Gordon Staying Patient As He Continues the Development Process

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By John Denton
Jan. 21, 2016

ORLANDO – Somewhat like an unbridled pony full of youthful exuberance and ready to run – but still occasionally shaky against the NBA’s more-experienced thoroughbreds – Aaron Gordon is doing his best to be patient now.

But it’s not always easy, the Orlando Magic forward admitted recently. Check that – it’s downright difficult for a player who is trying to bide his time, but someone who desperately wants to do more to help the slumping Magic out of their recent funk.

``It’s hard, but you just have to do what you can do and control what you can control,’’ Gordon said. ``I’m a firm believer in that and if I just do that, I’ll be ready when it’s my time.’’

Could it be that Gordon’s time is in the not-too-distant future as the Magic (20-21) search for answers to stop a slide that has seen them drop eight of the last nine games. Heading into Friday’s home game against the equally struggling Charlotte Hornets (19-23), Gordon might be able to provide some of the athleticism and energy that the Magic lost when standout guard Victor Oladipo was lost with a sprained right knee. In a somewhat surprising development, Oladipo went through drills in practice on Thursday and has not been ruled out of Friday night’s game is his knee is deemed to be stable.

``I’ll just see how it feels tomorrow after doing some treatment and then go from there,’’ Oladipo said. ``I’m a quick healer. I don’t think the injury was as serious as it looked or it could have been luckily for me and I thank God for that. I’ve just got to prepare myself to play and help my team.’’

Once an impressive 19-13, the Magic are clearly at a crossroads in their season now and head coach Scott Skiles’ next move might be to shuffle the lineup once again. He did that when the Magic were 6-8, making power forward Channing Frye a starter, and Orlando won 13 of the next 18 games. And when point guard Elfrid Payton was hobbled by ankle injuries recently, Skiles inserted Oladipo, and that move sparked the shooting guard (20.4 ppg. and 60 percent 3-point shooting) into easily his best play of the season.

Upset with his team’s lack of fight and fire in Wednesday’s troubling 96-87 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers, Skiles hinted that another shakeup might be in order. Skiles considered altering his lineup following Monday’s loss in Atlanta, but stuck with his starters for Wednesday’s game. Now, he might have to try another move to send a jolt into a Magic team that is struggling to find something to believe in now.

``More than likely we’re going to make a lineup change (on Friday), so the bench will be different,’’ said Skiles, who didn’t want to specify which changes he might opt for. ``So we’ll see if we can’t shuffle the deck a little bit and get a little more production there. Not a lot (of changes), just a couple.’’

Orlando can take solace in the fact that it isn’t the only team in the Eastern Conference struggling through the marathon season’s dog days. Boston, which sits eighth in the East, has dropped eight of 12 games. Miami had just eight healthy players in a third straight loss on Wednesday and the heat have dropped seven of the last nine games.

Charlotte, Friday night’s opponent for the Magic, was 14-9 and second in the Eastern Conference standings when it came to Orlando on Dec. 16. However, the Hornets have gone 5-14 since then and face the Magic having dropped 10 of their last 12 games.

Gordon, who is still one of the youngest players in the NBA at 20 years old, has put himself into contention for an expanded role by making the most of his minutes of late. He was a bundle of energy on Monday night while scoring 18 points, grabbing seven rebounds and handing out three assists. He was aggressive – something that helped him get to the free throw line eight times (with seven makes) – he confidently buried a 3-point shot and his follow-up dunk of a Mario Hezonja missed shot was one of Orlando’s few highlights on another forgettable night.

On Wednesday, Gordon added seven points and eight rebounds and he had a dazzling three-point play with 4:43 to play that kept the Magic within striking distance of the 76ers.

The kind of energy that Gordon has played with of late is in high demand for a Magic that that has looked fatigued and lethargic for much of the past two weeks. Losing Oladipo for the past two games sucked some of the life out of the Magic’s charge.

``One thing that we know that we can always rely on is that Victor is going to play with a ton of energy and is our most dynamic player,’’ said Skiles, referring to how lethargic the Magic looked most of Monday. ``We factored it in that if Vic is out, we might look a little (slower) without his athleticism in the game.’’

Gordon, who is now averaging 7.2 points, 5.0 rebounds and 1.1 assists a game, feels that he is ready to give the Magic the shot in the arm that it needs in terms of athleticism, toughness and smarts. Despite being one of the Magic’s most inexperienced players, Gordon is exceptionally mature and has a knack for looking at scenarios in the big picture.

``I’m just trying to be solid and be someone that Scott can count on to be in the right spots and make plays for our team,’’ Gordon said. ``Really, my heart is pure and if I’m not playing well or doing what I’m supposed to then I am the hardest one on me. I just need to continue to improve and do what I can to help this team.’’

An AAU star at a very young age, one of the best prep players in the country coming out of high school and an All-American in his one season at the University of Arizona, Gordon has made basketball look easy most of his life. But, as he’s learned in a season-and-a-half of NBA action, pro players sometimes have to wait their turn to get chances to shine.

Gordon missed six weeks of his rookie season because of a fractured bone in the outside of his left foot. Then, following a spectacular showing in the summer league, he suffered a broken jaw that delayed his start to the season.

He’s delivered numerous flashes of greatness this season, playing two of his best games of his young career against the Houston Rockets in November and December.

While Gordon is anxious to open up his game and show more of the blossoming skills that he works on daily after practice is grueling one-on-one workouts, the Magic coaching staff has pressed him to simply focus on running the floor, rebounding and being a difference-maker on the defensive end of the floor. Working with shooting coach Dave Love, Gordon has worked his way into being a solid shooter, having made 48.4 percent of his field goals, 34 percent of his 3-pointers and 70.1 percent from the free throw line.

Walking the line of wanting to expand his game and staying within himself is, at times, difficult for Gordon, but he’s clearly made progress there with his vastly improved play of late.

``It’s just about shooting good, quality shots,’’ he said confidently. ``Earlier in the season, there were some questionable times when I’d shoot the ball when maybe I shouldn’t have. But nobody can get mad at you when you take a shot with confidence and it’s a good shot for your team.’’

On Friday, Gordon’s shot could be coming as a starter for the Magic.

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