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The Case For Tanking: Aaron Gordon

If the Philadelphia 76ers' not-so-subtle plan to tank the 2013-14 season is a success, there's still only a 25 percent chance than they'll land the No. 1 overall pick. But odds are, as long as the team winds up among the top four in the lottery, they'll come out of the draft with an extremely talented player. Arizona freshman Aaron Gordon could be that player.

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Aaron Gordon shares some similarities with Blake Griffin. But it's a bit more complicated that that.
Aaron Gordon shares some similarities with Blake Griffin. But it's a bit more complicated that that.

First in a four-part series.

Does the name Drew Gordon ring a bell?

If not, it's completely understandable. Drew Edward Gordon was a highly-touted recruit who began his college basketball career at UCLA in the fall of 2008. Due to a falling out with former Bruins' head coach Ben Howland - a common occurrence in Westwood over the past few years - Gordon transferred to New Mexico midway through the 2009-10 season.

Unfortunately for Gordon, two stellar campaigns for the Lobos weren't enough for him to hear his name called on draft night last summer. So, after a brief stint with the Dallas Mavericks' 2012 summer league team, the former blue-chip recruit has more or less faded away to that non-descript place that Mike Tyson once referred to as "bolivian."

In the case of Drew Gordon's younger brother, however, history doesn't figure to repeat itself.

Like Drew, Aaron Gordon - the MVP of this year's McDonald's All-American Game - also happens to be a 6'8" forward who figures to excel on the collegiate level. The younger Gordon is an extremely explosive talent whose highlight-ready athleticism and seemingly limitless energy are reasons No. 1 and 1A why he was named Mr. Basketball in California for two consecutive seasons. The last two players who accomplished that feat? Tyson Chandler and Jason Kidd.

It's easy to see why Gordon would be a perfect fit for the Sixers, and even easier to understand why he evokes memories of Los Angeles Clippers' forward Blake Griffin. That said, those comparisons are lazy at best. While the two have similar physical gifts, Gordon - who is headed to the University of Arizona in the fall - clearly has far greater aspirations, and he made no secret of them during a recent interview with USA Today:

"I think, I can play point guard and he can't," said Gordon when asked to compare himself to Griffin. "He's an incredible player; he's the No. 1 pick. I can't be too mad if people are comparing me to a No. 1 pick. But I can play point guard."

"For my overall career, I want to be a 2/3. That's what I want to get to: a 2/3 being able to handle the ball and posting up. I want to be a complete player. That means every position in my arsenal."

"I can stand here and hit open shots all day long. What I need to do is figure out a way to get my shot in the shooting pocket quicker and smoother in the flow of the game. Once I get that, then I think I'm there."

Yes... you read that correctly. While most 17-year-olds would have blushed at the mere mention of their name in the same sentence as a three-time NBA All-Star, Gordon instead took the moment to highlight a specific skill he has that Griffin lacks.

Is it overconfidence? Perhaps. But in all fairness, when we were Gordon's age, didn't we all believe that we were invincible before reality introduced us to that unfamiliar condition known as humility?

The thing about Gordon is that he wants it just as much as anyone. No fresh-from-the-senior-prom power forward worries about getting the ball in the shooting pocket quicker unless he's completely committed to improving his game. And in the aftermath of the debacle that was the Andrew Bynum experiment, it's refreshing to hear a player say that he "loves basketball and wants to play basketball until he physically can't play basketball anymore."

If nothing else, give Gordon this: He's definitely no wallflower.

"What you can't teach... is an incredible motor," said Florida Gators' head coach Billy Donovan in an interview with USA Today. "He really has an incredible motor."

Donovan would know: He's less than a month removed from watching Gordon turn in an MVP performance for the United States in the FIBA U19 Championship. Gordon's impressive all-around game - he finished the tournament ranked first on the team in scoring and rebounding, second in blocks, third in steals, and fifth in assists - stood out on a talented U.S. squad that boasted at least two players (Louisville's Montrezl Harrell and Oklahoma State's Marcus Smart) who figure to be top-10 picks in the 2014 NBA Draft.

With sophomore Brandon Ashley already entrenched at the 4 spot for the Wildcats, it seems likely that Gordon will begin his college career at the small forward position. And given that his low-post game is a work in progress, that's probably the best place for Gordon in the long run, especially since he projects to be a 3 on the NBA level.

It should be noted that Gordon did beat Ashley out for a spot on the FIBA U19 team, and there's little reason to think that he can't do it again once both players arrive on campus this fall.

One thing is for sure: Arizona head coach Sean Miller will figure out a way to get Gordon and fellow freshman Rondae Hollis-Jefferson on the court at the same time. And when that happens, you'll probably want to be near a television, if at all possible: The pair has the potential to be the most entertaining freshman duo west of Lexington, Kentucky.

Actually, there's one more certainty: Aaron Gordon won't fade into oblivion any time soon, especially if he has anything to say about it. And as the first 17 years of his life have shown, Gordon is rarely at a loss for words. Or, for that matter, confidence.

"[W]hatever Coach Miller wants me to play, I'll play it," said Gordon when asked by Mike DeCourcy of the Sporting News about his upcoming freshman season at Arizona. "And I'll thrive at it."

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