By John Denton
Oct. 25, 2017
ORLANDO – It can sometimes be a dicey situation when an NBA player goes third person in describing his thinking, but with Orlando Magic forward Aaron Gordon it aptly tells the story of his maturation as a player.
Why, just listen to Aaron Gordon go in depth about how much further along mentally present-day Aaron Gordon is compared to the teenaged Aaron Gordon.
To some, going from 18 to 22 years old might not seem like that big of a difference as it relates to maturation and critical thinking. But this Aaron Gordon, one who is playing carefree and allowing his collision of will and skill to surge to the forefront, is light years ahead of the younger Aaron Gordon, who always wanted it all and wanted it all right now.
“Patience is a sign of maturity. I was really impatient when I was younger and that’s the difference between me now and that Aaron back then,’’ Gordon said recently in an introspective moment. “I was really impatient with myself (in the past) and I wanted to be perfect all of the time. That’s not the case now.
“It’s definitely go time now,’’ Gordon added, “but at the same time I just need to be patient and mindful.’’
It was “go time’’ for Gordon on Tuesday when he almost single-handedly willed the Magic through a game in which it had trouble with the Brooklyn Nets most of the night. Then, when it came time to win the game, Gordon stepped up and confronted another of his demons from the past. A poor and reluctant 3-point shooter most of his career, Gordon drained a long-range shot that not only capped a career-best scoring performance, but it also helped Orlando to beat Brooklyn 125-121.
When Gordon scored 41 points, grabbed 14 rebounds and made all five of his 3-point shots, it allowed the Magic to move to 3-1 for the first time since the 2011-12 season. For Gordon, the night was the payoff for all of the hours he’s spent working trying to grow his game and all of the losses he’s suffered over the previous three seasons with the Magic. But more than as a result of the work and the hunger, Gordon said the dazzling performance took place because he’s learned to simply let go and have fun again.
Again, this Aaron Gordon is totally different than the younger Aaron Gordon.
“I’m just kind of out there playing for fun, as simple as that sounds,’’ said Gordon, who has turned to sports psychology, meditation and breathing practices as a way to help him cull the most out of his seemingly limitless potential as a basketball player.
“I think when I was younger there was so much that I was putting on myself and I forgot how much fun the game was,’’ he added. “When you’re out there having fun, that’s when you’re at your best. I’m just having fun with it now.’’
So, too, are the Magic having fun after beating Miami, Cleveland and Brooklyn in impressive fashion. Even in their one loss – last Friday in Brooklyn – the Magic had a shot to tie in the final seconds and rode the spectacular shooting of center Nikola Vucevic (41 points and six 3-pointers). The 7-footer didn’t have it on Tuesday, which was coincidentally his 27th birthday, but Gordon was there to pick up the slack with a performance that easily bested his previous career high of 33 points. Gordon and Vucevic are the first Magic teammates with 40-point games in the same season since Shaquille O’Neal and Penny Hardaway did so in the 1995-96 season.
The Magic’s resiliency – something of a mystery in years past as they have suffered one heartbreaking loss after another – has been on display thus far. When Orlando saw a 17-point lead shrink to two in the season-opener against Miami, guard Evan Fournier was there to drive a victory-sealing run at the end. When Cleveland cut a 24-point deficit to seven last Saturday night, point guard D.J. Augustin, Vucevic and Fournier keyed a 12-0 run that ended the night early for a dejected LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. And when the Magic trailed Brooklyn by as much as 12 points on Tuesday and by 10 early in the fourth quarter, Gordon and Fournier sparked a 38-25 run over the final 12 minutes for another big win.
All the way back to last April, when the Magic were still licking the wounds of a disappointing 29-53 season in 2016-17, coach Frank Vogel said the team’s turnaround this season would be dependent growth from within. And Vogel was confident that would happen because of the dedication and drive of returning players such as Elfrid Payton, Bismack Biyombo, Gordon, Vucevic, Fournier and Augustin. Gordon’s growth so far – going from 12.7 points and 5.1 rebounds a game on 45.4 percent shooting last season to 27.5 points and 11.5 rebounds on 58.1 percent shooting this season – is emblematic of the Magic’s strides as a team.
“There’s no question about it – (Gordon) works because he cares,’’ Vogel gushed. “(Gordon) wants to see this thing turn around and we all do. I’ve been here for a year and change and (Gordon) has been here three-plus years. Vooch has been here (two years) longer than that and Evan – all of those guys have struggled and it’s painful losing in this league. These guys really care and are really committed to trying to get this thing turned around. So, we’re off to a great start.’’
No one, of course, has started as well in Orlando this season as Gordon, the team’s most productive player in the preseason and its leader in scoring and rebounding thus far. He’s healthy again after an ankle scare in the opener knocked him out of two games, he’s reaping the benefits of the work put in and he’s now being looked to by the Magic as a primary go-to performer in the offense.
Clearly, this more mature version of Aaron Gordon is different than the younger Aaron Gordon. He still wants it all like before, but he’s learned to let go, not put so much pressure on himself to be perfect and enjoy the game again as he’s matured.
That’s a growth that both the younger Aaron Gordon and the present-day Aaron Gordon can appreciate.
“It’s a basketball game at the end of the day,’’ said Gordon, who seems to be having the time of his life with both him and his team enjoying success simultaneously. “I’m living it and it’s a lot of fun. The fans, great teammates, great coaching staff – it’s heaven out there.’’
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