Aaron Gordon is basketball's version of a five-tool player. He's a versatile forward who can play multiple different roles on both ends of the floor. Standing 6'9 in shoes and measuring with a 6'11.75 wingspan, the former Arizona Wildcat has a diverse skill set. He can handle the ball in a pick-and-roll or serve as the screener and defend both positions. He's quick laterally for his size, a bullet running out in the open court, and he recorded a 39-inch vertical at the combine.
That makes him a menace on the break. He's a better-than-expected ball-handler at his size, able to corral a defensive rebound and take it all the way in transition himself. Or he can fill the wing, outrun slow-footed forwards downcourt and catch lobs over the top.
Gordon is defined by his versatility. He guarded all five positions at Arizona, played in the post, on the perimeter and served as an extra ball-handler. Not many 6'9 forwards can handle the ball in the pick-and-roll.
Serious issues with his jump shot limit his offensive upside. He shot 72.9 percent at the rim -- better than Julius Randle (70 percent) and Noah Vonleh (59.3) -- but he was miserable on two-point jumpers (27.5 percent) and from the free throw line (42.2 percent), per Hoop-Math. He actually shot well from behind the arc (35.6 percent), but his numbers from mid-range and the charity stripe are almost unsalvageable. Plus, he only shot 45 three-pointers all year, which suggests that a small sample size might have played to his favor.
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There's also the issue of what position he will play. Is he a small forward? If he is, his inconsistent outside shot is going to kill a team's offensive spacing. But is he a power forward? His small(ish) wingspan suggests he won't be a shot blocker and he's too thin (220 pounds) to body up NBA power forwards.
Throughout our profile series, we've used Phoenix Suns GM Ryan McDonough's method of scouting, as described to SB Nation's Paul Flannery. We take an in-depth look at three games: a prospect's best and worst performances, and another somewhere in the middle. That way, we can project his ceiling, understand his weaknesses and find a medium.
Best Game: Gonzaga, March 23
Stat line: 18 points, 8-of-10 (80 percent) shooting, six rebounds, six assists, four steals, in 23 minutes.
Gordon's best stretch of the season came during the NCAA Tournament. He averaged 14.3 points, 9.5 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 2.3 blocks in four games while netting four of his six attempts behind the arc. Against Gonzaga, he was, far and away, the best player on both ends of the floor, despite playing just 23 minutes.
He flew out in transition, created easy opportunities for his teammates in halfcourt sets and raised hell on defense. He even hit a three-pointer. Gordon was also a human highlight reel:
But I liked what he did on this play:
Gordon's steal rate (1.8 percent, 1.1 steals per 40 minutes) is underwhelming for his athleticism, which may be a problem because steal rate is a good indicator of NBA-level defensive quickness. For comparison: Marcus Smart, another prospect who projects well on the defensive end, had a steal rate of 5 percent (3.5 per 40). But Arizona coach Sean Miller's man-to-man defense dictates its players play straight up rather than gamble for blocks or steals, which depressed Gordon's numbers. It worked, too: The Wildcats ranked No. 1 in the country in Ken Pomeroy's adjusted defensive rating. If Gordon played for a coach who allowed more gambling, he would have racked up better steal numbers.
But in the play above, Gordon recognizes an opportunity to steal without getting out of position. He does so, corrals the ball and leads a 3-on-1 break. He then throws a perfect, no-look bounce pass to Nick Johnson, who finishes at the rim. Few players with Gordon's size and athleticism can make that play. Gordon has the ability to make it regularly, given the freedom.
Worst Game: California, Feb. 1
Stat line: Eight points, 4-of-14 shooting, one turnover, six assists, one steal, one block.
Gordon probably had worse games than this. He scored just three points on three shots at Utah and five points on 10 shots at Stanford. But it was impossible to find full-game footage of those losses, so I chose to break down a poor shooting night against California to see how he was defended.
The answer: not at all, at least not on the perimeter. California completely ignored Gordon out to the three-point line, daring him to either take the shot or dribble in for a mid-range pull-up.
His first shot was an awkward one-handed floater from the free throw line that clanked off the backboard. The exaggerated defense that California played with only got worse as the game went on.
You could park a Hummer between Gordon and his defender. Several times he tried to drive against that, but there's no space in the paint when the defender backs off like that. He forced up a few awkward shots and turned the ball over once.
