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Aaron Gordon trying to make jump from great dunker to great player

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Two Aaron Gordon stories:

1. The first comes from Pistons rookie Stanley Johnson, who played with and against Gordon growing up in California. They were AAU teammates when Gordon attempted a 360 windmill dunk but over-jumped it, spun too far around and missed the slam with his arm at a crooked angle.

“I was puzzled, like, ‘Why didn’t you just lay it up?'” Johnson said. “That’s just the way he is. He’s competitive. Every time he goes out, he wants to prove that he’s one of the guys. And that’s why I think he’ll be successful in the league, because he’s going to work hard, and he’s obsessed with being great.”

2. The other comes directly from Gordon. After his captivating performance in the dunk contest, he missed a couple layups in the Magic’s next practice.

“Everyone looked at me like, why aren’t you dunking it?” Gordon said. “I kind of looked at myself like, why am I not dunking it?”

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Gordon smiled wide and nodded confidently, lifting his built arms up and down to urge the crowd to get louder. I’m not sure it could’ve. Led by a group of delirious All-Stars in the front row, everyone was going wild.

All for Gordon.

For a moment on All-Star Saturday Night, Gordon might have been the NBA’s most popular player. Though he’d eventually lose in a second extra round to Zach LaVine, Gordon’s under-the-legs dunk after grabbing the ball from the Magic’s mascot highlighted the dunk contest and pushed Gordon onto the national stage.

But, for the all the popularity he gained that night, Gordon is still just a role player averaging 9.1 points and 6.5 rebounds per game on a bad team. As the dunk contest showed, he has potential to do so much more.

His great challenge is finding a balance between unleashing and harnessing his athleticism.

“I have a lot of tools in my bag,” Gordon said. “I just want to polish them.”

The Magic appear more committed than ever to helping Gordon do just that. The No. 4 pick in the 2014 draft, Gordon moved into the starting lineup late last January. A few weeks later, Orlando traded two others who were taking minutes at power forward, Tobias Harris and Channing Frye. Combined with his dunk-contest showing, it’s been a whirlwind for Gordon.

“That’s what makes the NBA so much fun,” Gordon said. “It’s always new for me, and I think it always be. That’s what’s exciting about life, not knowing and then embracing the challenge head on.”

The dunk contest often includes up-and-coming players, and Gordon fits the profile. He could follow a well-worn path of players who participated in a dunk contest then reached their first All-Star game in a future season:

Yet, there’s a major disconnect between Gordon’s potential and production.

With his athleticism, Gordon could terrorize opponents defensively, clean up on the glass and hammer dunk after dunk. At times, he does. But it’s definitely not a regular occurrence yet.

Here’s how Gordon ranks in a few key stats that he could theoretically dominate, ties represented by the range of tied players. Among 281 regulars this season (minimum: 40 games and 15 minutes per game), Gordon’s ranks:

  • Block percentage: 62-64
  • Steal percentage: 112-136
  • Offensive rebound percentage: 44
  • Defensive rebound percentage: 45-46
  • Field-goal percentage at rim: 73

Gordon has been tremendous one game, dismal the next. He’s too often passive, floating on the perimeter offensively or guarding conservatively defensively. The result is middling total production.

“He’s too good of an athlete,” Magic coach Scott Skiles said. “And he and I talk about it all the time, and he readily admits he’s still getting used to the pace of the season and back-to-backs. There’s all kinds of stuff going on.”

Skiles even said it could take Gordon “a handful of years” to develop proper consistency.

Thankfully for Gordon, time is on his side.

Just 20, the second-year pro is younger than most 2015 first-round picks. He’s still the 17th-youngest player to play in the NBA this season. Here are the league’s 30 youngest players – rookies in blue, second-year players in silver and a third-year player (Giannis Antetokounmpo) in black:

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The only second-year player younger than Gordon is Bruno Caboclo, and the Raptors barely use him. Heck, the other four second-year players who are still 20 – Noah Vonleh, James Young, Damien Inglis and Caboclo – have combined to play fewer minutes this season than Gordon.

Gordon could use the experience.

He missed 32 games as a rookie with a foot fracture, and a fractured jaw slowed him during the offseason.

“You’re very lucky if life goes according to your own plan,” Gordon said. “Obviously, my rookie wasn’t how I wanted it to go, but it was exactly what I needed.

“I got to see the game from a different perspective. I understand more now how to take care of your body, how to work smarter as opposed to harder.”

Gordon comes across as incredibly level-headed, a trait that has helped him after the dunk contest. He says people tell him every day that he should’ve won the dunk contest, but he leaves it at: “It could’ve went either way.”

“It’s cool, because I got called the people’s champion,” Gordon said. “It was a little controversy over the dunk contest. It’s alright. Nobody lost.”

It’s a wise assessment.

LaVine took the hardware, but Gordon gained so much. The spotlight is on him now, road fans cheering when he’s introduced as a starter. Expectations are already soaring for next year’s dunk contest.

Will Gordon’s production match his dunking by then? Odds are against it, but maybe by the following year or the year after. Gordon’s youth works in his favor, as does Orlando’s commitment to developing him.

