Aaron Gordon entered this season at Arizona as one of the higher profile freshman in this year’s crop. Though he slipped out of the can’t-miss prospect category early in the season, it hasn’t changed the fact that he is an intriguing athletic talent, and an almost assured lottery pick. Gordon has been referred to as a “video-game” athlete capable of making plays that nobody else can, a quality that hints at him becoming a potential future star in the NBA. He currently is ranked No. 7 on Chad Ford of ESPN.com‘s Big board, and is sitting at No. 8 in the latest mock draft by Draft Express, and No. 19 in NBA Draft.net‘s. This illustrates just how divisive his potential is amongst scouts.
Gordon, in 34 games, has averaged 12.1 PPG, 7.8 RPG, 1.8 APG, 0.9 SPG, and 0.9 BPG in 30.9 minutes per contest, and hasn’t “wowed” scouts like many expected. He was promised to play the small forward position this season by coach Sean Miller and has spent most of his time there. The problem is that Gordon hasn’t shown he can really shoot the ball from deep effectively. His slash line is .481/.308/.435. Some NBA scouts have pegged him as one of those “dreaded tweeners.” Gordon has displayed the ability to handle the ball often and pass well, which can make him effective in the right system.
At 6’8″ and 210 pounds, this 18 year-old has the height and athleticism to play power forward, but scouts question if he possesses the strength to do it successfully for long stretches, and over 82 games. Some have likened him to last year’s No. 1 overall pick Anthony Bennett. Like Bennett, Gordon is a combo forward, which is a polite way of saying that he lacks a natural position. He doesn’t have a traditional small-forward’s body or game, and isn’t the interior power player you typically get with NBA 4s.
Jonathan Wasserman of Bleacher Report points out that not many recent first-round combo forwards have been successful—or at least they haven’t made a positive impression early on. He cites Bennett, Michael Beasley and Derrick Williams, combo forwards who went No. 2 in their respective drafts, or even Thomas Robinson, a No. 5 pick, as examples of these types of players that have struggled to break through the barrier and find success in the NBA.
Offensively, Gordon has struggled this season. According to Matt Moore of CBSSports.com, Gordon is in the 12th percentile for jump shots, 15th percentile in post-up situations, and 13th percentile in offensive putbacks. That last category is the biggest concern, opines Moore. You can improve your jump shot and post game with hard work and coaching. But someone with Gordon’s wingspan and athleticism should be producing more points on putbacks. Much of what he seems to struggle with is how short his jumps are on both inside attempts and offensive rebounds, based on little to no power being spent from this legs, according to the article. Moore does believe that can be corrected through mechanics or building up core and leg muscle in the NBA.
Gordon is a decent spot-up shooter, as his three-point percentage in a small number of attempts indicates, but his value in pick-and-roll situations is limited to roll-only offense, opines Peter Bukowski of SI.com. He hasn’t demonstrated the shooting skill to be effective in pick-and-pop situations, the article observes. Gordon is actually a solid dribble-drive player, but teams don’t have to play him for the shot, so they can give him space while not biting on any shot fakes. When he gets into the paint though, Gordon is a beast. He can elevate and dunk over defenders, or simply lay it in, as he is a strong finisher. He has phenomenal body control that allows him to use his great length and 40-plus vertical in traffic to score. In this regard he has been compared to Blake Griffin, though he doesn’t have Griffin’s overpowering strength. It also doesn’t help Gordon’s overall production that he is a terrible free throw shooter.
He has been excellent defensively, ranking No. 2 in the Pac-12 in defensive wins shares (3.0), which estimates the number of wins a player contributes to his team due to defense. With quick feet and long arms, defense might actually carry over as a strength for Gordon, something few college combo forwards can make a claim to in the NBA, according to the article by Wasserman. Draft Express’ Mike Schmitz said of Gordon, “He gives you so many things that coaches love. I think he might be the most versatile defenders in the country. His feet are so quick. He works really hard to contest shots, he covers so much ground. He’s just a smart, intelligent kid. Defensively, he’ll be able to get on the floor right away.”
Arizona coach Sean Miller also weighed in, saying, “I’ve never had such a young player be so locked in and capable on the defensive end. While it’s hard to argue that an NBA should draft a lockdown defender so high in such a loaded draft, the thought is Gordon’s offensive skillset has only scratched the surface. He guards multiple players each game. In Aaron’s case, he plays the low post, against a post player, and then he turns around and guards perimeter players. I can say that I don’t think any that I’ve coached have been successful as a freshman doing that.”
Aaron Gordon is an intriguing NBA prospect, but is also a big risk based on not having a well-defined NBA position. He doesn’t have the offensive game yet to be a starting small forward, and isn’t strong enough to be an every-game power forward. Athletically he compares favorably with Griffin and Kenneth Faried, but lacks their strength and bulk. Gordon is still a teenager, and he has a sturdy frame, so he should be able to add muscle. But if it affects his overall athleticism, it would produce diminishing returns. He has a wealth of upside, but he’s an extremely risky top ten pick in such a deep draft. In my opinion, Gordon could benefit greatly from another year in school, but the lure of the NBA will be too tempting for him. Despite all his flaws, I still see him being taken in the 7-12 range.