Arizona Basketball: Will Aaron Gordon's Impact Be Bigger on Offense or Defense?

Brian PedersenFeatured ColumnistNovember 12, 2013

Nov 11, 2013; Tucson, AZ, USA; Arizona Wildcats forward Aaron Gordon (11) and Long Beach State 49ers forward Christian Griggs-Williams (21) battle for positioning during a free throw attempt during the second half at McKale Center. Arizona beat Long Beach State 91-57. Mandatory Credit: Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

It came as no surprise that Arizona freshman Aaron Gordon was named Tuesday to the Wooden Award preseason watch list, especially considering the hype that came along with one of the Wildcats' most highly rated college basketball recruits in program history.

And two games into his collegiate career, Gordon has not disappointed. He's recorded double-doubles in both of Arizona's wins, averaging 13.5 points and 10 rebounds to go with 2.5 blocks and 57.9 percent shooting.

But as big of a role as Gordon is expected to play in his (very likely) one season with Arizona, whether he'll have more of impact on offense and defense is still up in the air.

The smart money is on the defensive end, though, especially as he works toward getting himself ready for the NBA.

At 6'9" and 225 pounds, Gordon is playing mostly as a power forward in college; come the pro game, he'll likely shift back and forth from there to small forward, depending on the matchup and game situation. With that in mind, much of what Gordon will do professionally will likely be based on who he is playing against, specifically on defense.

So it's understandable that he'll be asked to take the same approach with the Wildcats.

The early statistics don't fit the defense-first belief, though, as Gordon has attempted more shots than anyone else through two games, and his 11 made field goals are tied with Brandon Ashley for the team lead. But that's been more a matter of the opponents, as neither Cal Poly or Long Beach State had an answer for Gordon's athleticism.

That will change as the season goes along, starting with Thursday's game at San Diego State and continuing on through games against Michigan, Duke (if things pan out in the NIT Season Tip-Off tournament) and into the Pac-12 Conference slate. With the competition getting tougher, look for Gordon to take on more of a role as an interior defender, with the offensive contributions coming as available—or needed.

With Arizona finally having a true point guard in Duquesne transfer T.J. McConnell, there's less of a need for players to create their own shots, which was the case during the 2012-13 season. McConnell has already shown he can dish it out well, with 14 assists to just four turnovers, thus making it easier to get the ball to teammates with open shots or a favorable defender to drive on.

Gordon is going to get his points, and he may very likely still be Arizona's leading scorer this season, but don't expect him to go off for 25 points per game while everyone else just stands around in awe of his talent—not with guards Nick Johnson and Gabe York and swing forward Brandon Ashley just as capable of putting up big numbers.

Gordon has the ability to be one of the top defensive players in the league, if not all of college basketball. It's where he needs to have his greatest impact in order for Arizona to achieve its myriad of goals this season. Sixty percent of Gordon's rebounds have been on the defensive end, and throw in the five blocks (not to mention numerous altered shots he's caused) and you can see how impactful he'll be on defense.

Rest assured, though: Gordon will still provide plenty of highlight-reel material on offense. The alley-oops, the fast break jams, those will still be there. They just won't be what Arizona fans remember him by most after his brief tenure in Tucson.