leap’’ on the court and transfer his loads of potential into production. Gone are the nagging injuries that slowed him the first three years of his career and the Magic are looking at more as a prize than a project now, so the stars are seemingly aligned for Gordon to take off like a jet that’s been left idling for so long.

Again, Gordon doesn’t want to get too far ahead of himself with boastful predictions and he’d prefer to let his play instead of his words make his case for him. As 22-year-olds, such as Gordon, like to say, he wants to be about it and not just talk about it.

``I love this game and I’m going to just continue to play it mindfully and presently,’’ Gordon said recently. ``Whatever happens after that, happens. I love the game too much to even think about that (future).’’

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