Prospect Watch: Another year needed for Arizona's Gordon
Glenn Robinson III was torching No. 1 Arizona on Saturday, hitting all seven of his first-half shots on his way to 16 points. Something had to change for the Wildcats to escape Ann Arbor with a victory over Michigan.
So coach Sean Miller put versatile, ultra-athletic freshman forward Aaron Gordon on Robinson. The tide turned as the talented Michigan sophomore scored just four points in the second half, and Gordon's Wildcats pulled out a 72-70 victory.
This isn't the first time Gordon has flashed lockdown ability. He pestered all-world Duke freshman Jabari Parker into a 7-of-21 performance, keeping him off his spots all night and forcing the high-scoring Parker to take difficult shots.
Right now, defense is the calling card for Gordon, a high school All-America and potential top-five pick in the 2014 NBA draft. The skill just isn't there offensively, but no one will outhustle him and few can match his athleticism. In that regard, the comparisons to Blake Griffin are rather obvious.
Defensively, Gordon is already better than Griffin was at Oklahoma. At 6-foot-9, he can guard either forward position, which would make him a versatile NBA defender in pick-and-roll situation on switches.
Gordon lacks polish is on the offensive end, where his shooting and overall scoring ability remain limited. He's averaging 12.1 points and shooting 48.6 percent, including 6-of-17 (35.3 percent) from three-point range.
CBS Sports analyst and former Oklahoma State guard Doug Gottlieb summed up Gordon's offensive game simply:
Gottlieb's CBS Sports colleague Jeff Borzello provided some further context and evidence.
Seems like a good time to mention this again: Aaron Gordon is shooting 16.2 percent on 2-point jumpers (not at the rim).— Jeff Borzello (@jeffborzello) December 14, 2013
It's an indictment of Gordon's skills, to be sure, but it's not as if the mechanics of his jump shot are broken. He's a decent spot-up shooter, as his three-point percentage in a small number of attempts indicates, but his value in pick-and-roll situations is limited to roll-only offense. Gordon hasn't demonstrated the shooting skill to be effective in pick-and-pop situations. He is actually a solid dribble-drive player, but teams don't have to play him for the shot, so they can give him space while not biting on any shot fakes.
In another year, Gordon could be a Griffin-like No. 1 pick based on his physical gifts and potential. But in a class with so many polished prospects, particularly offensively, Gordon's stock is sliding.
NBADraft.net has Gordon going 18th in its latest mock draft, and Gordon is seventh in the top-100 rankings of both ESPN's Chad Ford and Draft Express. SI.com's Chris Mannix has Gordon ninth on his latest big board.
An up-tempo team with an established big man could value Gordon in the top five because of his athleticism and ability to pass and defend. Barring that type of situation, Gordon's best case may be to stay in school, develop a more diverse offensive game and come back as the favorite to be the top pick in 2015.
Best of the rest: Updates on other NBA prospects
Andrew Wiggins, F, Kansas -- Wiggins followed up an impressive 26-point, 11-rebound outing against No. 19 Florida with an 11-point, 3-of-11 stinker against New Mexico. But the 6-8 freshman has attempted double-digit shots in three straight games, at a time when scouts have wanted to see him take control of the offense and dominate the ball as a scorer. Wiggins needs to become more efficient as a shooter, but he has a smooth stroke and is still figuring out his role in the Jayhawks' offense.
In the open court, when Wiggins can just play, he's scary good. He can take one dribble from the three-point line and get to the rim with his length and leaping ability. Wiggins runs the floor like a gazelle and is crafty with the ball. If he played with a real point guard, he would be even better.
Julius Randle, F, Kentucky -- Randle was frustrated with himself during Kentucky's loss to North Carolina, and rightfully so. The 6-9 freshman looked disengaged on both ends and was consistently burned as a help defender on ball screens. If you can't defend pick-and-roll basketball, you can't be an NBA defender. It was an uncharacteristic night for Randle, who is usually much more dialed in defensively.
Battling James Michael McAdoo, who has NBA talent and a devastating turnaround jump shot, Randle shot just 3-of-9 and had four turnovers as he struggled to get to his spots. For the season, he's still averaging 17.2 points and 11.4 rebounds while shooting 52.2 percent. He's the best post scorer in the draft, and it's not close.
