The under-the-legs-and-over-the-mascot dunk shines bright atop Aaron Gordon’s highlight package, a slamming spectacle from February 2016.
The Toronto crowd erupted, Stuff the Magic Dragon burst into joy and the All-Star Week festivities reached an unprecedented level of shock, amazement and excitement.
Gordon was a one-dimensional player on offense in 2015-16. He could dunk and drive, but struggled in shooting three-pointers (29.6 percent) and two-pointers beyond the painted area (33 percent). The 40-inch vertical would only carry the 20-year-old to a 23.9-minute-per-game workload that season.
Now 23, the Orlando Magic forward has unlocked a new weapon and become more of a budding superstar than just a high-flying participant in the NBA Dunk Contest.
Gordon is shooting the ball better than ever before. In 2018-19, he has career-highs in three-point field goal percentage (35.5 percent), true-shooting percentage (54.5 percent) — which measures a player’s efficiency shooting the ball — effective field goal percentage (51.5 percent) — which accounts for the three-pointer being worth more than the two-pointer — and free-throw percentage (72.5 percent).
In pictorial form, the improvements have been steady since Gordon’s career began in 2014-15…
Shooting the ball has added another layer to Gordon’s skillset. He can still drive to the hoop and overpower the opposition on his way to a jaw-dropping jam. He can step back beyond the perimeter, create separation and take his chances with a three-point attempt. He can use his athleticism to move without the ball, find the open zone and eventually catch a pass under an unguarded basket.
In a game against the Knicks on Nov. 18, 2018, Gordon flourishes with this arsenal. He dunks down low, drives baseline, steps back for an elbow jumper, pulls up for a three-ball from the wing, dunks again, steps back again and pulls up again — all in just the first quarter…
In a more recent sample, Gordon has shot over 50 percent from the field in six of his last seven games. He is averaging 20 points per game during that span, and has knocked down 11 three-point baskets. The Magic may be struggling, but Gordon’s presence is being felt in more ways than one...
If Orlando continues to play its way out of contention, then Gordon is another name that could hit the trade market ahead of the Feb. 7 deadline. His four-year contract de-escalates from $21.59 million in 2018-19 to $19.86 million in 2019-20 to $18.13 million in 2020-21 to $16.40 million in 2021-22.
Backcourt-heavy teams like Portland (Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum) and Sacramento (De’Aaron Fox and Buddy Hield) need a player like Gordon to solidify a playoff-caliber roster, and both have the assets to accomplish such a feat.
Whether he is under the rim, beyond the perimeter or skying above a mascot — Gordon is a threat in doing more than just dunking. The same could not be said in 2015-16.