Why Aaron Gordon's Versatility Makes Him Intriguing 2014 Top NBA Draft Prospect

Jonathan WassermanNBA Lead WriterApril 14, 2014

USA Today

A top contributor for a premier team throughout the year, Aaron Gordon had a terrific freshman season for Arizona. Only he wasn't a consistent performer on offense.

Gordon didn't regularly light up the box scores or take over games as a scorer. Looking back, I actually think the Blake Griffin comparisons from last summer now seem pretty silly. 

Not because Gordon can't play, but because they're two different types of forwards with unrelated strengths, other than high-flying, above-the-rim athleticism. 

Gordon's current and projected strengths revolve around his invaluable two-way versatility.

Usually when you think of a freak athlete like Gordon, the first thing that comes to mind is offensive upside. But not here. Arguably Gordon's most appealing strength is his defense, where he's a blanket that can take the shape of just about any opposing player.

He finished No. 1 in the country in defensive win shares, a stat that estimates the number of wins contributed by a player due to his defense, per Sports-Reference.com.

Gordon has the foot speed and lateral quickness to stay with guards and wings on the perimeter:

He's very tough to lose or shake, and he has the length and quickness to recover if he ends up getting caught in traffic or beat with a first step:

Gordon also has the size and length to defend big men in the post:

He's savvy defensively. He's figured out some of the nuances of the game, like how to contest shots and bother guys without fouling:


Gordon has the chance to evolve into a smothering defensive weapon who can guard almost every position on the floor. 

Offensively, he's not as polished, but his high basketball IQ and constant energy have helped make up for an unrefined set of skills. Gordon isn't a guy you feature or isolate. He has the ability to impact a game without having his number called or needing the ball in his hands. 

For starters, Gordon grabbed the most offensive rebounds in the Pac-12 with 102, and he finished with 54 putbacks on the season, per Hoop-Math. That's 108 points alone off cleaning up others' misses.

He's also an excellent passer, having averaged two assists per game with limited touches in the offense. Gordon sees the floor and demonstrates a fairly disciplined shot selection. He takes the good ones and resists the urges to force the bad ones. Gordon finds ways to score opportunistically despite lacking the ability to create.

The rest of his game is powered by his world-class athleticism and nonstop motor. 

In the half court, he scores off cuts, slashes, slips and flashes. Gordon finishes over 70 percent of his shots around the rim, per Hoop-Math, a reflection of his devastating blend of hops and coordination. 

In transition, Gordon isn't just a threat as a finisher on the break; off a defensive rebound, he's a threat to start it. A number of times this year we've seen Gordon handle the ball and take it coast to coast before the defense can set. 

In the pros, he'll probably end up playing more power forward on a full-time basis, considering his three-ball isn't threatening enough to stretch the floor as a wing. 

However, he did actually find the zone from outside late in the season, and he finished with a respectable 35.6 percent clip shooting from beyond the arc. When Gordon can catch, gather, square and release in rhythm, he actually looks pretty comfortable.

Thinking long term, I kind of dig the Shawn Marion comparison myself—a forward who moves like a 3, rebounds like a 4, defends both positions and finishes plays within the offense. But the Kenyon Martin (in his prime) comparison isn't a bad one, either:

Gordon is a unique player in the class, given the various angles and cylinders he can impact a game from. 

Don't get too caught up on his 12.4-point-per-game average as a freshman. Between his defense, finishing ability, rebounding and passing, along with his offensive instincts as an opportunistic scorer, there are plenty of other ways for Gordon to make his presence felt.