Joel Embiid, C, Kansas -- Wiggins isn't the only lottery pick on the KU roster. The Jayhawks' lanky freshman center is rising on draft boards and could be a top-five pick next June. The 7-footer from Cameroon is still learning how to play, but as SB Nation noted last week, his upside may be "limitless."
Between Gordon and Embiid, it's the KU prospect who would likely make a bigger impact as a shot-blocker and rebounder in the NBA early. If you can walk and chew gum as a 7-footer, you can have a nice NBA career. But Embiid is coordinated, athletic and potentially dynamic as a defender. He is the perfect center to play in pick-and-roll defense because he can help on quick guards with his lateral agility. He has scouts absolutely drooling, and it's not a lock Wiggins is the first Jayhawk off the board.
Watch him pull off the Hakeem Olajuwon "dream shake" against New Mexico.
Marcus Smart, G, Oklahoma State -- Playing fewer minutes, Smart has upped his scoring average by 3.6 points and is shooting more than five percent better as a sophomore (19 points, 45.7 percent) compared to his freshman season (15.4 points, 40.4 percent).
Smart's jump shot isn't fixed, but it's certainly improved, and he is a master at affecting the game in myriad ways. Against Louisiana Tech on Saturday, Smart couldn't get going, shooting just 3-of-8, but he was 7-of-7 from the foul line and added five rebounds, five assists, two blocks and four steals. No one stuffs the stat sheet in this class like Smart. He remains my favorite player in the 2014 class, even if he's not the best prospect.
Aaron Harrison, G, Kentucky -- After a slow start, the less heralded of the Harrison twins is getting his game going. Over the last five games, the freshman is shooting 30-of-54 (55.6 percent) from the field and 8-of-19 (42.1 percent) from three-point range.
What was most impressive was how he got his 20 points against North Carolina's deep wing group. Harrison took just one deep jump shot, preferring instead to get into the mid-range area or use his dribble-drive game to score in the paint.
At 6-6, Harrison is a legitimate NBA off-guard and his shooting averages are ticking up. You'd like to see him rebound and defend his position better, but as a scorer, he's loaded with talent and skill.
Andrew Harrison, G, Kentucky -- After winding up on the SI.com's list of most disappointing prospects, the point guard showed his full arsenal against North Carolina. He shot just 3-of-11 but was active with six boards and seven assists. Harrison also made up for the poor shooting by getting into the paint and drawing contact. He shot 17 free throws, although he made just 10. Harrison's jump shot is a serious question, but he's starting to get a feel for how his game fits on this loaded Kentucky team.
Whereas Aaron Harrison is basically average height for a shooting guard, Andrew Harrison is an oversized point guard, which shows up when he decides to crash the boards or use his frame to ward off defenders on his way to the rim.
Games To Watch
Thursday, Dec. 19: No. 9 Duke vs. UCLA
UCLA freshman Zach LaVine is shooting up draft boards and will face Duke's talented cadre of backcourt players. Bruins sophomore Jordan Adams is also a big-time scoring guard, so seeing him and Levine against Duke's Rodney Hood, Quinn Cook and Rasheed Sulaimon will be an exciting battle. The duel between sophomore Kyle Anderson and Parker will also be crucial as Anderson is a 6-9 forward who can pass, rebound and score. He's averaging a LeBron-like 8.7 rebounds and 6.7 assists. It will be a big test for Parker as a defender.
Saturday, Dec. 21: Georgetown vs. No. 13 Kansas
This isn't a vintage Hoyas team, but the roster is big and it always plays smart, tough defense. The matchup will be a good gauge of where Wiggins and Embiid stand in offensive efficiency. Kansas freshman Wayne Selden, whose NBA stock has been tumbling, will likely match up against dynamic sophomore guard D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera. If Selden wants to get back into the good graces of NBA scouts, this is the matchup to dominate.
Saturday, Dec. 21: No. 7 Oklahoma State vs. No. 21 Colorado
Smart and the Cowboys take on a Buffaloes team that has already defeated Wiggins and Kansas. It will be interesting to see if Oklahoma State matches Smart on junior Spencer Dinwiddie, Colorado's best scorer and deep shooter. If Smart can show the ability to defend off-guards as well as point guards, that only adds to his value as a potential combo guard in the NBA.