Arizona has risen up the rankings this season as many of the other star-studded teams such as Kansas and Duke have fallen off. The Wildcats managed to climb to No.1 before their recent struggles put Syracuse on top (again). A big key to the Wildcats' success has been their top-rated prospect, Aaron Gordon. The 6-foot-8, 210-pound forward has seen his stock rise with the hype and then predictably fall back just as the other phenom freshmen have seen as scouts and analysts dissect what they can and can't do.
Let's start with where he struggles -- on offense.
Synergy Sports has Gordon in the 12th percentile for jump shots, 15th percentile in post-up situations, and 13th percentile in offensive putbacks. That last one is the bigger concern. You can improve your jumper, you can improve your post-up situations. But with Gordon's wingspan and athleticism, he should be producing more points on putbacks.
Much of what Gordon seems to struggle with is how short his jumps are on both inside attempts and offensive rebounds, based on little to no power being spent from this legs. Watch him come up short here on both the initial shot and second opportunity.
The good news is that he stays with it. Notice when he comes down for the final time before the score, he gives himself a little bit more of a burst. He's strong and athletic enough to create the shot without getting blocked, he just doesn't get the burst the first couple of times. He's nearly jumping straight-legged. That's something that's not hard to fix either through mechanics or building up core and leg muscle in the NBA.
Here again, we see him not get quite enough elevation for the putback. We know that Gordon has leaping ability (we'll get to that in a sec), and we know that he has strength and coordination. So much of these troubles boil down to an inability to put together the physical tools he has. But he has a relentless attitude on both ends, and that will go a long way.
Notice how with more time for his jump, he gets much better elevation, and is able to keep it alive for the tip-in.
As for the post, here's a look at the turnaround Gordon goes to semi-often.
The coordination on the move is actually OK. His recognition of he help coming is good. Even the shot mechanic itself is decent outside of the slight hitch at the top. He just short arms it. Again, you wonder if that's going to rectify itself as he gets stronger.
Gordon actually has a decent understanding of spacing and can work from face-up ... conceptually. Here you'll see Gordon take his defender off the jab step and slice in-between two defenders before ...
You getting the pattern here? Lands and jumps flat-footed, leaves it short. But he stays with it and with two defenders behind him is the only one in position for the rebound. He's agile, even if his handle still needs work.
Now, let's talk about what he does well.
For starters, if he keeps coming up short on his leaps like that, is he really that athletic?
Yes he is.
Gordon's best offensive skill is his ability to make reads on cuts. He has lightning-quick recognition of when his defender has fallen asleep and understands the spacing to find himself buckets. Watch him creat space on this inbounds pass.
That ain't a short leap.
Here the second he recognizes the gap, he's up there. It's a good reason to think that like most athletic forwards, he needs a good-to-great point guard to play with off the bat.
It's not just the highlight plays, though. It's easy to screw up spacing when you're underneath in the trees, but Gordon does a nice job navigating off-ball.
And he's quick.
In short, Gordon will not be a player you can give the ball to right off the and tell him to go get you a bucket. But then, neither was the player he's most easily compared to, Blake Griffin. It takes time and development, but the raw skills are there.
What may be most exciting about Gordon is his defensive ability.
His lateral movement is terrific for a forward his size.
He stays all the way to the rim there, a step ahead. That's a vital part of defense that most struggle with, and having it already is going to put him a step ahead.
On this play, he's going to wind up in a switch vs. a guard. He not only stays with him, but makes it hard for him all the way to the point of attack, forcing a wild miss.
Gordon is more raw than some of the other freshman, but consider that Gordon may well have been worthy of the No. 1 overall pick last year, even over Victor Oladipo. He hasn't grown into his full game physically or mentally yet, but if you're wondering why he remains in the top 10, creeping toward the top five of so many lists, this is a great start as to why.