In reality, the NBA’s predraft evaluation process for Aaron Gordon and Nick Johnson started almost the day they stepped on campus.
That’s what happens when you play for the Arizona Wildcats.
“All 30 (NBA) teams watched us practice on at least three occasions, which is amazing,” UA coach Sean Miller said last week, after his two underclassmen standouts announced they were leaving school early for the draft. “When you factor in our 38 games, I think it’s fairly accurate to say they know our team and the individual players.”
It’s also true that, in the next two months of predraft work, Johnson won’t be able to grow into a prototypical NBA two-guard, nor will he suddenly pick up a point guard’s game. And Gordon won’t be able to prove, for now, that he can knock down a free throw or a midrange shot under pressure.
But there’s still a lot of progress both players can make before the June 26 NBA draft in New York.
While Gordon may have limited room to move with a projection that is solidly in the lottery, Johnson is projected anywhere from late in the first round to undrafted. His athleticism and personality could help him lobby for a first-round draft spot and the accompanying guaranteed contract.
“I don’t think he’s going to move into the lottery, but he can definitely move up,” said Jonathan Givony, president of Draft Express, which projects Johnson as a mid-second rounder. “Once you’re outside the top 20 or so, it’s just a matter of how much (a team) likes you.”
Both players are expected to appear at the NBA’s combine May 14-18 in Chicago — though highly rated prospects such as Gordon often only take part in mandatory measurements — and will be invited to work out privately for teams after that.
Most likely, Gordon will work out only a handful of times, since agents typically won’t put their clients in front of teams who are drafting lower than the player is projected to be taken at. Johnson, however, will be a busy guy — and he knows it.
NBA feedback said “it’s not going to be easy to get drafted where you want to be,” Johnson said. It said “you’re going to have to come in, put in work and show teams that you can do what they say you can and kind of answer some questions that they have.”
Here’s a breakdown of Johnson and Gordon’s prospects as of now:
Size (UA measurements with shoes): 6 feet 3 inches, 200 pounds
Position: Shooting guard
Draft Express: 46 to Washington
NBADraft.net: 33 to Cleveland
NBADraftInsider.com: 29 to Oklahoma City
ESPN (Ford): 48th-ranked prospect
CBSSPorts (Parrish): 32 to Philadelphia
CBSSports (Harper): 55 to Philadelphia
CBSSPorts (Moore): 46 to Washington
Sporting News: NR*
* Second round not projected
He’ll wow ’em during the predraft process because: Johnson’s maturity and congenial personality will shine during interviews with NBA personnel — and, of course, the player sometimes known as “Bunnies” will leap out of the gym.
In UA tests conducted last September, Johnson recorded a 47-inch maximum vertical leap (in which a running start is allowed) and a 38-inch no-step vertical. The 47-inch mark was higher than any NBA prospect leaped at the NBA’s 2013 combine, and (assuming tests were conducted similarly) the 38-inch mark would have placed second, behind only Memphis’ D.J. Stephens (who had a 40-inch mark).
But he’ll raise questions because: Johnson is smaller than most NBA shooting guards, and he isn’t considered to have enough point guard skills to play that position full time. Johnson will have to prove he can defend a bigger shooting guard at the NBA combine or during individual team workouts.
What he hopes to prove: “So many things as far as leadership and my ability to defend and my ability to knock down shots. I think I have some questions to answer as far as my position but if you ask me, I’m a basketball player. Put me out on the court — I can defend. It doesn’t matter if the guy is shorter or taller than me. I’m gonna get into it on defense, and I’m gonna make plays on offense because that’s who I am as a player.”
Miller’s take: “I think he’s highly intelligent, and the way the NBA is structured now, many times there’s those one or two marquee players, and then they’re surrounded by an influx of role players. When I look at Nick, being a role player around superstars … with his mind — that’s something I think people will fall in love with. He knows everything from a defensive and offensive perspective, and he’s incredibly smart.
“He has great work habits, and I think some of that is going to lead to him being an even better player next year.”
Size (UA measurements with shoes): 6-9, 225
Position: Power forward
Draft Express: 8 to Detroit
NBADraft.net: 12 to Orlando
NBADraftInsider.com: 7 to Sacramento
ESPN (Ford): 6*
HoopsHype: 16 to Chicago
CBSSPorts (Parrish): 6 to Lakers
CBSSports (Harper): 6 to Lakers
CBSSPorts (Moore): 5 to Utah
Sporting News: 10 to Denver
* Of top 100 draft prospects
He’ll wow ’em during the predraft process because: Gordon has good athleticism for his size, can defend a range of players, passes well and has a mature, serious yet affable personality. That will show off in the hours Gordon will spend interviewing with NBA executives.
But he’ll raise questions because: It’s not clear where to put him. Gordon is slightly undersized for an NBA power forward, the position at which he was most effective at UA while playing both forward spots early in the season. But he may be best defensively against a small forward.
In addition, Gordon is not a particularly efficient offensive player away from the basket and, as UA fans know all too well, not a good free-throw shooter (42.2 percent last season).
What he hopes to prove: “I just need to show what I can be. I know who I am as a basketball player. I know my potential is limitless. I’m going to go in there and be Aaron Gordon, like coach (Sean Miller) has been telling me to do all year long. I think my game is going to expand.”
Miller’s take: “It’s the right decision for him. … It’s redundant to continue to say this, but the role of our coaching staff was just to coach basketball this year. There were very few fires we had to put out. From a team chemistry perspective — no team is perfect — but these guys would probably agree with me that it was a fun ride in many ways for everybody because everybody was all-in. … It started with Nick’s leadership, and it flowed through someone like Aaron, who came here with so many accolades yet was so easy to coach and be a good teammate because of who he is.”