“We’ll stick with him,” Skiles said. “We think he’s getting better all the time”

Kevin Porter Jr. a possible lottery pick heading into 2019 NBA draft

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Kevin Porter Jr. missed more than a quarter of his freshman season at USC due to injury. He missed another couple games due to suspension. When he played, he usually came off the bench. He’s only 18.

But Porter has already shown enough to impress NBA teams.

Porter, via Jonathan Givony of ESPN:

“I will be declaring for the 2019 NBA draft and I will be signing with Roc Nation Sports,” Porter told ESPN.

Porter has a wide possible range in the first round, because there’s a massive gap between his ceiling and floor. But it shouldn’t take too long for a team to bet on his upside.

A 6-foot-6 shooting guard with a 6-foot-9 wingspan, Porter has a special combination of shiftiness and power with the ball in his hands. He can attack the rim and finish above it. He can also pull up for jumpers.

I don’t trust his 41% 3-point shooting at USC. That came on only 68 attempts, and he made just 52% of his free throws (though that was also on an unreliably small sample, just 46 attempts). But his stroke looks compact and smooth.

Porter can be an impressive passer. Right now, that’s more so making quick and correct standstill reads than distributing while driving.

If he improves his handle, that could really tie together all his skills.

Porter forces too many bad shots. He’s not attentive enough defensively. There are questions about his maturity.

But if he pans out at the next level, he could be awesome.

Report: LaMarcus Aldridge won’t face punishment for hitting Gary Harris in nuts (video)

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Late in the Nuggets’ Game 2 win over the Spurs, LaMarcus Aldridge whacked Gary Harris in the nuts.

Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News:

It surely helped that Denver coach Michael Malone defended Aldridge.

Malone, via Mike Singer of The Denver Post:

“If there was a windup, if there was something that looked really deliberate, that’d be different, but from what I saw, and I didn’t spend much time looking at it, obviously who cares what I think?” Malone said. “It all comes down to what the NBA thinks. In watching it, obviously Gary was unfortunately the recipient of that accidental blow but I didn’t see it as something that was premeditated or done with the intent to hurt Gary.”

It also helps that Aldridge doesn’t have a reputation for dirty plays.

But this is what I can’t get totally past: If Aldridge intended to take a cheap shot, how would it have looked any different?

Ben Simmons on Jared Dudley’s assessment: ‘It’s coming from Jared Dudley. C’mon’ (video)

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Ben Simmons keyed the 76ers’ historic offensive turnaround from Game 1 to Game 2 against the Nets. He pushed the pace, attacked and created good shots for himself and teammates.

Brooklyn forward Jared Dudley explained Simmons’ improvement.

Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News:

Keith Pompey of The Inquirer:

Simmons:

It’s coming from Jared Dudley. C’mon.

Simmons’ dismissive tone makes this bigger than merely his words do. There’s definitely animosity brewing between these teams.

But this “beef” will get only as large as Simmons makes it.

He is great in transition and average in the halfcourt. Dudley’s remark wasn’t an insult. It was a scouting report.

Keeping Simmons out of transition is far easier than done. That’s part of what makes Simmons a star. He frequently creates up-tempo opportunities.

Players can’t be defined by a list of strengths and weaknesses. How often those strengths and weaknesses affect the game is important.

Simmons often makes his strengths count.

There are still questions about just how often he can do that against the best defenses, especially deep into the playoffs. His poor shooting is a liability in the halfcourt.

For now, he’ll create plenty of fastbreaks against the Nets. Simmons is a good enough player to set the style against that defense. He’s better than Dudley, who’s just a role player.

But Dudley is also a smart player. And he’s spot-on here.

Potential top-10 pick De’Andre Hunter, potential first-rounder Ty Jerome leaving Virginia for NBA draft

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De'Andre Hunter and Ty Jerome just led Virginia to a national championship.

Now, they’re trying to parlay that title into success at the next level.

Hunter and Jerome declared for the 2019 NBA drat with the intent to stay in it, Virginia announced.

Hunter will probably be a top-10, maybe even top-five, pick.

At 6-foot-8 with a 7-foot-2 wingspan and a strong base and impressive lateral mobility, the forward has excellent defensive versatility. He’s steady on and off the ball. I question whether he’ll lock up the better athletes he’ll more regularly face in the NBA, but his defensive floor is quite high.

He’s also a good 3-point shooter, though his slow release limits the number of attempts he can get up. Otherwise, Hunter lacks the explosiveness and ball-handling to become a traditional star.

Maybe he’ll be an excellent 3-and-D role player. In this weak-looking draft, that possibility is enough to make him coveted.

Jerome also lacks the burst to possess high upside, but that’s more understandable late in the first round, where he’s projected. The 6-foot-5 guard is a good outside shooter with a knack for getting open. He has plenty of distributing ability for a secondary playmaker but isn’t enough of a threat to create for himself to run an offense through him.

He’s limited defensively, but he has a decent knack for when to gamble when there’s good help – like Hunter – behind him.