Zach Lowe of ESPN, one of the most respected NBA writers and basketball minds in the industry, has been putting together a “10 things I like and don’t like” weekly column all season. In his most recent edition that was published today, Lowe briefly shared some of his thoughts about Aaron Gordon. The full article can be read here.
Specifically, Lowe touches on how inconsistent Gordon has been this season, how poor of a job the Magic have done in carving out the correct role for Gordon, and some of the areas in his game where Gordon struggles the most. Lowe indicates that these concerns create a problem for the organization due to the fact that Gordon is heading towards restricted free agency this summer.
“What a strange season for Gordon. He started off on fire, tailed off a bit (as expected), suffered some injuries, and then just kinda kept tailing off. He’s down to 44 percent overall, and 34.8 percent from deep -- a tick below league average.
More than that, it still doesn’t feel like the Orlando Magic know how to use him -- or that Gordon knows what he wants to be.”
I think Lowe raises a great point about how up-and-down Gordon’s season has been. In fact, it’s been mostly down for months now.
Through November, Gordon was shooting over 50% from the field and over 40% on his three-point attempts (including two 40-point games under his belt). While most of us knew that his scorching shooting numbers would come back down to earth at some point as the season wore on, I still think the general consensus was that Gordon had turned a corner shooting the basketball and was on his way towards a career year.
In fact, to go a step further, it seems that many Magic fans closed the book on the narrative that Gordon was a below-average NBA shooter. Gordon missed seven games in December, a month in which he still posted very solid numbers (19.6 points, 47% FG, 36% 3PT).
However, Gordon has shot just under 38% since January 1st (26% from 3PT). His field goal percentage on the season has now dipped below his career average.
A valid argument can me made that the Magic have butchered the way they have developed Gordon. Gordon spent the majority of his time last season at the small forward position, and we all know how that turned out. Gordon was moved back to his more natural power forward position this season, but the organization has still failed to put other pieces that even remotely fit around him.
“Before Elfrid Payton was traded to Phoenix, Gordon spent a ton of floor time with Payton, and defenders duck way under picks for Payton -- meaning they can stay home on everyone else, including Gordon. Orlando’s centers supersede Gordon in the screen-setting hierarchy, and one of them -- Bismack Biyombo -- clogs Gordon’s natural habitat. They famously shoehorned Gordon onto the wing after somehow thinking it was a good idea to splurge on both Biyombo and Serge Ibaka -- with Nikola Vucevic already around.”
I think a good deal of Gordon’s inefficiencies since the calendar turned can be attributed to two things. Gordon has been held out of 20 of the team’s 42 games since December 8th due to various injuries, which has probably caused Gordon to lose his rhythm and feel offensively.
Secondly, I feel Gordon is still trying to figure out who he is as an NBA player. His shot selection at times as the season has progressed can be described as puzzling at best, and down-right poor at worst.
Gordon is an incredible talent who can handle the ball at an above-average level for a man his size. We’ve seen his ability to find others and create offense at times. And of course, he possesses elite NBA athleticism which allows him to attack the basket, run the floor, and play above the rim.
“Gordon has attempted just 40 shots out of the pick-and-roll all season, per NBA.com. That’s already as many as he tried last season, but it’s still low considering his versatility as a screen-setter who can pop for 3-pointers, dive for dunks, and pass on the move. Gordon has set only 12.9 ball screens per 100 possessions, a number on par with Sam Dekker, Marcus Morris and Rudy Gay -- and way below even medium-volume screen-setters -- according to Second Spectrum tracking data.”
He likes to play the part of ball-dominant superstar, but he’s not good enough -- yet. Gordon has worked as the ball-handler in about the same (low) number of pick-and-rolls as last season, per tracking data.”
Lowe suggests that Gordon can become the best version of himself if he gets back to some of the things he was able to do earlier in his career by channeling his “inner Draymond Green”.
One of the most staggering points made in this piece for me: The Magic are scoring 0.68 points per possession when Gordon goes iso-ball. He’s shooting 36% on the season when playing in isolation. According to Second Spectrum, that places Gordon “146th out of 154 guys who have recorded at least 50 such plays.”
It’s easy to forget that even though Gordon has been in the NBA for nearly four seasons now, he’s still just 22 years old. But he must improve his in-game decision-making; more specifically, he must pick the right moments within the game to attack, and recognize other spots where it’s not effective to force things. I think that’s what Lowe is getting at in his column.