It seems with the seventh selection in the 2014 NBA Draft, the Lakers are only picking from a pool of divisive players. With every swoon of a blogger regarding Marcus Smart's driving ability, another swath of people will dive right in with concerns about his shooting and attitude. Noah Vonleh certainly has his fans, but also has his detractors who wonder why he wasn't more of an offensive threat on such a middling Indiana team this past year. Doug McDermott, Gary Harris, Tyler Ennis and Zach LaVine might all be fine, fine pros eventually, but I could pick them apart after watching just a few minutes of video. Former University of Arizona forward Aaron Gordon is no different.
Most scouts that I've read and video that I've watched on Gordon all read almost exactly the same--a flawed player who still has an otherworldly athleticism, drive and most importantly, youth on his side. Let's break down the big man point by point:
In most cases, for a blogger to put down "athleticism" as a bulleted argument is usually an exercise in laziness--after all, if we're talking about an NBA lottery pick, we're usually talking about guy with world-class athleticism.
But for Aaron Gordon? A seemingly mundane point has got to be highlighted.
Gordon isn't just a great athlete--he'll enter the league as one of the NBA's most freakishly gifted individuals. Take a look at this video:
What's most scary about Gordon's athleticism is that sometimes, it doesn't even look that impressive. But part of that are deceiving components of his length and strength and the unbelievable ease at which these feats come to him. No, he's not as explosive as a frequently echoed comp in Blake Griffin, nor does he appear as powerful as a more traditional big man in the vein of Dwight Howard. However, the effortlessness at which he grabs alley-oops and glides to the rim on dunks becomes more and more impressive on subsequent viewings.
From what I've seen, I wouldn't say that Gordon is a spectacular rebounder skill-wise, but rather a relentless athlete who's able to grab boards with his tenacity. Guys like Lamar Odom and Kevin Love are great rebounders--guys who have a knack for knowing where the ball will be and the right touch with their hands to tip and grab any ball within their space. I don't see that as much in Gordon (especially considering his size), though his speed and motor makes up for what he lacks naturally.
I'm not saying that having the speed of The Flash in the body of Bane guarantees anyone a long NBA career. However, athleticism at this level can turn a reckless gunner like Andrew Goudelock into an MVP-caliber player like Russell Westbrook.
An in-depth look at the Oklahoma State point guard as it pertains to the Lakers' draft position.
Like in the case of Ryan Kelly, who I profiled weeks ago, I was extremely impressed with Gordon's advanced ball handling for such a young player. Time after time, I saw him able to lead the Wildcats on a fast break, as well as take the ball from the wing and weave through traffic on the way towards an easy two. He's got sure hands and can change directions with relative ease, all rare qualities considering his reach (6'11" wingspan) and height (6'8"). As I just detailed, one of Gordon's primary skills at the next level is going to be his ability to get to the rim and explode over defenders. It's by a fantastic bit of happenstance that he'll be able to handle the ball in getting there rather than simply relying on his guards to deliver him the ball as close to the rim as possible.
As much as explosiveness and athleticism have been Gordon's calling cards during his one year in the desert, he's been just as impressive on the defensive end.
On that side of the court, I haven't seen much to criticize. He's got fantastic footwork and a strong enough base (well, at least at the college level) to bang with any opposing big men who try to lay claim to the interior. Like any young defender, he may hedge hard at times, but is a great weak side rim protector who utilizes his lateral quickness and explosive burst that make him into a vicious shot blocker. I'm least concerned about this part of his game at the NBA level and would greatly help one of the worst defenses in the league with the Lakers.
Perhaps the most maligned of all of Gordon's blemishes is his jump shot. Scouts and bloggers have been talking about it essentially all season long, and with good reason. His shooting percentages this past season at Arizona tell half the story: just .495 FG% from the floor despite a ton of his shots coming on dunks, a respectable .356 3P% (though on just 46 attempts) but a woeful .422 FT% on nearly 5 free passes a game. Those are fairly disparaging numbers when taken in context, let alone actually seeing his shooting in action.
Don't believe me? Take a look for yourself:
It's not that Gordon has such a terrible jumper. His load-up is fairly smooth and he's got a high release point that will compensate for his lack of height. However, he's got a very noticeable break in the shot, right when his arms come up for the release. It's a slight hitch that doesn't seem to make much of a difference here in this shooting drill, but in practice during games, it's not nearly as functional.
