Why Expectations for Aaron Gordon Should Be Tempered During Rookie Season

Jonathan WassermanNBA Lead WriterJuly 29, 2014

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For now, forget about the No. 4 overall label that's attached to Aaron Gordon's profile. Ignore the buzz that's surrounded him since his days as a McDonald's All-American.

Feel free to get excited about some jaw-dropping highlight plays—those babies will be there as long as Gordon gets an opportunity. 

But if you're looking for a Rookie of the Year contender or a sleeper for your 2014-15 fantasy squad, look somewhere else.

Gordon will be turning just 19 years old in September, making him one of the youngest players in the NBA. And at this point, his skill level is too far behind his physical tools and world-class athleticism. 

Offensively, that athleticism should translate to a few easy buckets here and there, but it won't be enough to neutralize his lack of offensive polish.

The University of Arizona product is essentially heading into battle without any weapons—no reliable jumper, one-on-one game or moves to comfortably go to. And it's going to make him vulnerable and ineffective much of the time against set defenses and ball pressure.

ORLANDO, FL - JULY 8: Aaron Gordon #00 of the Orlando Magic defends against against Kalin Lucas #14 of the Memphis Grizzlies during the game during the Samsung NBA Summer League 2014 on July 8, 2014 at Amway Center in Orlando, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User
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Gordon is coming off a Summer League in which he averaged 7.8 points, shot 35 percent from the field, finished 0-of-10 from downtown and shot 47.8 percent from the line (five games, 26.4 minutes per game).

"Statistically-wise, I didn't do great," Gordon told Fox Sports Florida's Ken Hornack. "But it was fun basketball, and I took a lot away from it. When I get back in the gym, I'm going to have an idea of what I need to work on."

The ball skills just aren't there yet. He's capable of making open shots, attacking open lanes or dribbling on the open floor. But when guarded or challenged, Gordon struggles shooting, beating his man and handling the ball in tight spaces.

His inability to create with the game slowed down will end up forcing him to rely on ball movement, play execution and hustle for scoring chances. Unless there's an available lane to hit that only requires one or two dribbles to get through, odds are most of Gordon's looks will be of the catch-and-score variety. That means lobs, dunks off dump passes, offensive put-backs and fast breaks.

But it also means limited scoring opportunities, as these are all avenues for offense that require setup men, poor defense or even a lucky bounce once in a while.

And in Orlando, Gordon won't be surrounded by many credible playmakers to set him up or draw too much defensive attention. The Magic are looking at a rookie point guard in Elfrid Payton who spent the last three years in the Sun Belt Conference with Louisiana-Lafayette.

ORLANDO, FL - JULY 7: Aaron Gordon #00 of the Orlando Magic looks on against the Houston Rockets during the Samsung NBA Summer League 2014 on July 7, 2014 at Amway Center in Orlando, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by d
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While they're different players, Gordon's situation in Orlando reminds me of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist's in Charlotte when he was drafted with the second pick in 2012. 

Kidd-Gilchrist, who, like Gordon, lacked refined offensive skills, was drafted to a team that was bereft of established talent to play off. It forced Kidd-Gilchrist to create most of his own scoring opportunities, a major weakness in his game at 19 and 20 years old. It's led to inefficiency and inconsistency, though, to his defense, injuries haven't helped.

He's also struggled to capitalize as a shooter in a spot-up role, which has only compounded his offensive problems. Based on everything we've seen from Gordon at Arizona and in summer league, I wouldn't expect his jumper to do him any favors early on, either.

The good news is that Gordon has a fantastic foundation to build on. Between his size (6'9", 225 lbs), elite athleticism and intangibles (work ethic, motor, passing and defensive instincts), he's got everything you can't teach with room to grow in the areas that can improve with reps and time. 

It should take Gordon a few seasons to adjust and ultimately find his place in the game; he doesn't exactly have a true identity or position at the moment, without the post repertoire of a 4 or the perimeter skills of a 3.

ORLANDO, FL - JULY 7: Aaron Gordon #00 of the Orlando Magic handles the ball against the Houston Rockets during the Samsung NBA Summer League 2014 on July 7, 2014 at Amway Center in Orlando, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees th
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"Once he figures out what he's doing out there, Gordon has a chance to be a hell of a player in this league," an Eastern Conference executive told ESPN.com's Michael Wallace. "He's a guy that has a tremendously high ceiling, with all the talk about Blake Griffin. But there's also a chance there's a very low floor."

Wallace also noted the downside tied to Gordon's youth and tweener skill set. 

There's no doubting Gordon's upside—we could be talking about one of the game's most versatile defensive weapons one day who can pass, rebound and finish at high levels. 

But the immediate expectations surrounding Gordon need to be tempered. 

He should be looking at a massive learning curve over the next few years, though the Magic didn't take Gordon to improve their playoff odds in 2014-15. They took him with the hopes he'll eventually evolve into a long-term starter and franchise cornerstone. 

The flashes will be there from Gordon early on—the high-flying dunks, the nifty finishes, the occasional outside shot and the on-ball block or steal. 

It's just going to be a few years before he turns these flashes into regular, every-game occurrences.