- The following is an excerpt from Jonathan Tjarks' e-book about the NBA Draft that can be purchased for just $3.99.

For a player whose athletic ability has been compared to Blake Griffin, Aaron Gordon does a remarkable job of staying under the radar. He averaged only 12 points a game as a freshman, but he was every bit as effective as Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker and Julius Randle. Nick Johnson was their leading scorer, but Gordon was Arizona’s best player and the engine of their team. There’s a lot more that goes into winning basketball games than taking a lot of shots.







































*Stats courtesy of basketball-reference

At 6’9 225 with a 6’11 wingspan, Gordon was one of the most versatile defensive players in the country as a freshman. He had the size and athleticism to defend all five positions at the college level, with the quickness to switch on the pick-and-roll and the strength to hold position on the low block. Gordon could suffocate smaller players on the perimeter and play in front of bigger players in the post - he was the glue that held together a suffocating Arizona defense.

Gordon lead the Wildcats in rebounding, was tied for second in blocks and was third in steals. He helped their big men clean the defensive glass and protect the rim and he helped their guards pressure the ball and force turnovers. When he was on the floor, the Arizona defense could attack you in multiple ways. If Gordon was on the ball, he could choke off dribble penetration. When he was off the ball, he could jump passing lanes and serve as the second line of defense.

Arizona could go from defense to offense as well as any team in the country, in large part due to Gordon’s ability to run the lanes or start the break himself. He’s one of the rare players who is  just as comfortable throwing the alley-oop or finishing it. You can see where the Blake comparisons come from when he’s playing in transition - you don’t see a 6’9 player with his combination of quickness, leaping ability, ball-handling and basketball IQ very often.

In the halfcourt, Gordon served as one of the hubs of the Arizona offense, moving the ball and setting everyone else up. While he averaged only two assists a game, he had a positive assist-to-turnover ratio, unlike Parker, Wiggins or Randle. He can run the pick-and-roll and see over the defense, allowing him to find the open man anywhere on the floor. That’s one of the most remarkable things about Gordon - he almost always makes the right play.

Shooting from the perimeter, particularly the free-throw line, was the one weakness in his game as a freshman. Opposing teams played off him, almost daring him to shoot the ball, and when he drove the lane, they knew they could always foul him. It’s not that his jumper is broken - he went 16-45 from the three-point line - but he lost confidence in it as the season went on. For a player with his ability, shooting 42% from the free-throw line is as much mental as physical.

Gordon might never be a guy who averages 18-20 points a game, but he does everything else on the court that helps you win. He’s the ultimate teammate, a guy who plays elite defense at multiple positions and moves the ball on offense. Passing the ball and playing defense is how you make your teammates better and no one was better at that than Gordon this season. Even though he didn’t score a lot of points, he was one of the most valuable players in the country.

Doug McDermott won the Wooden Award, but Creighton is a much better team if Gordon takes his place. All of a sudden, Creighton would have someone who could lock down the other team’s best player, protect the rim, clean the defensive glass and make plays out of their frontcourt. The shots that McDermott took, meanwhile, would have been redistributed to Ethan Wragge. It’s not that hard to replace a guy who takes a lot of shots and does nothing else. 

Switch Gordon and Jabari and Duke has more shot-blocking, rebounding and passing in their frontcourt and Rodney Hood becomes their primary scorer. Switch him with Wiggins and he plays a deadly high-low game with Joel Embiid and Wayne Selden becomes their primary scorer. Switch him with Randle and Kentucky has a shut-down perimeter defender and plays a more uptempo, 4-out style that gets their perimeter players easier shots in transition.

Gordon is high-level defender, rebounder and passer and he can get buckets without dominating the ball. He does so many things well that he can fit with any team. It’s not about how many points, rebounds, assists, steals or blocks any individual player gets - it’s how many the team gets in each category. Gordon is like a ghost in the box score. Whatever category his team needs, he can give them. Just as important, he can do it from any number of positions on the floor.

At Arizona, he could play as a big small forward next to Brandon Ashley and Kaleb Tarczewski or as a small-ball center with Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and three shooters in front of him. Gordon gives his coach a tremendous amount of versatility on both sides of the ball, allowing his team to match up with almost any kind of opponent. He won’t be quite as versatile in the NBA, but he should be able to play as a 3 or a 4 on offense and guard every position but center.

If there’s a player he resembles at the next level, it’s Andrei Kirilenko or Shawn Marion. And while both are universally recognized as great players, neither has ever quite gotten the respect they deserve. Even in their second decade in the league, they are both still key cogs on good teams because they bring value in so many different aspects of the game. They are two of the best defensive players in the NBA while still stuffing the stat-sheet in every category.

There are other players in this draft who might be better than Gordon in a specific role, but there are none who can play as many different roles as Gordon. You never know who your teammates are going to be at the next level - the NBA is a business and rosters change every year. Contracts happen. Injuries happen. Life happens. Just look at Arizona this season, which had to re-invent its identity on the fly when Ashley went down with a season-ending injury.

The Wildcats started the season 21-0, went 3-2 after Ashley got hurt and then finished the season 10-3. They were a different team in each of those stretches - Gordon’s versatility allowed Sean Miller to try a bunch of lineups until he found one that worked. I don’t know how many points a game Gordon will score at the next level or whether he will rack up any individual awards, but I can make this prediction - whoever drafts Gordon won’t be a bad team for long.

- This was an excerpt from Jonathan Tjarks' e-book about the NBA Draft that can be purchased for $3.99.