Arizona Wildcats freshman Aaron Gordon lived up to the hype in his first year in Tucson, and now he's preparing to make the leap to the NBA.
According to Marc J. Spears of Yahoo Sports, Gordon will forgo the rest of his collegiate eligibility and enter what will be a loaded 2014 draft class: "University of Arizona freshman forward Aaron Gordon will announce this week he's entering the 2014 NBA draft, source told Yahoo Sports."
Staying an extra year in school may have benefited any number of the top prospects. Eric Bossi of Rivals.com certainly felt Gordon should stay in college for another season:
Gordon isn't quite the same prospect as Kansas' Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid or Duke's Jabari Parker, but he is essentially a lock to go in the top 10. Bleacher Report's Jonathan Wasserman has him at No. 9 in his latest mock draft.
At 6'9", 225 pounds, the 18-year-old still has room to pack on some weight. What helps is that Gordon has noticeable natural strength, excellent athleticism for his size and sports great versatility as a result.
The Wildcats ranked No. 1 in adjusted defensive efficiency, per KenPom.com, and Gordon was the anchor. He's capable of shutting down just about any position on the floor.
Gordon isn't the most polished offensive player, and how he develops on that end of the court will ultimately determine whether he is viewed as an elite prospect from this talented class. One obvious red flag in that regard is that he shot 42.2 percent from the free-throw line this past season.
Still, he averaged 12.4 points, eight rebounds and two assists. The Pac-12 Freshman of the Year also shot an efficient 49.5 percent from the floor and flashed some potential from beyond the arc, hitting three-pointers at a 35.6 percent rate on just over one attempt per contest.
Matt Moore of CBSSports took a closer look at the raw ability Gordon has on offense in his evaluation:
Synergy Sports has Gordon in the 12th percentile for jump shots, 15th percentile in post-up situations, and 13th percentile in offensive putbacks. That last one is the bigger concern. You can improve your jumper, you can improve your post-up situations. But with Gordon's wingspan and athleticism, he should be producing more points on putbacks.
Arizona was a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament, and after a run to the Elite Eight, there is a foundation of winning for Gordon to draw on as he takes the next step in his bright future.
Wildcats head coach Sean Miller praised how well Gordon handled the hype that surrounded him as a 5-star recruit out of Archbishop Mitty High School (San Jose, Calif.), per a March 15 report by AZCentral.com's Paola Boivin:
When you have someone as highly touted as Aaron before he even shows up at Arizona, no matter how good of a kid, there's always going to be ups and downs, no matter how talented of a player. But I could never have predicted how well he's handled just being part of the team, being part of the university, being unselfish. He's the same way every day...He wants to play well, but it's always been about the win.
When you have someone with that mind-set who is also really talented, it's hard to be selfish if you're his teammate. Here's somebody who has every reason to sometimes be selfish and I don't know if he's ever been that.
With how much of a mismatch he can be for players at his position, Gordon has been able to rely on his physical gifts at every level of competition. Such won't really be the case when he arrives in the NBA, so he must polish up his skill set, develop into a better outside shooter and continue being aggressive.
Perhaps most importantly, he'll need to work on his free throws so he's not a complete liability in close games. We've seen Los Angeles Clippers forward Blake Griffin improve in that regard, and Gordon will need to as well.
The two high-flyers have been compared before, and free-throw shooting has helped elevate Griffin's game to another level this season.