Arizona's explosive NBA draft prospect Aaron Gordon turned heads with his athleticism and energy throughout 2013-14. His end-to-end hustle and above-the-rim impact helped fuel the Wildcats' run to the Elite Eight.
In the process, the freshman drew many comparisons to one of the Association's most captivating players: Los Angeles Clippers All-Star Blake Griffin.
Like the Lob City poster boy, Gordon can climb the topmost rung of the ladder to make electrifying plays. He's a strong, agile player who creates matchup problems and can overwhelm opponents.
Making NBA comparisons is an inexact endeavor, but it helps us get an idea of how a college standout like Gordon can translate to the pros.
Can he be the next version of Griffin?
When it comes to offensive impact, Gordon reminds us of Griffin the most when he's operating in transition.
If you've seen Gordon and Griffin in the open floor, you know what I mean. These guys can absolutely dominate in fast-break scenarios, with the ability to elevate over the crowd and score forcefully. They both get off the ground quickly and have sky-scraping max verticals.
Griffin can catch and finish almost anything thrown his way, and he can follow up misses with deft or strong putbacks. He was a transition nightmare from the moment he entered the league, and he's only improved in that area since. In 2013-14, he's converting 82 percent of his field-goal attempts and scoring 1.4 points per possession in transition, per Synergy Sports (subscription required).
If Gordon earns the opportunities, he'll certainly make hyper-athletic plays like Griffin.
But there's another aspect of Griffin's transition game that Arizona's star could soon achieve. I'm talking about ball-handling skills and passing on the move. Check out Blake's below-the-rim impact:
During his freshman year in Tucson, we saw Gordon flash some of those traits, as he was unselfish on the break and even played quarterback on alley-oops. He showed the ability to take it coast-to-coast a few times, although he's still a bit right-hand dominant.
Gordon handling in transition looks so much like Blake Griffin did in college.— Hardwood Paroxysm (@HPbasketball) February 7, 2014
In both uptempo and half-court situations, Gordon could cultivate his promising ball-handling skills and become a similar versatile asset.
With that statement, Gordon is overrating himself a little and underrating Griffin a little. Neither one is truly point guard material, but they both have superb passing skills for being 6'9" rim-rockers. Griffin has become a highly proficient passer as a power forward, dropping 3.8 dimes per game.
Weird thing: The Blake Griffin-Aaron Gordon comparison works better now because Blake improved his ballhandling.— Kevin Pelton (@kpelton) March 15, 2014
Notching 2.5 assists per 40 minutes as a freshman, Gordon is on his way to being a frontcourt facilitator. You can tell he possesses the awareness and mindset necessary to be a productive passer.
In the jump-shooting department, Gordon's career path could be quite comparable to Griffin's.
Their shooting motions aren't exactly the same, and Gordon took more three-pointers as a college freshman, but they have similar struggles and similar roles.
Gordon shot 28 percent on two-point jumpers in 2013-14, an unsightly number courtesy of his less-than-fluid delivery. He doesn't get lift to shoot, and he's got a long way to go before he'll have a fundamentally sound stroke and consistently connect in rhythm.
In college at Oklahoma, Griffin did a lot less jump shooting, but that's partially because he was more physically dominant inside. During his first three years in L.A., he battled inconsistency as a shooter because of his rigid form. He's still a bit stiff on his jumper, but it's improved and he's much more confident from 15-20 feet.
Judging by his long-range ambition in college, Gordon could end up being more productive from the perimeter than Griffin. But he'll need to learn how to rise up to shoot, and like Griffin, smooth out his form.
In the low post, the comparison gets a little dicey for Gordon.
The Wildcats stud has plenty of bounce and enough rebounding instincts to compete and make sporadic plays on the interior, but he doesn't possess the sheer power of Griffin. He's more of a 3/4 hybrid, whereas Griffin meets all the requirements of a true power forward.
Griffin wasn't an advanced back-to-the-basket player coming out of college, but he did have a muscular frame. It enabled him to bull his way for position on drives, post-ups and box-outs.
As his career has progressed, he's been able to use that 250-pound frame to effectively carve out position deep on the block and finish strong.
Watch him impose his will against grown men like Zach Randolph and Reggie Evans:
Will Gordon be able to bruise his way to buckets like that in three to four years?
He's strong, but I'm not betting on him becoming as powerful as Griffin.
Gordon is listed at 225 by ESPN, and that might be a tad generous. Either way, he's at least 25 pounds lighter than the Blake Show, and he's definitely slimmer than Griffin was coming out of Oklahoma.
Like Griffin, he could develop some pivot moves and effective footwork, but he would need to bulk up significantly in order to clash with the alpha dogs of the NBA paint.
There are also some significant differences between the two defensively.
As we just mentioned, Gordon doesn't have as much mass as Griffin. That's going to prevent him from guarding some of the stronger post players in the NBA, the power forwards and centers in the 240-260 range.
The good news, however, is that Gordon's a more talented and alert all-around defender than Griffin was at his age.
Due to his lateral quickness, Arizona's utility man is able to guard several positions, ranging from guards all the way to power forwards. He slides efficiently to cut them off and has a terrific grasp of angles and timing. Not only will he be a more versatile on-ball stopper than Griffin, he'll be a more helpful and less-frustrating team defender.
Here's a sampling of his awareness and quickness defending the pick-and-roll:
Aaron Gordon pick and roll defense is a bundle of fun https://t.co/pg29wQHce8— Tyler Lashbrook (@lashy) March 30, 2014
Meanwhile, Griffin wasn't such a sharp help defender when he was Gordon's age. He provided thrilling highlights offensively as soon as he turned pro, but he also contributed a bunch of defensive lowlights from a positioning and decision-making standpoint.
In short, Gordon is going to be a noticeably different guardian than Griffin from day one.
Bottom Line: Can Gordon Become the Next Griffin?
The two may share several traits, especially if the Wildcats youngster hits the weight room harder and improves his mid-range jump shot like Griffin has. However, Gordon won't quite become the next Blake Griffin, and as Arizona coach Sean Miller told ESPN's Myron Medcalf, the comparisons are "unfair."
Don't misinterpret that as a cop-out to set the bar low. Rather, it's an assertion that he'll likely play a different style at the next level.
Gordon is going to be an effective combo forward who, by necessity, will spend more time on the wing than Griffin. He'll be a productive, dependable role player—potentially a star—who defends at an elite level and contributes in all areas offensively.
No need to worry, though. Even if he's not Blake 2.0, Gordon will still supply plenty of Griffin-esque jaw-dropping plays...in which case, we all win.
Dan O'Brien covers the NBA Draft for Bleacher Report.
Follow him on Twitter: @DanielO_BR