*Editor’s note: This is Brandon Parks’ debut article for AZ Desert Swarm.
I remember watching a highlight video of a 16-year-old Aaron Gordon thinking “this dude is amazing”. At that young age, he was performing dunks the average NBA player couldn’t imagine doing.
Coming out of high school, he was ranked as the No. 4 overall player in the country and the 2nd-ranked power forward in his class. Gordon was a highly scouted player out of high school, with schools such as Oregon, Washington, Kentucky, and Arizona all trying to convince him to play for their respective colleges.
He ultimately chose to attend The University of Arizona, where he would have a solid freshman season averaging 12.4 points, 8 rebounds, and 2 assists a game on a stacked Arizona Wildcats team that included four players that went on to play in the NBA. Aaron led Arizona to the Elite Eight before eventually losing to a really good Wisconsin team. Gordon then entered the NBA draft after just one season at Arizona, something he says he would’ve done straight out of high school if given the chance.
With the 4th pick in the NBA Draft, the Orlando Magic selected the 6-foot-9, 220 pound power forward. This pick came to the surprise of many, but Gordon was considered one of the most athletically gifted players in the past few years, which was later validated in the 2016 NBA slam dunk contest, one of the best dunk contests of all time.
Gordon and Zach LaVine would go head-to-head, earning perfect scores across the board. Gordon would go on to take second place after he received a 49 out of 50 on his final dunk. If you watched the dunk contest like I did, the dunk should have received a perfect score as well.
Aaron Gordon has been in the league for three years now and has improved each year in every major statistical category. In his rookie season, he played in 47 games — only started 8 of them — but still managed to record 5 points and 4 rebounds a game. He followed up a disappointing rookie season by his standards with a better sophomore season, in which he almost doubled his points and rebounds total. Gordon put up 9 points and 7 rebounds a game that year while still only starting 37 out of 82 games.
The Magic finally attempted to give Gordon more minutes by moving him to small forward in 2016-17, where he had his best season by far as a professional basketball player. He started in 72 games, averaging 13 points and 5 rebounds a game.
Orlando hasn't necessarily given Gordon a chance to succeed. Since drafting him, they have brought in players from around the league to play the same position as him, taking away from his minutes. This included former All-Star Serge Ibaka, who was eventually traded mid-season, and Bismack Biyombo, who has — so far — looked like a huge disappointment.
With the position change, Gordon is guaranteed to play more minutes and take over as starting small forward full time. He will be able to use his size to overpower smaller guys, and athleticism to blow past bigger guys. This season will be a huge year for him, and likely determine if he will become an All-Star in the NBA.
With the Magic holding the 6th pick in the NBA Draft, they have the opportunity to add a great player in a historically great class that could make an immediate impact.
A few years down the line, I am predicting that the Magic will make the playoffs and Aaron Gordon will be a huge reason why.