It seems like this is something that could be worked out with proper NBA coaching, as Gordon's jumper doesn't look terribly broken. Of bigger concern is of course his free throw shooting, which doesn't behoove him going to the next level.
Or a lack thereof, really.
The real problem that I have with Gordon is that every time I've seen him get the ball in the post, it's like a toddler that's been handed a set of Legos--confused wonderment leading into rapid disinterest. Aaron can't really do anything with the rock with his back to the basket. Whether it be his lack of size, length or footwork, he's fairly clueless as to how to proceed given the opportunity. Of the video I've seen, there's no evidence that suggests to me Gordon has a "go-to move" under the rim, aside from an ability to back down defenders until they make a mistake.I haven't seen him deliver a reliable hook shot, nor any up and under moves that may deceive an opposing teams.
Again, it's not that this isn't coachable at the next level, but it alarms me how rudimentary Gordon's skill set is at this facet of the game.
With all these pros and cons put into consideration, the real problem is that Gordon's size leaves him in a positional identity crisis. At (a generous) 6'8", he's actually closer in height, size and length to someone like Paul George than Blake Griffin (his athletically and a little bit racially-charged comparison most cited by onlookers). His defensive ability, ball-handling and athleticism might lend more to being a small-ball power forward or swingman on the NBA level, but unfortunately his still-developing shooting touch cripples his availability as a professional small forward upon his entry to the league.
The biggest problem that Gordon has, in my eyes, is that his abilities and skills do not complement each other at all. He's got a very solid handle and explosiveness that allows him to get to the rim with ease, but at the same time, he's a horrific free throw shooter. His leaping ability and shot blocking seem to prescribe him as a perfect 4, but his height and complete lack of post play could leave his team at a deficit at both ends of the floor. Defensively, he can guard opposing small forwards, but can't shoot well enough to reciprocate in kind.
This isn't to say that Gordon doesn't have other skills that could help him prevail in the NBA at either forward position. Like Tyson Chandler, his ability to suck in defenders because of any potential lob plays is a powerful offensive tool that can destroy opposing schemes. His height may not make Gordon into a frontline shotblocker, but given a solid enough anchor in the middle, he may be able to transform into one of the best weakside rim protectors in the league.
Gordon, maybe more than any other player in the Lakers's selection range, has created the most conflicting set of opinions, but as I've outlined, with good reason. I could see his post play and shooting improve over time just as Blake Griffin's has, and defensively, he looks like he could be ahead of the multi-time All-Star. On the flipside, I could also see a broken jumper stay the same or even get worse, as well as his free throw shooting simply destroying his ability as an offensive player in the NBA. However, I conferred with several fans of the great University of Arizona men's basketball program, who remarked to me about Gordon's unbelievable work ethic and desire to be coached into a better player. For a player with such visible flaws, that's a very emboldening sign.
In terms of who he'll resemble in the league, many people make the comparison to Griffin, but I don't completely see it. Griffin was a much more polished rebounder and offensive player when he came into the NBA, with slightly better size and strength. Then again, Gordon is still just 18 years old, whereas Griffin was a 20-year-old sophomore when he was drafted in 2009. I've also made frequent comparisons to Kenneth Faried, though those parallels come strictly at the offensive end. The Denver forward has similar hitches in his jump shot and a fairly undeveloped post game, but the same tenacious motor in terms of rebounding despite a lack of size and weight. As is the case with Blake, Gordon's defensive abilities already far surpass Faried's, so the comparison there is imperfect as well. I've read a lot of Shawn Kemp comparisons between the two, but the Reign Man's mid-range shooting ability really sets them apart.
Personally, it's hard for me to see the Lakers taking him ahead of Julius Randle, Noah Vonleh or Marcus Smart, but an impressive work out could very well change Jim Buss and Mitch Kupchak's thinking. If the Lakers were to take Gordon, they'd be getting a player with several NBA-level tools already in place--many of which aren't coachable--but with acres to go in terms of fully realizing what could be All-Star potential. In selecting him, LA would at the very least be getting a great role player and at his ceiling an All-NBA-caliber star.
--Follow this author @TheGreatMambino