By John Denton
April 28, 2017
ORLANDO – Orlando Magic coach Frank Vogel is hopeful that continuity – something many of the team’s players have not had in the past three years – will be beneficial going forward as the franchise looks to end their five-year playoff drought.
For a fifth consecutive season, the Magic are being forced to watch the NBA playoffs instead of participate in them. That happened because the team fell well short of expectations and ended up just 29-53 this past season.
Major changes could come – as evidenced by the recent firings of GM Rob Hennigan and Assistant GM Scott Perry – following a season worth of struggles. Still, there were plenty of positives to come out of the season considering the major strides made by some of Orlando’s key players.
Vogel, who recently completed his first season with the Magic, feels the Magic aren’t as far away from becoming a playoff team as some might think following a difficult season. He is excited that much of the Magic’s core is signed through next season and should return barring some major personnel moves in the offseason. And, after the franchise has gone through plenty of coaching turmoil in recent years, Vogel will be back to bring some much-needed continuity to the sidelines for the Magic.
Orlando has plenty of avenues with which to upgrade its roster this offseason. The Magic possess two first-round picks and they could have as many as four of the top 34 picks in the draft. They will find out the position of their top selection in the May 16 NBA Draft Lottery.
The actual NBA Draft is slated for June 22. Free agency, where the Magic figure to have a much as $15 million to spend, opens on July 1.
Before looking ahead too much, OrlandoMagic.com will look back at the regular season that just ended. We’ll break down what went right and what went wrong with many of the Magic’s key players over the next few weeks. Without further ado, here is today’s player analysis:
PLAYER: Aaron Gordon
POSITION: Power forward
NBA SEASONS: 3
2016-17 SEASON STATS: 80 games (72 starts), 12.7 ppg., 5.1 rpg., 1.9 apg., 0.8 spg., 45.4 percent FG, 28.8 percent 3FG, 71.9 percent FT.
CAREER NBA STATS: 205 games (117 starts), 9.7 ppg., 5.3 rpg., 1.5 apg., 0.7 spg., 46 FG percent, 28.9 3FG percent, 69.9 FT percent.
2016-17 SEASON HIGHS: 33 points, Dec. 14 vs. Los Angeles Clippers; 16 rebounds, March 31 at Boston; seven assists, Jan. 6 vs. Houston; four steals, March 29 vs. Oklahoma City; four blocks, March 17 at Phoenix; 41 minutes, March 29 vs. Oklahoma City.
WHAT WENT RIGHT: Allowed to switch back to his natural position of power forward following the Feb. 14 trade of Serge Ibaka, Gordon started to show off his enormous potential over the final 24 games of the season. He averaged 16.4 points, 6.2 rebounds and shot 50.3 percent from the floor after the all-star break – big jumps over the 11.2 points, 4.6 assists and 42.8 percent shooting over his first 56 games of the season. Gordon thrives in fast break situations and he proved to be a nightly highlight machine late in the season whether he was catching alley-oops lobs from point guard Elfrid Payton or attacking the rim for thunderous jams. Getting him off the perimeter and facing power forwards – where he can use his quickness and full-court speed – should be a roadmap for how the Magic use Gordon going forward.
WHAT WENT WRONG: In a time when 3-point shooting has never been more important, Gordon continues to struggle with shots from beyond the arc. When he was playing small forward, he didn’t shoot the three well at all and when he switched to power forward he often shied away from taking the shot. He simply must become a more reliable 3-point shooter to keep defenses from sagging off him and to be able to hit shots when the ball swings to him. Shot selection – something that Vogel has worked with Gordon on – is also a work in progress with the talented power forward. Gordon is eager to grow his game and become a player the Magic look to more in half-court sets, but he’s simply not to the point yet where the Magic can afford to have him going one-on-one in tight situations. It’s incumbent that Gordon grow his game if he wants a larger role in the offense.
FUTURE ROLE WITH MAGIC: The Magic are strong believers in Gordon because of his basketball smarts, strong work ethic and his desire to improve. As Vogel put it earlier in the season, “he cares,’’ and that goes a long way in a young player trying to get better. He was Orlando’s best wing defender most of the season, but his performance on that end of the floor slipped some late in the season as Gordon’s offensive game grew. He needs to be in a role where he is using his speed and quickness to go to the rim – whether it’s on hard cuts through the lane, fast break sprints or while crashing the glass. The Magic desperately need Gordon – and fellow young players Mario Hezonja and Payton – to make big strides in their games this summer. If Gordon can become a more reliable outside shooter, if he can rebound better from the power forward position and if he can better choose the shots that he takes, he will make the Magic’s offense much better. Defensively, he must be the wing defender that the Magic can count on nightly regardless of how his offensive game is going. Do all these things next season and brighter days could be ahead for the Gordon and the Magic.
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