The Orlando Magic learned Sunday they'll be without rookie gadget forward Aaron Gordon for an indefinite period after Gordon fractured the fifth metatarsal in his left foot Saturday against the Washington Wizards. The injury serves as a blow to Orlando's depth and to its overall rebuilding project--but where losing Gordon hurts most is on defense.
That news ought not come as a surprise: coming out of Arizona, Gordon was billed as a defensive dynamo whose versatility, athleticism, and willingness to engage make him an asset at that end of the floor. Orlando has indeed made use of Gordon's versatility, matching him up against opposing twos, threes, and fours depending on the situation. And despite his pedestrian steal and block stats, he's defended more than capably, as the video embedded above shows. Let's take a closer look at each of those highlight plays.
On this play, Gordon takes away Doug McDermott's three-point shot by running the marksman off the arc to McDermott's off hand. Gordon watches the ball as Pau Gasol takes it in the post, but doesn't lose sight of his man. When Gasol kicks it out to McDermott on the wing, Gordon is there to reject the triple-try at the point of release, and he does so without initiating any contact with the Chicago rookie. Gordon put together his athleticism, awareness, and agility on this excellent defensive play.
Gordon defends Thaddeus Young well here, holding his ground in the post and contesting Young's baseline hook without fouling. In part because of Gordon's defense, Young's shot misses the mark. Nikola Peković gathers the rebound after leveraging Nik Vučević under the rim, but it doesn't matter: Gordon recovers to Pekovic to swat his put-back try.
Gordon reads this play beautifully from start to finish. He starts on Joe Johnson, an eight-time NBA All-Star and likely future Hall-of-Famer. As Deron Williams dribbles to his right around a Kevin Garnett screen, Gordon stunts off Johnson toward Garnett to discourage Williams from hitting Garnett on the roll. But Gordon's not finish: he closes hard on Johnson to prevent him from taking a stand-still jumper, and sticks with him on the drive, eventually forcing him into a step-back two which misses well short.
Gordon's ability to match up with the league's bigger twos and threes frees Jacque Vaughn to get clever with his coverages and his lineups. That Vaughn trusted Gordon in this situation--close game, fourth quarter, All-Star opponent--just seven games into Gordon's career attests to the high esteem in which Vaughn and his staff hold the former Wildcat.
Another all-around excellent defensive possession from Gordon finds him denying Kris Humphries from passing to Andre Miller, the Washington point guard. Once Gordon takes that option away, Humphries calls his own number and drives to his left into the painted area. Gordon sticks with him the whole way. Humphries' pump-fake words insofar as it gets Gordon airborne, but the 19-year-old stays completely vertical and never comes close to making contact with the veteran big man. Gordon's quick second leap helps him contest the shot--which caroms wildly off the glass--a second time. Humphries never had a prayer on this play.
Gordon's defensive versatility is rare among NBAers and unique among the Magic: the only other Orlando player who comes close to matching it is Maurice Harkless, who will, with his new teammate sidelined, have plenty of opportunities to show what he can do. But Harkless' slight frame makes him an iffy matchup against bigger players, and he doesn't appear to have Gordon's seemingly innate sense of how to position himself to best make a play.
Indeed, one prism through which to view these clips is that Orlando will find itself up a proverbial creek without Gordon shoring up the defense. Another takes a longer-term view, and accentuates the positive: the Magic's fourth overall Draft choice has already shown his defensive value, and at 19, his prime years are still a ways off.