During his first two NBA seasons Aaron Gordon was known much more his slashes to the basket and gravity defying dunks than his jumper.
Now the third-year Magic forward is being asked to be much more in the system of new coach Frank Vogel. Perhaps more than any of his teammates, Gordon will have the biggest shift moving from power forward to small forward with the goal of becoming a complete player who can impact the offense much the way Paul George did for Vogel in Indiana.
It’s a move Gordon feels naturally suits him.
“It gives me more freedom, I can control the offense a little bit more, direct traffic,” said Gordon, who at this point is best known for his acrobatics in the 2016 slam dunk contest. “But like I’ve said I’ve been playing basketball, I’ve played at multiple positions. I’m happy where I’m at.”
Only his production will tell just how happy the Magic are with the shift. The 6-foot-9 Gordon hasn’t displayed an ability to do much of what the move requires so far in his NBA career.
In addition to becoming more of a focal point of the offense, the Magic’s 2014 first-round draft pick out of Arizona will need to be consistent perimeter shooter in the offense, as well as a facilitator while also taking on tougher defensive assignments guarding quicker players. Veteran Jeff Green, acquired this offseason, is much closer to the complete package but the Magic seem committed to giving the 21-year-old Gordon every opportunity to win the starting job.
Gordon, who shot 47 percent from the field last season, converted just 30.1 percent of his jumpers while shooting only 30 percent from 3-point range, according to Basketball Reference. He started 37 games last season, averaging 9.2 points, 6.5 rebounds and 1.6 assists while shooting 47 percent from the field.
Gordon’s transition has been slowed because he missed the first week of camp and the first couple of preseason games after rolling his ankle while training in California three weeks prior to reporting.
“It’s only going to get better,” Gordon said. “I (had) been physically off the court and off my feet in game-like situations for about four weeks, so I’m a little slow.”
In time, Vogel believes Gordon can become the player he needs at the small forward spot. The coach envisions Gordon in the mold of George, who went from coming off the bench to becoming the Pacers top scorer and one of the best defensive small forwards in the league under Vogel.
“We are going to ask him to do it all,” Vogel said of Gordon. “We will put a lot of pressure on him. We are giving him a lot of responsibility. He is going to have the ball in his hands. He is going to be asked to beat defenses over the top with his 3-point shooting and to get out and play his game in the open court.
“It’s going to be process with him. He is not used to playing (small forward) but that is going to come. He has the skills and ability to do it or I wouldn’t be putting him in that spot.”
George remembers being put in the same spot early in his career. Under Vogel, George blossomed into a three-time NBA All-Star and made the all-defensive first Team in 2014.
Not unlike Gordon, George faced questions too as he moved from shooting guard to small forward so he understands the challenges Gordon faces this season.
“The small forward is really the glue guy,” George said. “You’ve got to play both sides of the floor, you’ve got to take the defensive matchups and you’ve got to be able to produce, you’ve got to be able to score, you’ve got to be able to be a knockdown shooter. It’s a little bit of everything, you’ve got to rebound. I think in his system the small forward is the guy. You’ve got to be able to do everything on the floor.”
Gordon spent much of this season working with Magic shooting coach Dave Love. His shot has still looked a little shaky in the preseason but his confidence seems to be growing.
The Magic declined to make Love available, but Vogel said he is pleased with the shooting progress both point guard Elfrid Payton and Gordon are making under Love.
“These guys are developing shooters,” Vogel said. “They obviously both need work on it and they are both improving. (Love has) really worked a lot on their technique and that’s where it starts. When you develop a shooter you have to start with the right technique when it comes to recognition and shot selection and all of those types of things.”
Gordon is confident he will thrive in his new role.
“I don’t think anybody worked as hard as I did” this offseason, Gordon said. “I’m going to bank on that.”