OKLAHOMA CITY – Frank Vogel’s first season as a NBA head coach came during forward Paul George’s rookie season, and throughout their five years together their relationship evolved into something of a father/son type of bond.
That mutual admiration and respect for one another carries on still today – even with Vogel now the head coach of the Orlando Magic and George a star for the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Vogel and George not only spent five seasons together with the Indiana Pacers, but George was often a guest at Vogel’s household, dining at some of the family barbeques and occasionally kicking soccer balls around with the coach’s two daughters. The close bond carried over to the basketball court where the Pacers twice reached the Eastern Conference Finals and George eventually blossomed into a perennial all-star.
Obviously, the two don’t talk quite as often now that they are a part of different organizations, but they do still check up on one another from time to time via text messages. Vogel said he couldn’t be happier about how George has evolved as a person and a player.
``He’s such a terrific young man and such a good person. He comes from a great family and has a great head on his shoulders,’’ Vogel said. ``And he’s a worker. He’s one of those guys who has that fire inside to be great, he really does. That’s what I noticed very early on in coaching him. His physical gifts are one thing, but his biggest talent to me is the fire that he has inside and the desire he has to get better in the offseason, to win and to want to be great. That’s why he’s been so successful.’’
Though George hails from suburban Los Angeles, he thrived in a smaller big city such as Indianapolis for the first six years of his NBA career. Vogel gets the same sort of vibe now from George – who will be an unrestricted free agent this summer – in Oklahoma City.
``What he’s reporting to me is the same as what he is reporting publicly: He really likes it here,’’ Vogel said. ``I think there’s a chance that he stays here. We’ll see, but everything is up in the air when the summer comes around. I know he is enjoying playing with Russ (Westbrook), being coached by Billy (Donovan) and he’s enjoyed the city.’’
GORDON’S GROWTH: Upon returning from the break for the NBA All-Star Game, Aaron Gordon said one of things he would be looking to accomplish over the final third of the regular season would be growing his game in terms of making others around him better.
So far, the results have been quite impressive.
Gordon notched five assists against the New York Knicks last Thursday and another seven assists in Philadelphia on Sunday. That’s a significant jump over the 2.3 assists a game that Gordon has averaged this season.
A purveyor of game film on a regular basis, Gordon noticed that while he was a solid playmaker while driving to his right, he often didn’t have the same success in passing to teammates when driving to his left. Improving that facet of his game through hundreds of reps in practice would help to make him a more complete player, Gordon said.
``It comes with seeing the game better and I’ve got to see the game better,’’ insisted Gordon, whose 2.3 assists a game are more than his previous career high of 1.9 apg. from last season. ``Read it and make the right reads time and time and time again until it becomes second nature. Make it completely natural and once (making others better) happens, then the whole organization lives. I’ve just got to look for the right things.’’
WESTBROOK WORRIES: In the Magic’s 29-year history, few opposing players have bedeviled them quite like Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook with frenetic speed and his wide array of skills.
The NBA’s reigning MVP has averaged 25.7 points, 8.3 assists and 8.1 rebounds in 18 career games against the Magic. Those numbers have sky-rocketed over the past three seasons as Westbrook has registered three-triple doubles, scored 57, 48, 41, 37 and 24 points and averaged 41.4 points, 13.2 rebounds and 10.8 assists against the Magic.
Most of his damage has come out of pick-and-roll plays when he rubs off a screen and goes one-on-one against Orlando’s centers. Trying to slow the speed and elusiveness of Westbrook is one of the most difficult things to stop in the NBA, Magic center Nikola Vucevic said.
``It is difficult because Russ is so good at coming off (the screen) at full speed and being able to change directions,’’ Vucevic said. ``He’s so athletic. With other guards, they come off a little slower and you can manage them as a big, but he goes at full speed and is still able to change directions and make reads. It’s a challenge.’’
UP NEXT: Orlando will be back at the Amway Center on Wednesday night to face the Toronto Raptors. The Raptors are the only team in the NBA that the Magic have yet to play so far this season.
Wednesday’s game is the start of a three-game home stand for Orlando. The Magic will play a rare home/home back-to-back on Friday and Saturday when they host the Detroit Pistons and the Memphis Grizzlies, respectively.
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