After Arizona fell to Wisconsin in a hard-fought Elite Eight battle, Marc Spears of Yahoo! Sports indicated that Wildcats NBA draft prospect Aaron Gordon will probably turn pro:
Barring a stunning change of mind, freshman Aaron Gordon has likely played his last game at Arizona and is headed to the NBA, sources said.— Marc J. Spears (@SpearsNBAYahoo) March 30, 2014
The 6'9" leaper has been on the radar of scouts since high school, and a strong yet unspectacular year at Arizona was enough to keep his draft stock in the lottery.
With his tremendous instincts, elite athleticism and versatility, he provided 12.2 points, 7.9 rebounds and stifling defense to keep Arizona atop the Pac-12 for most of the year. He's not a dynamic offensive weapon like Jabari Parker or Andrew Wiggins, but he does so many things well on both sides of the ball.
For many Gordon followers, it's been a little tricky to project what kind of impact he'll make in the Association.
To give an idea of what his career could look like, we broke down his best- and worse-case NBA comparisons.
Best Case: Shawn Marion
When you soak in Gordon's vertical explosiveness and aerial agility, it's hard not to think about Los Angeles Clippers star Blake Griffin. There are some similarities between the two, especially because both are at the very top of the athleticism food chain.
Griffin presents a good best-case physical resemblance, but Gordon's unorthodox style of play and magnificent versatility beg a better comparison.
Enter Shawn "Matrix" Marion.
If Gordon can maximize his potential on both ends of the floor, he can be a better ball-handling version of the two-way NBA veteran. Marion is the type of player who proves that the defensive hustle guy can also be highly productive on offense.
Marion supplies exemplary defense with his length and footwork, and in his heyday with the Phoenix Suns, he was routinely among the top 10 in the NBA in defensive win shares. Even though he spends a ton of energy on that end, he still has plenty left in the tank to work hard offensively, crash the glass and make all the right plays.
During his "prime years" from 2001 to 2007, Marion put up gaudy numbers across the board: 19.7 PPG, 10.3 RPG, 2.0 SPG and 2.1 APG.
The Matrix doesn't have outstanding shot-creating or shot-making skills, but his awareness as a mover and passer puts him in good situations, and his explosiveness around the rim earns piles of rebounds. It's the same kind of nightly contributions that Gordon could make if he finds his niche during his prime.
Even later in his career with the Mavericks, you can see in Marion a less explosive version of what Gordon could potentially do.
Gordon's versatility is ultimately what draws this comparison. He's much more than a highlight-reel dunker, and his influence on the game goes well beyond his athleticism. Arizona head coach Sean Miller talked to Pac-12.com's Kevin Zimmerman about the youngster's multidimensional approach:
What's so unique about Aaron Gordon's defense? Miller thinks it comes in the versatility that allows the freshman forward to handle big men and perimeter players alike. 'I can say that I don't think anyone that I've coached have been successful as a freshman doing that,' Miller said.
As an 18-year-old, he was able to give Arizona an elite defensive presence in the frontcourt, being able to guard forwards or wings. He would often check the best player on the other team, and the Wildcats would switch him onto whoever was hot in order to shut him down. Doesn't that remind you a whole lot of Marion's impact throughout the years?
Offensively, neither one is a playmaker, but they're always aware of their teammates and are able to quickly find the open man. Jump shooting isn't their calling card, but they're able to knock down open shots when the team needs them to do so.
The cadence to their offensive game isn't what you see from a prototypical forward, but they get the job done. And in transition and on the glass, they're anything but typical.
Several scouts and analysts love the comparison:
Kudos to @franfraschilla for nailing the Aaron Gordon comparison early. Shawn Marion esque.— Jon Rothstein (@JonRothstein) November 15, 2013
Gordon reminds me a lot of a young Marion. Great athlete. Defends mult positions. Hybrid SF/PF. Does a lot of things well. Unorthodox game.— Mike Schmitz (@Mike_Schmitz) January 28, 2014
One exec I talked to compared Gordon to Shawn Marion. Would guess any team would be happy with that.— Chris Mannix (@ChrisMannixSI) February 15, 2014
If Gordon can reach that level of two-way productivity, he'll sniff out a couple All-Star appearances like the Matrix and be a solid second or third scoring option.
Worst Case: Thinner, versatile version of Kenneth Faried
Denver Nuggets high-flyer Kenneth "Manimal" Faried has an incredible motor and upper-echelon athleticism as a power forward. He rebounds tenaciously and is an absolute monster in fast-break scenarios.
He's not much of a half-court creator, but he gets his fair share of putbacks, alley-oops and drop-step dunks. Faried has averaged 11.7 points and 8.4 rebounds per game during his three seasons in the Association, and that's the kind of offensive output we could expect from Gordon if he doesn't blossom.
It's not a bad worst-case scenario, because Gordon is too athletic and plays too hard to have a woeful basement.
Faried shows glimpses of handling the ball and hits the occasional mid-range jumper, but most of his damage is done in transition. Here's a recent sampling of Faried's handiwork against the Miami Heat:
Other similarities that we see between Gordon's future and Faried are shot-blocking ability and subpar free-throw shooting.
Faried uses his leaping prowess and seven-foot wingspan to block shots as an on-ball defender and weak-side helper. Even in a less-than-favorable career, Gordon will be able to use comparable tools. It's worth noting, however, that Gordon will be a much smarter and more fundamentally sound defender early in his career, as Faried has been error-prone as a youngster.
The most troublesome aspect of Gordon's season at Arizona was his free-throw shooting. He looked a bit stiff and off-balance, and he didn't exhibit the smoothest delivery. As a result, he shot a horrendous 42 percent from the charity stripe.
His work ethic suggests that he'll improve that mark throughout his pro career, but even if he only improves 20 percent, he'll be in the neighborhood of a below-average free-throw shooter like Faried, who has shot 64 percent for his career.
The bottom line for Gordon's worst-case scenario is far from a bust. If his game doesn't fully translate to the NBA, he'll still be a Faried-type energy guy who can impose his will without being a featured on-ball operator.
Dan O'Brien covers the NBA Draft for Bleacher Report.
Follow him on Twitter: @DanielO_BR