CHICAGO — Former Arizona Wildcats forward Aaron Gordon isn’t participating in workouts at the NBA combine this week, but he managed to break a sweat anyway.
That’s when the Minnesota Timberwolves asked him, out of the blue, how many pennies were in a million dollars.
“I said, ‘A lot,’ ” Gordon said, generating laughter at his combine media interview Thursday, though he actually did answer the question correctly.
“After 22 seconds — they timed me — I said ‘100 million,’ ” Gordon said. “Educated guess and I was like,
Of course, there are bigger questions Gordon is facing these days, even as a projected lottery pick.
Such as … where does he play? And, well, can he shoot?
Gordon won’t be able to demonstrate the answers on the floor this week, having been advised by his agent to sit out the workout portion of the combine, but he had no trouble finding the verbal responses.
At 6 feet 7ƒ inches and 220 pounds without shoes — his official measurement at the combine Thursday — Gordon has been viewed as neither a prototypical NBA small forward or a power forward.
He didn’t appear too worried about that Thursday. Gordon said he feels comfortable playing both forward spots, as he did for the Wildcats last season.
“I see myself as a three. I see myself as a four,” Gordon said. “I’m capable of playing multiple positions. It is OK to play multiple positions. It’s not like you have to be locked into one. That’s what I’ve learned from my idol, Magic Johnson.”
Gordon’s former teammate, Nick Johnson, faces a similar question as a guard who is short for a shooting guard but not experienced at point guard.
“A lot of people ask me what position. They want to know,” Johnson said. “So I’m coming out and saying it: I’m a point guard. I believe I can make that transition like a lot of guys have in the past.”
While Johnson played mostly shooting guard over his three years for the Wildcats, Gordon showcased himself at both positions last season. He was an undeniable force inside but struggled from both positions to shoot from mid-range and the free-throw line, hitting just 42.2 percent of his free throws.
After a spring of intense workouts in Tucson and then Santa Barbara, Calif., Gordon says that problem is being taken care of.
“I’ve got blisters all over my fingers, just from shooting,” Gordon said.
It wasn’t just repetition, either. Gordon said he has changed his mechanics.
“It’s more fluent,” he said. “It’s all in the way up. There’s no hitch in it. My midrange, my three and my free throws are all connected, for once.”
Gordon actually stayed in Tucson for April while finishing up his spring course load. But his game and body were broken down further when he arrived in Santa Barbara to work out with P3, a performance enhancement firm that is contracted with BDA Sports, which represents Gordon.
“What you want to do is get him in the best shape possible and you want to identify his weaknesses,” said Gordon’s agent, Calvin Andrews of BDA. “They’re just kind of breaking down areas of his body that can be improved. They can analyze how you are restricted in certain movements.”
Gordon said he was found to be “kind of stiff in my hips and my shoulder” and did stretches and lifts to help loosen up.
And, of course, he played a lot of basketball.
“Worked out. Played basketball. Lifted. Played basketball. Slept. Played basketball,” Gordon said of his spring routine, adding that the Santa Barbara experience “was awesome.”
But when it came down to this week’s combine, Gordon had to bite his tongue a bit. Andrews and BDA Sports advised him not to play in the workouts, reasoning — as nearly all agents do with top prospects — that working out against lower-rated players is a no-win situation.
Gordon understood that much. It’s just that the philosophy clashed against his competitive nature.
So instead, he stood and watched the workouts Thursday from the sidelines, his face peeking intently out of a hoodie.
“I wanted to be out there,” he said. “I don’t know if it was the right thing but I would have loved to be out there for all four (workouts). People are strategizing 100 percent. It is a chess game and a mental game. But I would have loved to be out there.”
Instead, Gordon will save his on-court workouts for the five or six private sessions he participates in for teams, presumably the ones holding the top spots in the draft when the lottery is held Tuesday.
It is there that Gordon will really try to prove at what position he will play — and if that really matters anyway.
“There’s two positions, really,” he said. “On the court and off the court. I want to be on the court.”