The first big shock of the night last week during the NBA Draft came when Orlando selected Arizona freshman Aaron Gordon.
Logic — and just about every mock draft — had the Magic taking Australian point guard Dante Exum with that pick. It became clear though as Rob Hennigan talked more and more about Gordon that after the obvious choices for the first three picks, Gordon was their guy and not Exum.
So who is Aaron Gordon? What player did the Magic draft?
Immediately upon talking to the Orlando media for the first time and arriving in Central Florida, it was clear the team had drafted a driven and determined young man. Young deserves extra attention because he is only 19 years old and the youngest player in the Draft. Which makes his approach, demeanor and attitude so impressive.
Gordon fits the culture the Magic want to build. He is committed to his craft, loves playing the game, has a drive to improve and is humble (maybe even to a fault, we will see). If the Magic are still building their culture, they picked a player who fits that culture and, like Victor Oladipo, may come to embody it.
If there is a reason the Magic made this pick, that is it. It makes a ton of sense from that point of view. Gordon has the talent and potential to become a really special player. It is going to take time though.
Maybe the Magic have that time to see him develop. Maybe they do not. Fans will decide that as they purchase their tickets. And the team will decide that with how they play and how they can pull together and start showing progress on the court. Opinions will likely be commensurate with expectations for the season.
Of course, only one person’s expectations matter in the end. That would be Rob Hennigan’s.
Gordon says all the right things and has the potential to do all the right things on the court. He impressed with his declarations that he wanted to be defensive player of the year at some point in his career and that he chose “00″ as his numbers because that is how wide he wants fans eyes to be as they watch him and his team play.
That is a cute thing to say and all, but there is the real possibility that Gordon could get there. I have no doubt he will give it a great effort.
The Good: Jay Bilas said it right on the draft broadcast, Aaron Gordon does not have good athleticism or great athleticism, he has world-class athleticism. This is a guy who is often called a mini-Blake Griffin for his ability to leap over people. In the open court, this is a guy that can go up and grab an uncatchable basketball and throw it down through the hoop with authority. Gordon though will tell you he wants to be more than a dunker, I am sure. At this point, that might be the extent of his offensive game. His money will be won though on the defensive end. At Arizona, Gordon posted 3.3 defensive win shares according to sports-reference.com. In Summer League practices, he has already impressed with his lateral speed and quickness. Then there is the dunking. Gordon can fly almost literally. He is explosive around the rim. What really stands out about Gordon though is his passion and drive. He has not been playing basketball for very long, but he has absolutely taken to the game. He seems like he wants to play at all times. That kind of passion is exactly why the Magic drafted him.
The Bad: Gordon is still incredibly raw as a basketball player. His jumper needs a ton of work and teams will lay off him until he can prove he can make them. Yes, Gordon averaged 12.4 points per game and shot 49.5 percent from the floor. A lot of that came in transition or around the basket. That is where Gordon’s offense will be limited until he develops a consistent jumper. Even then though, there is a question as to what position Gordon will end up playing. At 6-foot-9, Gordon is not quite tall enough to play power forward full time (although he did average 8.0 rebounds last year with a 10.4 percent offensive rebound rate). Gordon has even said he prefers playing on the perimeter although he will play wherever Jacque Vaughn wants him. Until he develops that jumper, Gordon is going to have to work really hard to get points in transition and bull his way to the rim. It will not be as easy as it was in college for sure.
Draft Sites Say:
NBADraft.net: A very athletic and versatile PF … Is a very active and energetic type of athlete, showing great leaping ability and explosiveness … Plays with a high motor. . . Gordon’s main weaknesses revolve around his lacking skill level on the offensive side of the ball …Despite being the 2nd leading scorer on an Arizona squad that almost made it to the Final 4, Gordon needs extensive improvement offensively … His ball-handling ability is not very good right now, and he loses significant effectiveness the more he dribbles the ball.
DraftExpress.com: As one of the best athletes in the draft, it’s no real surprise thatAaron Gordonfound more of his offense in transition than anybody else in this group of power forwards, as over 19% of his possessions came on the break. While his efficiency in transition opportunities was surprisingly low (59.4% shooting and 0.93 points per possession), his ability to beat other big men down the floor is something that he should be able to do early in his career while the rest of his offensive game catches up.
NBA Draft Room: The most explosive and electric dunker since Blake Griffin. A truly sensational jumper with awesome power and fluid body control. Unstoppable on the fast break and attacks the rim with a vengeance. Is developing very good ball skills and has good hands. A willing passer who knows how to find teammates and understands how to play the game.
Yannis Koutroupis, Basketball Insiders: An elite-level athlete. Physically mature for his age. Plays hard. Versatile defensively.
MyNBADraft.com: There is no player in this draft with the athleticism and explosion of Aaron Gordon. He can fly up and down the court and jump out of the gym. He is also a very quick leaper, much like Shawn Marion, allowing him to be a menace on the offensive glass.
Matt Norlander, CBS Sports: Gordon’s got a combination of ability, desire and selflessness that will make teams more than happy to ‘settle’ for him, should he drop beyond the top five in the draft.
David Aldridge, NBA.com: Arizona’s Aaron Gordon doesn’t approach Randle’s strength, but the Wildcats’ freshman may play harder than anyone in the Draft. The 18-year-old is a special athlete, who showed above the rim explosiveness on a nightly basis, leading Arizona to the Elite Eight after having to move to power forward during the season because of an injury to starter Brandon Ashley. His work ethic made Arizona’s practices better, and his hops made him play bigger than his listed 6-9.
Final Word: Gordon is a real energetic and exciting player. There are going to be moments when he makes a player, especially in transition, that will make your jaw drop. He has that kind of athleticism and mobility. The question with him is how quickly the other part of his game will come. There seems no doubt he is willing to put the work in to get there. Gordon was an interesting pick for the Magic considering where they are in their re-development. He is not quite ready to contribute at a high level immediately. He will find his way however to make an impact.