Aaron Gordon, 6-foot-9 power forward, Arizona
2013-14 stats: 12.4 PPG, 8.0 RPG, 2.0 APG, 42.2 FT%
Still relatively raw offensively, Gordon has one of the highest upsides in the draft, as a superior athlete with a terrific motor and great defensive prowess. A team-first player whose statistics don’t define his full value, the versatile forward’s all-around potential is what makes him so appealing as a prospect. However, the 18-year-old’s deficiencies can’t be ignored and if he doesn’t improve as a shooter, his ceiling can only be so high.
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Career highlights: A McDonald’s All-American out of San Jose, Calif., Gordon made an instant impact at Arizona, helping the Wildcats win their first 21 games of the season and eventually advance to the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament. On a talented, balanced squad, he averaged 12.4 points, eight rebounds, two assists and a blocked shot per game. At season’s end, Gordon was named the Pac-12’s freshman of the year and received first team all-conference recognition.
Strengths: An elite-level athlete, Gordon’s explosiveness, lateral quickness and fluidity immediately stand out, as he simply makes plays on both ends of the floor, all over the court and on and off the ball, whether they register as statistics or not. A selfless player, he’s especially impactful on defense, where he can guard multiple positions, both on the interior and the perimeter, use his athleticism to be a shot-blocking presence and get out into transition, where he’s an absolute terror, throwing down highlight-reel dunks with regularity. Offensively, Gordon’s excellent ballhandling ability and passing acumen for his size and position often get lost in the shuffle, as he possesses the ball skills and quickness to play small forward, yet rebounds, finishes and plays with his back to the basket like a big man.
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Weaknesses: Between his abysmal free-throw percentage and lack of consistency from outside, Gordon’s biggest issue is shooting the ball, making him somewhat of a liability on offense, at least in terms of his aspirations to be a full-time perimeter player. That tacitly affects him on the other end of the court, too, as he’d be forced to play power forward, defending bigger players and while he has a solid frame to play on the wing, he’s rather slender and only has average size to be an interior player. Gordon’s versatility is a bit of a gift and a curse, as the team he lands with will have to have the right personnel surrounding him to maximize his effectiveness, at least until he improves into a passable shooter.
Draft projection: A legitimate candidate to be selected as high as fifth to Utah and as low as 11th to Denver, while Gordon’s game hasn’t changed, other prospects have been on the rise as of late. Regardless, wherever he ends up, Gordon will be able to earn significant playing time right away because of his physical tools, motor, defensive prowess and will to win. Assuming he does evolve into at least a decent shooter, Gordon could have a very productive long-term career as one of the NBA’s better two-way players, but even if his offensive game remains limited, his defense, athleticism and high-energy style alone will make him an effective player.