A look at some potential lottery picks for the 2014 NBA draft:
Aaron Gordon, freshman forward, Arizona
It's been a little while since we checked in on freshman phenom Aaron Gordon ... and I certainly don't want to be accused of West Coast bias since he plays in Arizona.
In watching 'Zona against Colorado this week, one thing struck me about Gordon that won't show up in the box score: his confidence. It's not a swagger, like you may see with some of the other top freshmen in college this year. It's more like he's just comfortable out there.
I recently read an article by ESPN's Dana O'Neil that said Gordon didn't grow up playing basketball, but rather ice hockey. His family is full of hockey players. He's been skating since he was a kid. Maybe it's that background that leads to his quiet confidence on the court, or aloofness. But whatever it is, it works for Gordon.
He's still growing into his game, which is a scary thought. I've said it before, but think of Gordon as Blake Griffin with a jump shot. He can jump out of the gym with the best of them, as shown by a spectacular spin move, reverse dunk that put his No. 1 Wildcats team up by 20 over Colorado on Thursday night.
Arizona doesn't need Gordon to take 20 shots per game. It does need him to be a defensive stalwart and to take smart shots. He does both of those quite well. He's averaging 9.9 shots a game at a 50 percent clip. I'll take that all day.
For his size (6-9, 225), he's very nimble, and plays like a guard at times. He's a quality defender, and despite being just a freshman, you'll see Arizona head coach Sean Miller put him on the opponent's best player or best shooter. But going back to his confidence, if they kept a plus/minus in college hoops, Gordon's would be overwhelmingly positive.
He just makes his team better. And that's not to say he's a role player by any means, he's a star in the making. But he's learning on the fly that he has all the talent in the world and is learning how to use it. I think with the right coach, in the right system, Gordon is the exact type of player who's not only a multiple All-Star, but the kind of player with whom you win titles. I could see him as a three, especially in the right system. He is a better shooter than his stats show, and he is just a mucker, too.
If the Sixers are picking twice (which they should) in the top 10, and this kid is there, I think he fits in so well with what Brett Brown is trying to do, it almost makes too much sense.
Julius Randle, freshman forward, Kentucky
Outside of the state of Kentucky, I would venture to guess that there are very few who will watch every Kentucky basketball game and as critically as I do. As any diehard fan can tell you, it's both a blessing and a curse.
But enough about me, let's talk Julius Randle. I still think that Randle is the top freshman in the college ranks, simply for his consistency. He's posted 11 double-doubles so far this season. Jabari Parker has five. Joel Embiid has four. Add those two guys together and you are still one short of the 11 double-doubles that Randle has tallied.
It's no surprise he's averaging 16.7 points per game and 10.6 rebounds per game. He's a beast on the glass, and he has a real good nose for the ball around the rim. He is fouled so often when he's in the paint, you'd think he'd start to lose his cool. (Like perhaps another former freshman big man for Kentucky a few years back, who went by the nickname Boogie. But I digress.)
One thing that Randle can definitely improve on though is his free-throw shooting. He's getting to the line 8.3 times a game, but he's only making six of those free throws. In the Arkansas game, he went to the line 14 times, only made 10. Stuff like that makes a difference when you lose a game by one or two points.
My other issue with Randle is that he tends to hang back early in the game. In speaking with a few of the reporters who cover Kentucky, they seem to think it's because Randle is trying to feel the game out. One thing I can tell you, there is a nearly visible change in him in the second half. It's like he looks around and realizes that he's the best player on the court and just takes over. It's that kind of mentality that will serve him well in the NBA. He'll just have to lock into it sooner.
Talent-wise, he's a man playing a boy's game. He has a good jump shot, though he's not a long-range shooter by any means. He takes the majority of his shots from 10 feet or closer, and when you see that he's shooting 55 percent, that's a smart player. He gets a lot of putbacks, layups and, of course, dunks.
But it's how well he moves up and down the court that impresses most. There are a few times where you see him get the ball on a breakaway, and watch out. That is a big guy (6-9, 250) coming down the lane. He has great post moves, and that's because he's got great feet. You'll see him fake out a defender one way, just to go up and under for a layup in the other direction.
I think there's little doubt he's a top-three pick. And if the he's there for the Sixers, I wouldn't wait the allotted time by the commissioner to make the pick. Randle is a franchise builder. He has the size and the physicality to bang around with some of the big fours in the league.