Enthusiastic Aaron Gordon learns lessons in Magic preseason debut
ORLANDO, Fla. — This wasn’t quite the same as Magic Johnson jumping into the arms of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar after a last-second victory by the Los Angeles Lakers in Johnson’s first NBA regular-season game.
But Aaron Gordon, barely six months removed from his only year of college basketball, could also hardly contain his enthusiasm when his first preseason game as a member of the Orlando Magic went into overtime Tuesday night.
With the Magic trailing the Miami Heat 95-93 and only 2.2 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter, coach Jacque Vaughn drew up a inbounds play in which Gordon was the trigger man. The fourth overall pick in this past summer’s draft found fellow forward Andrew Nicholson open, and when Nicholson’s shot went down, Gordon’s reaction was anything but ho-hum.
"I was so excited," he said Wednesday after the Magic returned from Miami. "I had to compose myself a little bit because it was preseason. But, man, I was thrilled that we could go into overtime and have a chance to win."
Gordon started at one of the forward spots, a move which might have been influenced in part by the Magic being without Channing Frye (sprained left MCL). The second of their two first-round picks, guard Elfrid Payton, came off the bench but wound up playing a team-high 32 minutes in the 108-101 victory over the Heat.
Gordon’s first shot was swatted out of bounds by Chris Bosh, and Luol Deng beat him on a cut at the other end of the floor on the game’s first play. If he needed a reminder that this was a different level of competition from what Gordon faced in July during the summer league for mostly rookies and free agents, the Heat sent him one.
"It’s all rhythm," he said. "It’s not very static. Everybody kind of knows where they’re supposed to be, and there’s a good flow to the game. That’s the main thing that stuck out to me."
Asked to assess his performance (six points, eight rebounds and one block in 29 minutes), Gordon replied: "I was happy with the way I played defense. There were a few breakdowns here and there. But now it’s on to the next game, and I’m trying to improve."
The 6-foot-9 former Arizona star will likely get a similar amount of playing time Friday night at Indiana and Monday night at Charlotte. Vaughn said both Frye and guard Victor Oladipo remain out with knee injuries suffered last week during training camp.
Gordon got more minutes against the Heat than Nicholson, Tobias Harris, Kyle O’Quinn or Maurice Harkless. All five forwards played at least 19 minutes, a scenario Vaughn doesn’t necessarily envision continuing to be the case in another three weeks.
"It’s still preseason," he said. "Once we get to regular-season rotations, that mindframe often changes. But I think overall, we can use different individuals throughout the course of the year to give us a lift."
Gordon, who turned 19 on Sept. 16, viewed training camp as where he could become more confident and aggressive on one of the league’s youngest rosters. Except for Frye and a few other veterans signed over the summer, the majority of the Magic’s players are under the age of 25.
"I’ve earned my right to play on this floor with NBA players," he said.
For a team which won a franchise-low four road games last season, beating the Heat was not an insignificant accomplishment. But Gordon was aware as anyone that both Bosh and Dwyane Wade were on the bench late in the fourth quarter and during overtime.
"It makes it a different Miami Heat team," he said. "And it is preseason. People try to save themselves a little bit for the regular season. But to go out there and win, I’m enthusiastic about it."
Gordon, Payton and second-round pick Devyn Marble all had moments they would like to remember, as well as ones they might just as soon forget. But they’ll learn soon enough that the frequency of games in the NBA means they can dwell on their successes or failures for long.
"I’m just excited each game," Gordon said. "It’s something new. That’s the thing about basketball. You just never know what’s going to happen. And to go out there and live my dream out is just a whole lot of fun."