That type of defense absolutely kills an offense's flow because it allows a team to load up on the ball without paying the price. There are a couple ways to force a defense out of it: knock down open shots or take the sagging defender to the post. Gordon tried the latter once and California double-teamed him, opening up the floor. But Arizona couldn't put him in enough situations to take advantage of the extra space and he wasn't comfortable enough to shoot the open jumper.
One of Gordon's best plays in the game came near the end of the first half. Gordon caught the ball on the left wing with a sagging defender. Kaleb Tarczewski set a side pick-and-roll and Gordon's defender cheated over top. Gordon recognized the poor help and slipped a perfect bounce pass to his big man rolling to the rim. Tarczewski missed the dunk in traffic, but was fouled and hit both free throws.
Gordon made some very impressive passes in this game, but his lack of an outside shot was too crippling. It made life a living hell for his guards because there were more bodies clogging the paint. If Gordon doesn't improve as a jump shooter, NBA defenses will do this to him night in and night out. He has to be a threat out there or his team will be playing 4-on-5 on every possession.
Somewhere in the middle: UCLA, March 15
Stat line: 11 points, 4-of-11 shooting, 2-of-8 from free throw range, eight rebounds, eight assists, two steals, four fouls, one turnover.
This was the perfect middle game from Gordon. He scored modestly, hit a three-point shot, rebounded well and served as a playmaker on offense. He was also awful from the free throw line, a weakness that haunted him all season.
On defense, he took the challenge of guarding UCLA's Kyle Anderson, a 6'9 point forward who's also a top NBA prospect. Anderson scored 21 points, but most of those came when Arizona switched a smaller guard on him. Gordon gave him problems when he was the primary defender. He could stay in front of the slower Anderson, body him on drives and contest his jumpers. Gordon's a very good defender because he matches natural instincts and discipline with crazy athleticism. Look how far he is from Travis Wear when he starts his close-out:
And look how much ground he covers by the time the shot is up. He nearly blocks the shot.
Offensively, Gordon did a fantastic job of setting up his opponents, taking advantage of an overly aggressive and undisciplined UCLA defense. When he drove to the basket, he was well aware of his teammates spotted up on the perimeter. He drove and kicked for a three, grabbed a rebound, pushed and kicked the ball to the corner and slipped a pass to Rondae Hollis-Jefferson under the basket. His most impressive pass was a dump-off pass to Tarczewski:
Gordon had already nailed a three-pointer and pull-up jumper, so Anderson respected his shot and Gordon made him pay. Moments later, he grabbed a defensive rebound, pushed the ball past halfcourt and threw an alley-oop to Nick Johnson:
Gordon's biggest issue in this game was the one that bothered him all season: Free throw shooting. Gordon was just 2-of-8 from the line. He shot over 50 percent from the stripe in just six games all season. That's a major problem.
What's weird is that Gordon shot decently from behind the arc. He only shot 45 on the season, but he hit nearly 36 percent. Watch how Gordon shoots from deep when he catches the ball in rhythm:
That's a nice-looking stroke: No hitch, no hesitation, good balance. His release is a little slow, but it's not bad for a player his size.
But there's a noticeable hitch in his free throw shot. He brings the ball above his head and slows down before flinging at the rim. Gordon shot three-pointers differently than he did free throws. He says that he's working to fix the disconnect between the two shots, but that's a big thing to fix. Generally, players who shoot poorly from the free throw line have a harder time improving their perimeter shot than most players.
The problem with Gordon being a horrible free throw shooter is that he has all the tools to get there at a high rate. He's a skilled enough ball-handler to dribble past slow power forwards and big enough to go through smaller defenders. But it's pointless to go to the stripe if he's not even going to convert half of his attempts.
Gordon is a very good passer for his size, he's active on the offensive glass (10.4 percent) and he can defend several different positions. He's a bouncy athlete with the skill to play in transition either on the wing or as a ball-handler.
But any team drafting him will have to decide whether he can develop his jumper and whether he'll improve as a free throw shooter. He's still only 18 years old so there's hope for his shot to improve, but it's going to take patience and a lot of work. The team that drafts Gordon would be wise to study what the Spurs did to improve Kawhi Leonard's shot coming out of college and duplicate that process.