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The Magician’s Secret: Aaron Gordon and the two-week resurgence of the Orlando Magic

     Of the plethora of explosive super-athletes in the NBA, Aaron Gordon appeared destined to flatline as another ferocious dunker; sparingly showcasing other ample skillsets. To his credit, the Orlando Magic spent the better part of three seasons falsely contemplating whether or not Gordon was their spot-up small forward of the future – a skillset not comparable to the 6’10 high-flying Gordon. This mishandling stunted years of potential development. Combine this with a variety of boneheaded front office decisions (See Biyombo signing, Ibaka trade), and Gordon might have found his chance at NBA longevity doing its best disappearing act.

     Come this season, it looks as though somebody within Orlando’s facilities finally came to their senses. To date, Orlando has utilized Gordon as their power forward, and it has paid immense dividends. Remember when Denver figured out how to use Jokic last year? Don’t you just love it when NBA execs finally become competent? Me too. By moving Gordon to the four, the Magic have officially begun dabbling in semi-small-ball lineups. This has expedited last year’s 13th ranking in pace all the way to 3rd in the association. In doing so, Orlando has unleashed Gordon’s unquestioned athleticism in transition. Being matched up by more lead-footed power forwards has also allocated Gordon sufficient space to implement his revamped shooting stroke; and man, does it look good. Take a look at these GIFs comparing his form this season to year’s previous; notice the higher release point before the apex, the hop into the shot instead of the 1-2, and the smoother transfer of energy in his legs. Great balance, great rhythm, great jumper.

https://giphy.com/embed/xT0xejJ8BgBJRQeteU

https://giphy.com/embed/l2QE01zwslSJgWZ68

     These changes are reflecting on the box score as well. Try not to marvel at these numbers for Gordon through seven games (Note that he is shooting four threes per game on average, so that 58% clip is not construed by volume). Factor in a 23.2 PER (Player efficiency rating), good for top 20 in the league, and you’d think a real magician is at play:

 

     While his per game scoring average has dipped back under 20 (Currently 19.1 PPG), the ramifications of Gordon’s elevated play has permeated throughout the organization. The Magic began the season with a scorching 6-2 record. Now at 6-4, their hot start was enough to now have them sitting alone in third place in the Eastern conference. Gordon’s success has provided a boost to his teammates on an individual level as well. Jonathon Simmons, an early candidate for most underrated offseason signee, has more than doubled his scoring average (14.6 PPG), and his three-point percentage is up nearly 10 (TEN) %. Evan Fournier is posting career-highs in scoring (20.3 PPG), three-point percentage (47%), assists (3.5 AST)  and offensive plus/minus rating (+4.4). Additional spacing, provided by Gordon and company  has opened lanes for Nikola Vucevic, who also has registered career-bests in effective field goal percentage (57.5%), three-point percentage (40.5%) and assists (3.2 AST). Clearly, Gordon has been the Magic’s proverbial rabbit under the hat. Now that he’s been fully released, the audience can finally bear witness to the basketball sorcery.

     Ultimately, one question remains; Can Gordon & Orlando sustain this high level of play? The answer, unfortunately, is no. Teams are already beginning to take notice of Gordon, and he will likely start getting pressed more beyond the arc. As defenders begin to go over opposing screens to combat Gordon’s shot, he will be forced to become more creative with the ball in his hands – especially in a half-court setting. Eventually, teams will make Gordon commit to the dribble-drive, a relative weakness for the athletic freak. Don’t forget that his undeniable athleticism will still make him a monster in transition, and he has showcased a massive leap of improvement; one which NBA fans have longed to see. Have the past two weeks been a beautifully-executed magic trick, or are we seriously looking at a new contender in the Eastern Conference? It’s too early to tell, but there’s a lot to like in Orlando.

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