The 2014 NBA draft is shaping up to be memorable in that its one of the deepest collections of young, proven talent in over a decade. There is much to like even through the early second round. For teams like Milwaukee, Orlando, Boston, Philadelphia and Utah, their pick needs to be able to take the reins of the franchise immediately and lead the rebuilding process.
The Los Angeles Lakers are in a different position. They are retooling for another championship run before Kobe Bryant retires.
In that context, Aaron Gordon, slightly edging out Joel Embiid, is the best player for the Lakers going into the future.
The most difficult part of building a championship team is not finding the star player, but the 2nd complimentary star that puts a team over the top. The Lakers will always be able to find flashy scorers through free agency, but winning players – players that contribute in numerous ways besides scoring – are much harder to come by.
Kareem Abdul Jabbar didn’t win in Los Angeles until Magic Johnson arrived. Michael Jordan didn’t win until Scottie Pippen became elite. Shaquille O’Neal didn’t win until Kobe Bryant became elite. Its the way the league works and will continue to be so.
Of the talented young players available in this years draft, Aaron Gordon is the one with the most versatile game and is best equipped to meld with a contending team. He can fit in immediately as a role player with his defense, finishing ability and interior passing. His energy is dynamic. He influences games in a myriad of ways.He is an unfinished product offensively but already handles the ball well and can grow into a primary scorer’s role in time.
With Kobe Bryant still in tow, and not yet ready to cede the lead dog role, Gordon is the best match for Bryant’s intensity, competitiveness, and playing style. It would be easy to imagine Andrew Wiggins melting under the pressure an aging Bryant would place upon him to develop quickly. Jabari Parker, while an incredible offensive talent, needs the ball and might be a liability defensively. Julius Randle is a capable scorer and rebounder but has struggled all year against larger players and isn’t developed as a passer or defender.
The Lakers’ biggest issue is its interior defense, rebounding, and having a inside force to finish around the rim. Gordon is an elite defender capable of guarding multiple positions, he is already a great rebounder, and he is the best finisher in the draft.
With Blake Griffin, LaMarcus Aldridge, Kevin Love, Zach Randolph, David Lee and Serge Ibaka in the Western Conference, the Lakers need a unique force to match those elite power forwards. Gordon can immediately help up front and gradually will grow into a larger role.
At Arizona, Gordon walked into an established pecking order and fit in, deferring to his veteran teammates and playing a complimentary role willingly. With the injury to Brandon Ashley, he began to assert himself and by season’s end was Arizona’s best player. His jump shot and foul shooting need extensive work , but at age 18, he is advanced in the nuances of the game.
With the Lakers in good financial shape, the ability to sign elite free agents is there. Kobe, Gordon, and an top flight free agent might be enough to return the Lakers to championship contention within the next 2 years.
If they can get him that is.