The youngest likely lottery pick this year also happens to be one of the most intriguing.
Aaron Gordon has done just about everything he could as an amateur on the basketball court, winning a couple of state championships at Archbishop Mitty in San Jose, Calif., serving as the leading scorer and rebounder for Team USA's gold medal squad at the FIBA Under-19 World Championships and being named MVP of the McDonald's All-American Game. As a freshman at Arizona, he averaged 12.4 points and 8.0 rebounds en route to being named the Pac-12 Freshman of the Year.
Not bad for a kid who was born in the closing days of the O.J. Simpson trial.
Gordon won't turn 19 until September, but he arrived at Arizona last summer with a swagger beyond his years and a game that instantly turned heads. He's long, he has a great motor and is creative on the basketball court, and the most intriguing thing about him is he is still blossoming.
He wasn't dominant every time out for the Wildcats, but he turned in enough quality performances to make it clear his future is bright. He opened his college career with a pair of double-doubles, and he posted four of them in his first six games. Gordon showed what he was made of in his first high-profile game against Duke in late November, helping the Wildcats to a 72-66 win over the Blue Devils by scoring 10 points, snagging seven rebounds and handing out four assists. A few weeks later, he helped Arizona to a 72-70 win at Michigan with 14 points and five boards.
At times Gordon looked like a freshman, such as a three-point outing in just 20 minutes at Utah Feb. 19 -- and he was frustrated into 3-of-11 shooting for eight points in Arizona's 64-63 overtime loss to Wisconsin in the Elite Eight. He did show he didn't have to score to be a factor in that one, grabbing 18 rebounds, and his work during the season made it clear he wouldn't be staying in college long.
As expected, he announced his intention to jump into the NBA Draft shortly after the season. Gordon's stock definitely falls in the lottery range, but opinions on him are all over the board. He's considered a bit of a tweener at the NBA level, but the kid is a kid, and he has plenty of time to develop both his skills and his body.
He already impressed folks at the NBA Scouting Combine, leading all prospects by posting a 2.76 seconds in the shuttle run drill, which measures agility, and forcing officials to raise the vertical leap apparatus because Gordon jumped higher than the piece of equipment could measure. That certainly earned him some serious buzz.
Gordon isn't polished in any way, shape or form, but he has the raw skills to be a player if he continues to develop and lands with a stable team that will take the time to work with him.
Gordon measured out at 6-7 1/2 at the NBA Draft Combine, but that height came without shoes. Since barefoot players aren't allowed in the pro game, throw another inch or so onto his size. Beyond the size, you have to look at his length. Gordon's wingspan is 6-11 3/4, and his standing reach is 8-9. The kid is long, and coupled with his athleticism and jumping ability, he should be able to battle some of the bigger players in the NBA. He's a great leaper, someone who can get off the floor quickly and uses his length to get to loose balls. He has a good basketball IQ and doesn't stop working on the floor. His best trait might be his footwork on defense. Gordon moves his body well to stay between offensive players and the basket, and his agility makes him a tough matchup on the perimeter. On the offensive end, Gordon is a solid passer who is creative with the ball, and he has a good first step in driving to the bucket. For someone his size, Gordon does a good job of being explosive and decisive to beat his defender on his way to the bucket. He loves running the floor and actually can handle the basketball on the break, which will make him a huge asset for an uptempo team.
He isn't much of a post player and has a lot of work to do to look smooth with his back to the basket. Gordon is learning, but it's going to take time for an NBA team to get the most out of him in the post. He doesn't really use his hands well to disrupt passing lanes, which is why he only recorded 34 steals in 38 games for 'Zona, and he's not developed as a shot blocker despite his length. Gordon also has a burn-it-with-fire jumper, an ugly, ugly shot that will need a complete overhaul. He shoots the ball way too far out in front of him, and that stroke doesn't come in handy at the free-throw line. He shot 42.2 percent from the line with the Wildcats, a number that makes Shaquille O'Neal look like John Stockton by comparison. Gordon also has a tendency to play smaller than he actually is by lowering his shoulder going to the bucket, and scoop shots that worked at the high school and college levels will get swatted in the pro game. He turns the ball over more than coaches would like, and he simply has a long way to go to learn the nuances of the game. His lack of strength -- he's just 220 pounds -- means he will have to spend a lot of time in the weight room to bulk up, but he will have to find balance. Gordon could play both forward positions at the NBA level, but adding weight could sacrifice some of the quickness and athleticism that his game depends on to be effective.
All of the criticisms of Gordon can be traced to his relative youth. There isn't an 18-year-old who has ever been in the draft who is polished in every aspect, and Gordon is a guy who is still learning the game. The ugly jumper, the lack of value for the ball, the lack of strength, the poor free-throw shooting -- all can be attributed to Gordon's lack of time on the basketball court. In other words, Gordon has enough talent to make an impact on the pro level, but he's also a bit of a project, someone who will be far more impressive in four years than he will be as an NBA rookie. Whether or not he becomes an All-Star or just another athletic guy at the next level will depend on his willingness to work on his game, but if the past is any indication, Gordon's drive to improve should help him develop quickly in the NBA.