Aaron Gordon Emerging as Best Freshman in the Country for Arizona

R. Cory SmithSenior Writer IJanuary 10, 2014

TUCSON, AZ - DECEMBER 11:  Aaron Gordon #11 of the Arizona Wildcats defends the inbound pass from the New Mexico State Aggies during the college basketball game at McKale Center on December 11, 2013 in Tucson, Arizona. The Wildcats defeated the Aggies 74-48.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

What's the mark of a great prospect at the college level? Is it drawing comparisons to great players, such as Blake Griffin? Could it be putting up big offensive numbers? Or maybe even being lauded for your defensive prowess through the first 16 games of your career?

If any of these are signs of greatness to come, Aaron Gordon is not only the best freshman in the NCAA this season, but he could be emerging as the No. 1 prospect in next year's class with the No. 1 team in the country.

How is he doing it?

With other freshmen, such as Andrew Wiggins, Julius Randle and Jabari Parker, struggling through the middle of the season, Gordon has not only excelled; he has done so in impressive fashion.

For example, check out Gordon's alley-oop dunk from Thursday night against the PAC-12 rival UCLA Bruins, as shared by ESPN's official YouTube account.

Here is a breakdown of why Gordon is rising to the top of the freshman class this season.

 

Offensive Explosiveness

TUCSON, AZ - DECEMBER 03:  Aaron Gordon #11 of the Arizona Wildcats awaits a free throw shot during the college basketball game against the Texas Tech Red Raiders at McKale Center on December 3, 2013 in Tucson, Arizona. The Wildcats defeated the Red Raide
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

If the monster dunk in the introduction of this article doesn't prove it, Gordon has been one of the best players to watch this season, thanks to his offensive output.

When looking at Gordon compared to the other big-name freshmen this season, it would appear that Gordon is far behind.

Top Four Freshmen Comparison
PlayerPPGRPGFG%
Aaron Gordon12.48.0.510
Andrew Wiggins15.35.4.439
Jabari Parker19.87.6.502
Julius Randle17.410.9.557
NCAA.com

 

What really makes Gordon impressive, though, is his incredible ability above the rim. The freshman is one of the most powerful players in the paint this season and has been so at a consistent clip.

Wiggins has put up huge numbers in several games this year, but his shooting percentage is lower than the .500 mark, which is concerning for a forward.

Parker was recently benched after a poor performance against Notre Dame.

Then there's Randle, who has been putting together a similar year to Gordon's. With Randle's numbers declining during his two games in conference play, though, Gordon could soon be seen as the better offensive threat.

The one weakness Gordon has shown offensively this season is his free-throw shooting, with a percentage that stands at .452. The other freshmen are all above the .700 mark from the charity stripe. With just 4.6 attempts per game, though, Gordon hasn't been tested much at the line, and he can still improve down the stretch.

 

Stingy Defender

Dec 14, 2013; Ann Arbor, MI, USA; Michigan Wolverines guard Caris LeVert (23) goes to the basket defended by Arizona Wildcats forward Aaron Gordon (11) in the first half at Crisler Center. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports
Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Incredible seasons by freshmen in college basketball have become common throughout the last few years. The one Gordon is putting together has been especially impressive, but not because of his offense—because of what he's doing on the other side of the court.

In a recent column, Ryan Feldman of ESPN points to Gordon's defense when writing about why he has separated himself from the rest of the freshmen.

Gordon's defense is a large reason why Arizona has the third-best defensive efficiency in the country. It's also why the Wildcats are 15-0, their best start since 1931-32. 

So when you compare Gordon to Griffin or Wiggins, Parker and Randle, don't forget that defense is just as important as offense—and on defense, Gordon has the edge.

The Wildcats are 16-0 this season, primarily due to their defense. For a team that ranks 117th in scoring offense (75.1 points per game), they are currently tied with Ohio State for third in the NCAA in scoring defense (54.9 PPG).

Gordon leads the team in defensive rebounds with 83 (5.2 per game) and blocks with 16 (one per game). He also has nine steals this season. On a team where defense is the best trait, Gordon is Arizona's best defender.

Much of the attention during the UCLA game was on Gordon's alley-oop; however, Jeremy Sharpe, the associate athletic director for communications at Arizona, said his all-around game was more impressive.

When Arizona defeated Duke on Nov. 29, Chad Ford also tweeted about Gordon's defense.

With teams at the top of the draft looking for all-around players, Gordon is proving that he can get the job done on both sides of the court. As the best defender on one of the best defensive teams in the country, Gordon is certainly selling his case for the top freshman this season.