Sixers draft target: SF Aaron Gordon

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Sixers draft target: SF Aaron Gordon

In this installment of our series before June 26's NBA draft, we look at an versatile forward that is expected to be a top-10 pick:

Aaron Gordon
Position: Small Forward
Height/Weight: 6-9, 225
School: Arizona

Another in a handful of projected lottery picks to leave college after one season, Gordon takes a backseat to no one in this draft class in terms of athleticism. He is an elite leaper and shot blocker and runs extremely well for someone his size. Gordon averaged 12.4 points and 8.0 rebounds on an Arizona team that spent most of the season ranked No. 1 in the country.

Much was expected from Gordon when he arrived at Arizona following his MVP performance in the McDonald's All-American Game. He flashed glimpses of tremendous potential throughout his freshman season, but it also became apparent that he has a long way to go before developing into a complete player.

In Arizona's season-ending overtime loss to Wisconsin in the Elite 8, the best and worst of Gordon was on full display -- he grabbed 18 rebounds, but scored just eight points on 3-of-11 shooting from the field.

Strengths
Gordon's athleticism and defensive versatility go hand-in-hand. He is athletic enough to guard small forwards and power forwards in the NBA, and his shot-blocking ability will make him a very effective help defender. Gordon will also excel in transition on the next level. He'll be able to out-run most forwards on the fast break and will have no trouble finishing around the rim. There won't be a shortage of plays involving Gordon on the morning highlight shows.

Gordon is also an underrated ballhandler, especially in the open court. He has little trouble leading the fast break and manages to make the right decisions most of the time. Above all, he's a guy front-office types fall in love with because of his measurables and athleticism. General managers and coaches will think they can fix his flaws and play to his strengths. Time will tell if he'll ever live up to that "tremendous upside" label he has been given. He doesn't turn 19 until September, so time is on his side.

Weaknesses
Very raw and unpolished on the offensive end. He lacks a go-to move in the low post and is limited on the perimeter. Despite getting most of his opportunities close to the basket, he shot a shade under 50 percent from the field. Gordon's jump shot is so ineffective that defenders will let him shoot until he proves he can make shots consistently. Then there is his free throw shooting -- Gordon shot a horrendous 42 percent from the foul line last season. He'll need to improve that aspect of his game considerably or risk being a liability at the end of close games.

How he'd fit with the Sixers
Depends on which end of the floor you're talking about. Defensively, he would be a tremendous asset. Opponents would have a tough time getting clean looks at the basket against a frontline featuring Gordon and Nerlens Noel. Gordon would also provide Brett Brown with great defensive versatility, as he's able to defend several positions on the floor.

Offensively, he would fit in well with Michael Carter-Williams and company pushing the tempo. The Sixers aren't afraid to run, and Gordon can certainly do that. But when push comes to shove, this Sixers team needs players that can be counted on to score in half-court sets. That is not Gordon at this point, not even close. It will take some time before he becomes a consistent offensive performer.

NBA comparison
Blake Griffin is a popular name here, but I'm not buying that outside of the high-flying dunks. Shawn Marion is probably a better comparison, given Gordon's potential as a lockdown defender at the small forward spot. But I'll go Kenneth Faried -- unlimited energy, great rebounder and defender, but doesn't bring a whole lot to the table in a structured offense.

Draft projection
Early- to mid-lottery (fifth to ninth overall pick).

Unlike 2 years ago, Dario Saric feels ready for the NBA

Unlike 2 years ago, Dario Saric feels ready for the NBA

Dario Saric wanted to come to the NBA. He just didn’t feel ready when he was drafted in 2014.

Saric spent the past two years furthering his basketball career in Europe after being selected 12th by the Magic and traded to the Sixers. Now 22, he is confident in his decision to start his NBA career in Philadelphia. 

“I grew up like a person first. After that, I grew up like a player to play against the best players in the world,” Saric said Monday at Sixers media day. “I think now I feel I’m ready. I feel I can give something to this team.”

Basketball itself wasn’t the issue — Saric has been playing professionally since the age of 15. He has competed against top European competition, won numerous accolades, and was a member of the Croatian Olympic team this summer. 

Saric knew he could play in the NBA, but there is so much more involved in it for him. Joining the Sixers meant leaving Europe, moving to a new place to play in a new league, all at the young age of 20. 

“After NBA draft, I wasn’t ready to come here,” the forward said. “Not like a basketball player, like a man. I wasn’t ready because to take a big step, to go out of the family, to go to another country. For me it was so hard. ... I decide[d] during last season I would come here, I would try to play with the best players in the world.”

From season to season, the anticipation of Saric’s arrival grew. The Sixers' front office and staff kept in frequent contact. Saric often was in communication with head coach Brett Brown, former general manager Sam Hinkie and current president of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo. Assistant director of player development Chris Babcock also made trips to Istanbul to spend time with Saric.

