There’s a few possible scenarios floating ’round about that concern the Utah Jazz’s assets in the upcoming 2014 NBA Draft. Some include trade talk, most centered around an Enes Kanter-Alec Burks-plus draft picks move in an attempt to trade up for one of the top four prospects.
The standouts that have emerged at the top in most draft mockups, in various order, are Joel Embiid, Jabari Parker, Andrew Wiggins and Dante Exum, with the former three listed at number one depending on who’s telling the tale and when. Pre-draft workouts and interviews are extremely fluid creatures with a tendency to shape shift often.
Often, a GM and a team’s brass can become enamored with a prospect for a variety of reasons that can include an unusually strong showing in a workout or interview, or simply that they feel he’s the right fit for a roster. If this were to happen to one of the top four teams ahead of the Jazz in the 2014 draft, Utah has to take the suddenly-falling aforementioned best player available displaced in the top four by said bewitched GM.
However, if the top four teams ahead of Utah do happen to keep their wits about them in strenuous circumstances that could largely determine their franchise’s direction for the foreseeable future, and the Jazz are unable to convince any of them to make a move at a reasonable rate, then at the five-spot and beyond are still some very nice impact players.
A little over a week ago, over at 1280/97.5 the Zone, in his weekly visit, Jazz GM Dennis Lindsey implied that maybe the Jazz were already too young and he was possibly considering trading some of the more immediate valuable assets in an attempt to lure or trade for some veteran impact players. Of course, the Jazz didn’t yet have a new head coach in place at the time, so were keeping all options open.
The hiring of Quin Snyder, by all accounts a player development specialist, makes the possibility of taking a chance at drafting potential more palatable. Indeed, the very day Snyder was announced officially as the new sideline leader one of the prospects slated to go from five to ten in the draft happened to be in Salt Lake City for a workout, one exciting athlete in Aaron Gordon.
Thrilling adjectives attach themselves to popular prospect Aaron Gordon. You’ll hear scintillating qualifiers such as “versatile, intense, smart,” “explosive” with a self-described “high motor.” Search YouTube and you’ll easily find highlights that mirror a younger Blake Griffin’s explosive athletic ability.
Watch his workout videos and you’ll also find other hidden strengths in his game. Gordon is capable of being a tireless defender with quick feet, a wide, low stance and lightning fast hands that can snatch a ball from the tiniest of openings tendered from the smallest of slips by an opponent.
Those same hands can dribble with near equal proficiency meaning Gordon can be deadly in transition and should be a tough cover around the rim as he learns to finish going either direction, keeping defenses guessing. Coupled with a keen mind, those hands also find cutters and open ‘mates with relative ease, making Gordon an almost instant elite passing big man from the first time he steps on an NBA court, another trait he shares in common with Blake Griffin.
Both are also excellent on the glass where Gordon shows a propensity for relentlessness. He’ll chase a ball for several bounces off the iron in quick, successive hops to corral leather on either end of the court, often resulting in an emphatic smash on the offensive end. At the other end, a defensive rebound is likely to end up in him starting a transition opportunity and his passing ability should result in many eye-opening outlet passes for easy opportunities to score.
Equally as impressive is, Aaron Gordon harbors no delusions about his faults and shortcomings. He’ll be the first one to tell you that he needs to work on his shooting, especially free throws. Gordon shot a mere shade over 42% from the free throw line in his season for the Arizona Wildcats, and like Griffin, will find himself at the line often.
You older Jazz fans will recall another young player that had trouble making any efficient offense outside of the paint or in transition. Karl Malone, who would later develop one of the most reliable and deadly turnaround mid-range games in NBA history, after years of hard work and millions of practice jumpers day in and day out, made only 48% of his 405 free throws in his rookie season.
Malone kept at it and raised his free throw percent to almost 60% his sophomore season, then 70% by his third, going on to peak near 80% for several years in a row at his best. With determination, Karl Malone added a facet to his game that made him one the most prolific scorers the NBA has ever seen, and stayed there for a then unprecedented length of time as an efficient offensive weapon.
There’s an example of a player adding the mid-range game to his repertoire on the current Jazz roster as well. In his first three seasons as a Jazzman Jeremy Evans took a grand total of only 35 field goal attempts from 10-23 feet. In the 2013-14 season he took 125 shots from 10-23 feet. We’re witnessing Evans extend his range and confidence. With a sweet stroke, don’t be surprised to see him become a viable mid-range threat in coming years as he continues to work on it and gain confidence in it.
At a career 66% for free throws, Evans’ free throw shooting is closer to Blake Griffin level, but all four of these men have something else in common in that they came (will come, in Gordon’s case) into the NBA sans a threat to make shots outside the paint while displaying superhuman explosive athletic ability around the rim.
Unlike Evans, Blake Griffin showed no sense of shyness when it came to mid-range upon entering the league. Let’s focus on his year by year game there for a moment, courtesy BasketballReference.com.
Many may have taken note of a noticeable improvement from Griffin this last season, and if within 16 feet will often go to the bank shot on a turnaround — a very difficult shot to defend from someone with his athletic ability.
Like Karl Malone, Blake Griffin is adding the facet of becoming a viable threat to score from mid-range as he continues to develop his game, in 2013-14 raising eyebrows with marked improvement from 10-23 feet. From this range, anything above 37% is respectable, anything above 42% remarkable.
For a frame of reference, considered one of the best-shooting big men from mid-range, Tim Duncan –like Griffin, also fond of going glass on a turnaround — a career .506 field goal shooter, shot .376 from 10-23 feet on 154 attempts in the 2013-14 regular season.
Maybe the most proficient current example of a big man learning to shoot from mid-range is Serge Ibaka. In his first three seasons in the NBA, Ibaka shot an already respectable 41% from 10-23 feet. But over the last two seasons he’s become an automatic machine from this range knocking down around an astounding 50% of hundreds of attempts.
While Aaron Gordon is unlikely to ever reach Ibaka’s unreal level of reliability from mid-range — few ever have or will — it’s yet another example of an athletic NBA big man showing steady improvement in his range. All of these players show us that it can be done with hard work, patience, the right mind set and a little help from a good shooting coach. And even if streaky, Gordon did show some flashes at Arizona with a very respectable 35.6% from three on 1.2 attempts per game, so he’s not incapable of making a few long shots from time to time even now.
Aaron Gordon possesses some tremendous basketball skills already, enough to make him a viable lottery pick in the NBA draft, and there’s a good chance he’ll be available when the Jazz are called by Adam Silver to the podium on June 26th. He makes for an ebullient prospect, one who’s very aware of his imperfections and vocalizes the intent to rectify them.