Aaron Gordon said he chose to wear #00 because, among other reasons, it’s unique. Only three players in the NBA wore the double-oh’s last year. It was also his first AAU number.
But in the best line of the entire introductory rookie press conference today, Gordon mentioned that “00” is a representation of how wide he wants Orlando fans’ eyes to be when they watch Magic games next season.
As Arizona fans, we know a thing or two about the wide-eyed awe sparked by Gordon’s amazing plays. What’s more unknown, for the average Wildcat fan at least, is just how Gordon fits in with his new team. Quick, name as many Orlando Magic players as you can without looking. If you got 3 or more, you’re blowing the curve.
Let’s get this out of the way first: the Magic have fallen on hard times, stumbling to a 43-121 record over the last two seasons. This will probably be Gordon’s first taste of being on a losing team at any stage of organized basketball, which may ultimately prove to be the biggest challenge he faces. For a player that has developed his identity around winning, being on a doormat type team could make for a rough transition to the pro game.
It’s hardly gloom and doom in Orlando, though, who claim one of the youngest rosters in the entire league. The new face of the franchise is explosive guard Victor Oladipo, last year’s lottery selection, and the Magic also boast one of the NBA’s best rebounders in center Nikola Vucevic, who UA fans may remember from his three seasons at USC. Oladipo is 22, Vucevic is 23. Gordon will be 19 in September.
But if we’re going to talk about the Magic roster and how Gordon fits in, the biggest storyline is Orlando’s draft day trade that sent Arron Afflalo, former UCLA Bruin, to Denver. The departure of Afflalo leaves a huge void on the wing, particularly the small forward position, as he accounted for over 18 points per game, easily a team high. He was also the only player to average over 32 minutes per game at 35 mpg.
The trade allows Oladipo to enter the starting backcourt alongside veteran point guard Jameer Nelson, but it also opens the door for Gordon to play time at the three. Orlando has no experienced small forwards on the roster, so there will be ample opportunity for Gordon to get time at both forward spots if head coach Jacques Vaughn trusts the rookie.
If Gordon is actually able to get time at both forward positions, landing in Orlando might have been the best possible thing for his development, as well as the franchise’s.
While it may appear that the Magic already have a logjam of young forwards in Tobias Harris, Maurice Harkless, and Andrew Nicholson, that shouldn’t stop Gordon from getting playing time. Even as a rookie, Gordon is on another level talent-wise compared to those three.
Gordon and Harris actually seem like they could make a nice starting forward tandem, with the offensive minded Harris nimbly using his wide frame to expose defenders while Gordon wears down opponents with his hustle and athleticism. Harris put up great per-minute scoring and rebounding numbers, but lacked defensive impact. In that way, Gordon could be the yin to Harris’ yang.
And with the Magic’s offensive focus likely running through Oladipo, Vucevic, and Harris next year, Gordon is the perfect type of player to play a secondary offensive role. Thanks to his excellent offensive rebounding rate and finishing ability, Gordon doesn’t need any plays called for him to be effective. That will be vital when Vaughn is deciding how best to play off his star players.
Although, if Orlando wants to win more games next year they desperately need to add more shooting. Ranking in the bottom half of most offensive metrics, the Magic struggled to put up points while playing an average pace. Gordon doesn’t seem to be ready to contribute significant offense right away, so there may be some system-related impediments to Gordon’s playing time next year.
But if he develops rapidly enough to become a reliable catch and shoot option (basketball junkies will bring up the corner 3), then all of a sudden Gordon becomes an integral, almost keystone piece to the team. As long as Gordon gets time at both forward spots and is not pigeon-holed into either position, he should be able to make a real impact next season even if he doesn’t make any quantum leaps with his jumper. And if he does, then watch out.
It’s not unrealistic to expect Vaughn to eventually deploy a lineup of Nelson, Oladipo, Gordon, Harris, and Vucevic, with Gordon defending the small forward or power forward depending on matchups. With all due respect to Mo Harkless, he’s just not good enough to keep Gordon off the court.
Gordon could also be inserted into a lineup featuring one of the league’s hidden gems, Kyle O’Quinn. The second year player out of Norfolk St is a beast of a man, measuring 6-10, 260 lbs with tree trunk thickness. An excellent offensive rebounder and shot blocker, O’Quinn and Vucevic make a strong rebounding post duo.
With Gordon’s ability to slash and feed the post, he could be a natural fit at the small forward in a potential “big” lineup for the Magic. A front line of Gordon, O’Quinn, and Vucevic would be a terror on the boards.
The bottom line is that Orlando’s roster presents Gordon with a lot of opportunity. What he does with that opportunity remains to be seen, but there are no true roadblocks stopping Gordon from carving out a significant role as a rookie.
Whether Gordon finds himself playing in the starting lineup or off the bench, he appears poised to contribute to the rebuilding of the Orlando Magic from day one. If in a few years the Magic franchise has turned around, there’s a good chance that drafting Aaron Gordon was a big part of it.