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Aaron Gordon is Showing His Potential in the Summer League

Aaron Gordon was arguably the most shocking pick of the 2014 Draft when the Orlando Magic reached for him with the No. 4 pick. Gordon wowed Orlando in his one-year at Arizona that displayed his physical tools (6-foot-11.75 wingspan, 39 inch max vertical) more than on-court production (middling averages of 12.4 points, 8.0 rebounds per game with an ugly slash line of .495/.356/.422).  That gamble didn’t look like it was going to pay off after Gordon’s disastrous rookie season.

He was limited to just 47 games after undergoing surgery on his left foot. The results weren’t encouraging as he averaged 11 points and 7.6 rebounds per 36 minutes while shooting 44.7 percent from the floor and an improved 72.1 percent from the line. His 11.4 PER wasn’t horrible for a 19-year old rookie, but the No. 4 pick is expected to produce more than that. Gordon never looked comfortable on the floor and seldom showed the potential Orlando saw in him. With a year under his belt and the foot injury a thing of the past, Gordon is finally starting to show that potential in the Orlando Summer League.

Okay, okay. I know the Summer League is fools’ gold for the most part. Lottery picks, especially second-year lottery picks, are supposed to dominate the Summer League. But Gordon was overwhelmed in that atmosphere a season ago, averaging 7.8 points and 5.0 rebounds per game while shooting an abysmal 35 percent from the floor in five games, equating to a 7.11 PER, according to RealGM. Gordon has looked like a completely different player in his second go-round at the Orlando Summer League.

Gordon isn’t just using his size and athleticism to overwhelm lowly Summer Leaguers. He’s legitimately knocking down jumpers left and right while showing improved decision-making. He’s been a man among boys thus far:

Game 1: 22 points, 18 rebounds, two blocks,  2-for-5 three-pointers

Game 2: 21 points, 10 rebounds, three assists, three steals, 1-for-2 three-pointers

Game 3: 22 points, seven rebounds, four assists, three blocks, 3-for-5 three-pointers

The Magic are trying to give Gordon as many looks as possible at small forward in the Summer League and he’s responded well. He’s been comfortable handling the ball in pick-and-rolls or spotting up in the corner and drilling the open J. He’s shooting 6-for-12 on three-pointers through three games after making 13-three pointers his entire rookie season. Furthermore, he made only 16 3-pointers during his lone season at Arizona. This is a good sign for the Magic considering they locked up Tobias Harris long term, who is better suited as a power forward. Gordon’s future in Orlando is likely at small forward, even if he’s a better fit at the four.

Gordon’s future All-Defense potential and above-average playmaking skills are already a fit at small forward. His shooting woes and lack of experience playing on the perimeter have made that transition difficult. That’s why seeing Gordon nail jumpers off screens and curls or standing out on the perimeter has been so encouraging early on in Summer League play.

 

That doesn’t look like a 42.2 percent free-throw shooter. That looks like a player with a solid stroke that’s put some work in this summer.

That doesn’t look like a player that shot 33.3 percent on pull-up shots last season. That looks like a player who has potential to be a solid scoring option one day.

This is all happening while Gordon is still the freakiest of athletes.

It’s never wise to take too much away from the Summer League, but it’s all about the extremes. If a player performs extremely poor in the Summer League, such as Shabazz Napier last year, that’s probably a red flag for his following season. If a player performs extremely well, ala Jimmy Butler in 2012, he probably figured something out that offseason.

Gordon should be dominating in the Summer League since he’s a lottery pick entering his second year in the league, but it wasn’t a guarantee he’d actually do it. Three games in he’s done it and showed glimpses of why he was taken No. 4 in the draft.

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