Gordon and Isaac Will Likely Be On Court Together A lot to Close Out Season

by John Denton

ORLANDO – His career year marred by injuries and the Orlando Magic’s struggles, standout power forward Aaron Gordon said he hopes to use the 12 games remaining in this season to get back to the core of who he really is as a player.

``At the base of who I am is a motor and it’s hard for (other teams) to scout that,’’ Gordon said. ``I’ve started getting a lot more attention and I’ve started to notice that, and I’ve tried to take advantage of that by finding my teammates more. Collectively, we want to make each other better. When you can do that, it’s the mark of a great player. It’s still a progression for me, but we’re always growing.’’

Gordon, Orlando’s leading scorer at 18.3 points per game, was set to return to action on Tuesday after sustaining his second concussion of the season on March 7 following a collision with Los Angeles Lakers’ forward Julius Randle. Gordon was placed in the NBA’s concussion protocol a day later and he ultimately missed the next five games. He was cleared by the league on Monday and was scheduled to return to the starting lineup on Tuesday against the Toronto Raptors.

Gordon, 22, has posted career highs in scoring (18.3 ppg.), rebounding (8.4 rpg.), assists (2.3 apg.) and 3-point shooting (34.8 percent) despite missing 23 games this season because of two concussions and ankle, calf and hip injuries.

``I mean, it’s just part of basketball and you have years like this,’’ Gordon said of the many injuries that have hampered him. ``I’ve got to do a better job of conditioning my body and conditioning my mind so that things like that don’t keep happening. But, you have to be OK with it because sometimes (injuries) are going to happen and you just continue to progress as a basketball player and do everything that you can to help your team.’’

Gordon said his focus the rest of the way will be on helping the Magic make the kind of incremental improvements that will carry into next season. Gordon, who will become a restricted free agent on July 1, said he looks at his future in Orlando in a macro sense and he wants to do everything in his power to help the Magic become successful once again.
``(The remaining games) are important just from a focus standpoint,’’ Gordon said. ``I’m not thinking about things individually anymore. I’m thinking about wins and how in the world we’re going to get a championship one day. It’s in progression. We’re down there in the bottom four (of the NBA standings), but we’ve still got to look big. The reason why we do this is to win championships and rings.

``It’s a tall order, but it starts now,’’ he added. ``So, I’m not thinking about anything individually; I’m thinking about the team.’’

INTERCHANGABLE FORWARDS: Another reason why the Magic are so excited about the return of Gordon is that head coach Frank Vogel can now proceed with his plan to play rookie Jonathan Isaac alongside of Gordon down the stretch. The thinking is that by having the 6-foot-11 Isaac and the 6-foot-9 Gordon together, they can be used as almost interchangeable parts at the forward positions.

The ability to guard multiple positions and switch onto both faster wing players or bigger post players were some of the reasons that the Magic coveted the versatility of Gordon and Isaac. Vogel hopes to give the two of them extended minutes together so that they can use that versatility to help out Orlando’s sagging defense.

``It’s going to be important seeing them and we’ve got to figure out how those two look together on the floor,’’ Vogel said. ``We’re going to look at Jonathan Isaac some at (small forward) and Aaron some at (small forward). That position is somewhat interchangeable in our system. But I know one thing – on the defensive end we’re going to be a lot better. With both of those guys out there – instead of replacing one another – I’m excited about seeing what they can do.’’

Orlando has been mostly unable to experiment with Gordon and Isaac together because of the many injuries that have knocked them out of action at various times. Isaac missed most of 3½ months with ankle trouble and his seven starts this season have come while replacing an injured Gordon.

Vogel said both Gordon and Isaac are poster boys for the sweeping trend in the NBA of having players who can guard multiple positions.

``The more position-less you are today in the NBA, the better,’’ Vogel said. ``On both ends of the floor, guys have got to have versatile skill sets. Both of those guys do.’’

BACK TO LAKELAND: A day after bringing two-way player Jamel Artis up to the NBA and two days after signing guard Rodney Purvis to a second 10-day contract, the Magic sent the duo back to the Lakeland Magic of the G League on Tuesday.

The reasoning: Lakeland is in the midst of a playoff race and the Magic are confident that the returns of Purvis and Artis will give Lakeland the late-season boost it needs. Lakeland went into Tuesday’s game against Long Island at the RP Funding Center just a half-game back of the Erie Bayhawks for first place in the Southeast Division. After Tuesday, the Lakeland Magic will have two regular-season games remaining.

Winners of the six divisions automatically qualify for the playoffs. Meanwhile, three additional ``wildcards’’ from the Eastern and Western Conferences will make the playoffs. Lakeland entered Tuesday a half-game back of the Long Island Nets and the Grand Rapids Drive for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

In 44 games with Lakeland prior to Tuesday, Artis has averaged 19.5 points, 5.9 rebounds, 2.6 assists and 1.2 steals. Prior to being called up to Orlando, Purvis ranked eighth in the G League by averaging 20.5 points per game.

UP NEXT: The Magic will be back on the practice floor on Wednesday prior to hosting the Philadelphia 76ers on Thursday night. The game will be the only Orlando appearance of the season for the rapidly improving 76ers.

Philly has already beaten the Magic twice this season in the City of Brotherly Love: A 130-111 decision on Nov. 25 and by a score of 116-105 on Feb. 24. Former Orlando guard J.J. Redick hurt the Magic with 29 points in the first meeting, while all-star center Joel Embiid scored 28 in the second matchup.

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.