All the while, Sixers fans eagerly awaited his decision. When he agreed to sign in July, he was taken aback by the reception. 

“I was surprised, I didn’t expect it to be something like that,” Saric said. “I know people waited for me like two years to come here. I know there’s, I can say, some kind of pressure on me.” 

With that pressure, Saric hopes to bring a winning mentality from his successes overseas. Colangelo has been impressed by the sampling he has observed of Saric during informal preseason team scrimmages. He grouped Saric with 6-foot-10 rookie Ben Simmons when discussing the Sixers’ bigs with diverse skillsets.

“What I see is a versatile player, a skilled big man that can do a number of things,” Colangelo said. “When you’re talking about 6-9, 6-10 and 6-11 players that are skilled and adept at ball handling, passing, driving, kicking out, thinking team-first — it seems both players — I think that’s a tremendous asset to have.” 

Saric understands, though, there will be a transition period as he adapts to the NBA. In the short time he has been around the Sixers, he has already noticed differences in the style of play. 

“What I can see is faster,” he said. “Everybody said the first couple of months will be like that. After that you will catch that rhythm, or that speed for your eyes and you will be faster. That’s the first thing I recognized, that I saw.”

Saric also noted the difference in format of the seasons, pointing out the tightly-packed 82-game NBA schedule. With so many adjustments, he plans to lean on his network of European players in the league, past and present. This summer, he received advice from former Sixer Toni Kukoc when he worked on the Croation National Team coaching staff. Even the smallest suggestion like stretching after practice is resonating with Saric.

“Toni, he told me for sure it will be hard for you when you come, but you must try to keep work[ing] day-by-day,” Saric said. 

For the player who once didn't feel ready for the NBA, Saric quickly has been pleased with his decision to play for the Sixers this season. 

“Everything is better than what I expect,” he said. 

Best quotes from Sixers 2016 media day

Best quotes from Sixers 2016 media day

CAMDEN, N.J. — Sixers president Bryan Colangelo and all 20 players on the team's training camp roster spoke at the organization's new state-of-the-art training complex during media day.

Here are some of the best quotes from Monday's session:

Colangelo on rebuilding process being like building new training complex
"This is the start of a new season, a new moment for the franchise. We've talked a lot about the growth and building process. We're looking forward, not back. A lot of this reminds me of, it's not dissimilar to a construction site on a skyscraper or a real estate project. There's been a lot of work being done to the infrastructure here for several months and in this case several years. We're on the verge of establishing things above grade, things that hopefully move this organization forward. We're looking ahead with a lot of excitement and a lot of anticipation on where it might go."

Elton Brand on competition among the big men
"I expect a bloodbath. I expect a battle. These guys are big, they're talented and they all have different skill sets. They are good. They can really play. Joel [Embiid] being healthy,[Jahlil Okafor], of course Nerlens [Noel] and Dario [Saric]. That's the fives. Then the fours, the number one pick, he's going to play. Jerami Grant took a leap. It's a lot of talent, so it's going to be fun to watch and be a part of."

Embiid on watching so much live and taped basketball while injured
"I've learned a lot. I'm really someone who loves watching basketball, who loves learning. To this day I still watch my college stuff because I love watching myself. I'll watch myself probably every day. Then I watch some of the other guys. I watch everybody's game. I just love being around basketball and watching games. NBA games or college games. Obviously NBA games are different than college. I can't really watch college basketball anymore because it just drives me crazy."

Okafor on whether his eyes light up when a guard switches onto him
"My eyes always light up no matter who's guarding me. I feel like I can do whatever I want. No matter if the person is smaller or bigger, it doesn't matter to me."

Ben Simmons on being considered a leader even though he's a rookie
"Definitely. I believe I'm a leader no matter what it is. Whether I'm playing Scrabble, Monopoly, Pictionary, whatever the game is. I try to lead whenever the occasion arises."

Brand on being in shape to play
"The offseason, I don't go on the basketball court as much as I did when I knew I'd be on a roster or trying to be on a roster. I just try to stay in cool dad shape. Riding my bike. I want my clothes to fit. I don't want to be like some NBA players that retire and play a long time and don't look as good. I was just working on riding my bike, jogging, swimming and then I'll hit the court."

Sergio Rodriguez on coming back to the NBA after a six-year absence
"It's been 10 years [since my NBA debut]. I've changed many things in my basketball skills. Also personal, the way that I act now, the way that I treat my body now. The way that I think is way different than it was when I first came into the league. For me it's a big challenge to come here at 30 years old and try to get an opportunity with the Sixers."

T.J. McConnell on letting Gerald Henderson have his No. 12 jersey
"I got a text from Scott Rego our equipment guy saying that Gerald's dad wore 12 when he played here and he would like to do the same and would I be willing to give up the number. So I just gave it up and I think one was the only other point-guard-looking number so I just took it. Nothing was added to the McConnell fund. All I got was a firm handshake, that's about it."