Playing With "Joy, Passion, Confidence and Courage" Important to Aaron Gordon

By John Denton
Jan. 10, 2018

WASHINGTON D.C. – It is a fine line that Orlando Magic forward Aaron Gordon is asked to walk now on a nightly basis, one made even more perilous considering that there is often little room for a misstep and usually a need for him to do it at a furious, breakneck pace.

On one hand, the 6-foot-9, 220-pound Gordon is expected to use his will and skill and all of that hustle and muscle to spur a slumping Magic team with his relentless style of play. At the same time, Gordon must attempt to stay within himself, try to make the others around him better and keep his focus on the ultimate goal of winning.

Not surprisingly, the 22-year-old Gordon is still a work in progress when it comes to this balance of pushing himself and others, but not pushing to the point that it becomes counterproductive.

``It’s just a matter of taking the shots that I need to take and playing the game the way that I love to play it,’’ Gordon said. ``That’s with joy, passion, confidence and courage. There are some plays where I can make better decisions, better moves and stronger moves, and when I double-clutch that leads to blocked shots, but that’s OK. I just want to continue to make plays.’’

Doing that was a struggle on Wednesday in Milwaukee when Gordon had a rough night against Bucks’ superstar forward Giannis Antetokounmpo. The harder Gordon tried, the worse things seemed to get as the night progressed. Gordon started well enough (four-of six shooting, 10 points in the first 10 minutes), but he missed his final 12 shots over the final three quarters and had just one point the rest of the game.

The final result – a 110-103 loss to the Bucks and Antetokounmpo (26 points) – left Gordon reevaluating his plan of attack in trying to spark the Magic without overdoing it. That’s a conversation that Gordon and Orlando head coach Frank Vogel have regularly. Vogel knows that Gordon’s intentions are in a good place and he loves that his young standout ``really cares,’’ but he wants him to see that sometimes doing less will result in more.

One particular possession from Wednesday’s loss – a sixth straight for the 12-30 Magic, who will play the Wizards (23-18) in Washington on Friday night – summed up Gordon’s challenging plight. With Milwaukee in the throes of a 19-8 run that gave it an 82-65 lead on Orlando, Gordon snatched a rebound and headed up court determined to get a tide-turning basket. The problem was he attempted to split a crowd and hit the ball off his leg as he wrapped the dribble around his back. After another fumble, Gordon took flight for a shot that hung on the edge of the rim. In his eagerness, Gordon tipped the shot in only to have it waived off by referees for goaltending.

Again, it was a case of Gordon trying to do a lot for the Magic, but in actuality doing too much. It proved to be a valuable teaching point that Vogel planned to discuss with his forward.

``When (the Bucks) started on a run, (Gordon) started to force it a little bit, trying to pick up the slack,’’ Vogel said. ``He wants it so bad, but I don’t know if he was doing it the right way. So, it wasn’t a great night for him.’’

Despite the rough night and the Magic’s many struggles, Gordon has been an unquestionable success story this season. He’s averaging career highs in scoring (18.9 ppg.), rebounding (7.9 rpg.) and assists (1.9 apg.) while greatly improving his shooting accuracy from the floor (47.1 percent) and 3-point range (37 percent). Others around the NBA have certainly taken notice – something that is both a positive and a negative since Gordon is now atop every foe’s scouting report.

``He’s playing better all the time and his game is getting more refined and more mature,’’ Dallas coach Rick Carlisle said earlier in the week. ``His outside shooting is a problem, his rim attacks are a problem and he’s obviously a lob threat.’’

Added Milwaukee coach Jason Kidd: ``The three has become a very big shot in the NBA and being able to do what Gordon has done this season just shows how hard he’s worked on it.’’

Magic reserve center Marreese Speights, a veteran of 10 NBA seasons, has looked on from afar as the blossoming Gordon has attempted to showcase his skills while also helping Orlando make strides. Speights has played with several great players such as Stephen Curry, Blake Griffin, Marc Gasol, Klay Thompson, DeAndre Jordan and Zach Randolph as he’s bounced around the league the past decade. He’s seen how those players have balanced driving their teams through their skill while also making those around them better with an infectious attitude and playmaking.

``Those guys like Steph and Z-Bo (Randolph), the 15th man (on the roster) is their biggest fan and they cheer for him because when (the 15th man) comes into the game (the great player) is going to treat them like a starter,’’ Speights said. ``When you’re the main guy on the team, you’ve got to make sure everybody else is involved. You’re going to get yours, but you’ve got make sure everybody else is involved and you’ve got to give them confidence.

``That’s all the little things that you have to do and Aaron is a good leader and he tries to be a good leader,’’ Speights added. ``We say he’s still young and he is still young, but he’s in his fourth year and it’s time for him to keep getting better and being a leader. Once he gets it fully on the court and off the court, that’s when he will have taken the next step.’’

Speights, who had plenty to say during some fiery timeout pep talks on Wednesday, has become something of a sounding board for Gordon and he appreciates the sage advice doled out.

``Mo’s great, just a pro’s pro and he knows how to encourage,’’ Gordon said. ``He knows what to say to get guys going and he backs it up. Mo is great to have around. He’s a helluva veteran.’’

Gordon, who will be a restricted free agent come July 1, insisted recently that the weight of being a player the Magic are looking to to carry them isn’t too heavy of a load for him. He said it’s his insatiable will to succeed that helps him cope with Orlando’s fourth straight season of struggles. His pursuit of success – both for himself personally and for the Magic – is what keeps his mind trained on the target. Again, it’s a balancing act.

``(The losing) hurts and it’s not something that I like obviously, but I do my best to continue to focus on the present moment,’’ said Gordon, who has worked for years with sports psychologists in an attempt to better his mental game. ``Win, to me, stands for `What’s Important Now.’ What’s important now is continuing to get better so that when the opportunity presents itself I’m ready and we’re ready as a team. It’s the present that I focus on, staying ruthless and taking steps forward every day toward becoming a winning culture.

``Winners are just people who have gone through failure and have responded better than the rest,’’ Gordon added while speaking with conviction. ``Everybody has bad days, but how you respond to it is a testament to whether you are a winner or a loser. If you’re in a present state of mind, you know that winning just means, `What’s Important Now.’’’

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