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).

Best of NBA: Harden's 38-points fuels Rockets past Bucks

Best of NBA: Harden's 38-points fuels Rockets past Bucks

HOUSTON -- James Harden had 38 points, eight assists and six rebounds, and the Houston Rockets beat the Milwaukee Bucks 111-92 on Wednesday night.

Harden drilled a straightaway 3-pointer with six minutes left to give Houston a 13-point lead and shimmied his shoulders down the court in a celebratory dance as the Bucks called timeout.

After losing three of four, the Rockets regained their form while improving to 17-4 at home this season.

Giannis Antetokounmpo had 32 points, 11 rebounds, six assists and three blocks for Milwaukee (see full recap).

Rose powers slumping Knicks past Celtics 117-106
BOSTON -- Derrick Rose matched his season high with 30 points, and the slumping New York Knicks beat the Boston Celtics 117-106 on Wednesday night.

New York played without injured starters Kristaps Porzingis and Joakim Noah, but Mindaugas Kuzminskas and Willy Hernangomez each scored 17 points to help make up for their absence. It was just the third win in 14 games for the Knicks.

Isaiah Thomas led Boston with 39 points, his 13th time this season with 30 or more points. Jae Crowder added 21 for the Celtics, who lost for only the fourth time in 17 games.

Al Horford, Boston's big free-agent acquisition during the summer, had five points on 2-of-14 shooting. He was 1 for 8 on 3-point attempts.

Boston closed to 97-96 on Jaylen Brown's two free throws with just under eight minutes to play, but Justin Holiday and Courtney Lee nailed 3-pointers 29 seconds apart, pushing New York's lead back to seven. Rose then capped an 8-0 spree by putting in his own miss after Thomas missed a jumper -- his seventh straight shot that was off (see full recap).

Home cooking: Wiz top Grizz 104-101, 13th win in row in DC
WASHINGTON -- A vastly different team at home, the Wizards won their 13th consecutive game in Washington by edging the Memphis Grizzlies 104-101 Wednesday night behind two late layups from John Wall, who finished with 25 points and 13 assists.

James Ennis III missed a potential tying 3-pointer at the buzzer for Memphis.

The Wizards are just 4-13 on the road but now 18-6 at home, where they've compiled their longest winning streak since a 15-game run in the 1988-89 season.

Washington never trailed and led by as many as 19 points in the first half, then held on after a 10-0 run by Memphis made it a two-point game with 2 1/2 minutes left. That's when Wall took over, scoring on consecutive drives (see full recap).

Walker, Hibbert lead Hornets past Blazers 107-85
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Kemba Walker scored 23 points, Roy Hibbert provided a huge boost off the bench, and the Charlotte Hornets stopped a five-game slide with a 107-85 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers on Wednesday night.

Nicolas Batum added 17 points for the Hornets, who limited the Trail Blazers to 35 percent shooting and snapped an eight-game streak of allowing at least 100 points. But it was the 7-foot-2 Hibbert who stole the show.

Hibbert, who came in averaging 5.2 points per game, had a season-high 16 points on 7-of-8 shooting.

Damian Lillard scored 21 points and C.J. McCollum had 18 for Portland, which has lost three straight and 16 of 22 since Dec. 5 (see full recap).

Instant Replay: Sixers 94, Raptors 89

Instant Replay: Sixers 94, Raptors 89

BOX SCORE

The Sixers proved their recent success is for real with a grind-it-out 94-89 win over the Raptors on Wednesday night at the Wells Fargo Center. 

Facing the Eastern Conference’s second-best team, the Sixers beat the 28-win Raptors in what they had identified as their most challenging matchup during this stretch of success. They now have won seven of their last nine games.

The Sixers closed out this victory with late-game execution and fended off a Raptors comeback attempt. DeMar DeRozan gave Toronto a one-point lead, 86-85, with just under two minutes to play. The team that had struggled greatly with fourth quarters showed poise and composure down the stretch against a veteran playoff contender, as the Sixers sealed a win that seemed unlikely just a few weeks ago.

Embiid knotted the score with a free throw and grabbed a key defensive rebound before T.J. McConnell converted a layup and two free throws on back-to-back possessions, handing the Sixers a 90-86 lead. On the ensuing trip down the other end, Robert Covington and Embiid delivered blocks on Kyle Lowry, all but putting Toronto away for good with 20 seconds left.

The Sixers improved to 14-26 and the Raptors dropped to 28-14. 

Inside the stats
• Embiid recorded his 10th straight game of 20-plus points, scoring 26 and grabbing nine rebounds for a plus-20 rating.

• Ersan Illyasova put up 18 points on 7 of 14 shooting.

• DeRozan scored 25 points, while Lowry poured in 24.

• The Sixers snapped a 14-game losing streak to the Raptors.

• The Sixers posted seven blocks as Embiid, Dario Saric and Nik Stauskas all had two apiece.

• Saric finished with eight points and nine rebounds off the bench.

• The Sixers turned the ball over 22 times. Every player other than Illyasova had at least one turnover.

Super Dario
Saric blocked Jared Sullinger at the basket during the fourth quarter, sending the Sixers into a frenzy (see video). He followed that play up with getting tied up for a jump ball and minutes later knocking down a three. These aggressive plays were signs of growth for the rookie, who is visibly getting more comfortable as the season progresses and playing more aggressively with each game. 

Embiid snapshot
Embiid went through a 44-second span that encapsulated the versatility of his game. Check out these key plays in the fourth quarter, listed in order of time remaining: 

• 10:32: Dunk

• 10:03: Three-point shot

• 9:48: Draws offensive foul against Lowry

Injury scare
DeMarre Carroll hit the ground halfway through the third after his head collided with teammate Pascal Siakam’s knee during a tie-up at the Sixers' basket. He lay on the floor while members of both medical staffs tended to him. Carroll walked very carefully off the court on his own while being held on to by Raptors personnel (see video). The Raptors conducted tests during the game, which came back clear. Carroll was diagnosed with a sore neck and was unavailable to return.

Up next
The Sixers host the Trail Blazers (18-25) on Friday for their first meeting of the season. Then they travel to Atlanta for a back-to-back against the Hawks (24-17).