PORTLAND – On a night when the Orlando Magic seemed to be hurting as much mentally as they were physically, forward Aaron Gordon proved to be the perfect case study.
As he tried to pinpoint the reasons for the recent struggles in his own game, Gordon seemingly didn’t know whether it was a physical ailment holding him back or a mental bout with wavering confidence that was sapping the life out of his usually energetic and bouncy play.
After touching on the lack of rhythm in his individual play, his struggles with knocking down open shots and some ``lingering stuff’’ in his body, Gordon ultimately put his foot down and took full accountability.
``There are no excuses, man,’’ Gordon said with conviction in a quiet locker room after the Magic squandered a 19-point, third-quarter lead and lost 113-104 to the Denver Nuggets on Wednesday. ``When you’re out there (on the floor in games), you’re out there. So, I’m just looking to compete.’’
Gordon, a six-year member of the Magic, has certainly never been short on competitiveness what with his willingness to guard the other team’s best scorer. But it’s the offensive end of the floor that continues to befuddle the 24-year-old forward, who has failed to crack double digits in scoring in each of the past three games. After slogging through consecutive poor shooting performances of three of 13, three of nine and four of 14, Gordon admitted that his own game feels off now 28 games into the season.
``I’ve got to find a rhythm, that’s what I’ve got to find. I’m out of rhythm right now,’’ surmised Gordon, who has seen his overall shooting percentage (41.6 percent) and 3-point accuracy (30 percent) plunge of late. ``I’m getting (the ball) where I want and I like the looks that I’m getting, but I’m not making them. Shots are going to fall. I’ve just got to keep working, relax and focus more on the basket.’’
The focus now for both Gordon and the Magic (12-16) will be on the Portland Trail Blazers (12-16) when they play on Friday (tip time: 10 p.m. ET, TV: Fox Sports Florida). Orlando opened its four-game, seven-night trip through the Western Conference with a win in New Orleans on Sunday, but it has since suffered heartbreaking losses in Utah (109-102) and Denver (113-104). Gordon sees Friday’s game as a chance for the Magic to salvage the trip at 2-2.
``I know we’re a really good team and I believe that we’re a really good team,’’ Gordon said. ``We could have won this one (Wednesday in Denver) and the one before (Tuesday in Utah), but that’s OK. We dropped this one (on Wednesday), so we’ve got to go get the one in Portland.’’
Gordon, who is averaging 13.3 points, 6.9 rebounds and 2.9 assists in 25 games, is hardly alone in struggling to shoot the ball on a Magic team that has found it difficult to make foes pay from the perimeter all season. The Magic rank 29th in the NBA in scoring (103.5 points per game), 27thin overall field goal percentage (43.4 percent) and 27thin 3-point shooting (33.6 percent).
According to NBA.com, they made just 13 of 38 field goals (34.2 percent) and only nine of 26 3-pointers (34.6 percent) when they were considered to be either ``open’’ (defender within 4-6 feet) or ``wide open’’ (defender more than 6 feet away). A night earlier in Utah, they were 14 of 39 (35.8 percent) overall and nine of 24 on 3-point tries (37.5 percent) when either ``open’’ or ``wide open.’’
Showing just how important he is to the construction of the Magic’s roster, Gordon continues to be something of a barometer for Orlando. In the 11 wins he’s played in, Gordon has averaged 15.2 points, while shooting 37.5 percent from 3-point range and getting to the free throw line 3.9 times. In the 14 losses he’s been a part of, Gordon has seen his scoring average dip to 10.7 points, his 3-point shooting plunge to 23.1 percent and his free throw attempts fall to 2.4 a game. The same was mostly true last season as Gordon played better in 40 wins (17.1 ppg. and 42 percent 3-point shooting) as opposed to 38 losses (14.8 ppg. and 28.1 percent 3-point shooting).
Gordon’s offensive struggles of late are similar to a rough stretch he had after injuring his right ankle on Nov. 20 and missing three games and eight days of live action. Over a three-game stretch against Toronto, Golden State and Washington from Nov. 29-Dec. 3, Gordon made just 11 of 37 shots (29.7 percent) and only four of 14 3-point tries (28.5 percent). But he broke out of that skid in a big way on Dec. 4 when he poured in a season-best 32 points against Phoenix on a nearly flawless shooting night (13 of 15 overall and five of five from 3-point range). All five of those 3-pointers came when he was considered to be either ``open’’ or ``wide open’’ and all five came on catch-and-shoot sequences.
A closer look at Gordon’s shooting numbers reveals that his accuracy rate has dropped as the shot clock has expired. When the Magic are ``very late’’ in the clock (0-4 seconds), as defined by NBA.com’s statistical database, Gordon has made just five of 22 field goals and only two of 12 3-pointers. When the Magic are ``late’’ in the clock (4-7 seconds), Gordon has made 11 of 36 attempts and one of 10 threes as opposed to an ``average’’ clock (7-15 seconds) when he’s hit 60 of 146 shots (41.1 percent) and 16 of 46 3-pointers (34.8 percent).
Gordon’s penchant for overdribbling also has a negative effect on his shooting. When he shoots without dribbling, he’s made 48.6 percent of his field goals and 28.8 percent of his 3-point shots. Those numbers mostly decline when he takes one dribble (37 percent overall), two dribbles (48 percent overall) or three-to-six dribbles (29.4 percent overall).
Strangely, the more open that Gordon is, the less effective he is shooting the ball. He’s made 53.8 percent against ``very tight’’ defense (when the defense is 0-2 feet away) and 45.6 percent against ``tight’’ defense (2-4 feet away). However, he is shooting just 36.7 percent overall and 26.7 percent from 3-point range when considered ``open’’ (defense 4-6 feet away) and only 35.7 percent overall and 32.7 percent from beyond the 3-point arc when ``wide open’’ (defense 6-plus feet away).
Also, Gordon’s pull-up shooting (32.6 percent this season compared to 37.6 percent last season), post-up shooting (35.9 percent compared to 42 percent) and spot-up shooting (27.6 percent field goal percentage compared to 39.1 percent field goal percentage) have dropped off when stacked against last season.
``He’s not hitting his spot-ups,’’ Magic coach Steve Clifford surmised. ``(Wednesday) night, he had five spot-ups … and he will (make those shots). Last year, he ended up shooting (39.1) percent on his (total) spot-ups and this year, he’s at a lot less than that. That sets everything up for everybody. You make your threes and they have to close to you.’’
Lauded for his work and willingness to do what it takes to win for two seasons by Clifford, Gordon’s ability to work his way through his struggles could be a bit compromised now by aches and pains in his body. He could be seen wincing throughout 33 minutes on the court on Wednesday, but Gordon was purposefully vague when discussing what ails him now. Again, ``no excuses,’’ as Gordon put it.
``It’s just about making sure my body is right,’’ he said. ``I’ve got some lingering stuff going on that I’ve got to talk to my training staff about and get right.’’
Clifford is confident that Gordon will eventually get right – or at least back to the solid shooting numbers that he has posted in the past. Clifford has repeatedly praised the forward’s toughness and ``care factor’’ and truly believes that he can once again work himself back into a good groove.
``I thought (on Wednesday) he played with good energy, he was active on the glass, he was getting up and down the floor in transition, he watched extra film (prior to Wednesday’s game) and he’s got the right attitude about it,’’ Clifford said. ``Everybody is going to have a stretch where you don’t shoot well, and you’ve just got to work your way through it.’’
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