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Mutual interest between Aaron Gordon and Celtics

His athleticism makes Aaron Gordon an enticing draft possibility for the Celtics.Rex Arbogast/AP/Associated Press

WALTHAM — Aaron Gordon laughed when he saw the viral photo, a candid shot of him snoozing on a Red Line train during a visit to Boston last month.

The talented Arizona forward and likely top-10 pick in the June 26 NBA Draft was in the area to attend his sister’s graduation from Harvard.

But late one night, Gordon was riding the train back from a workout, heading to dinner with his family, when he dozed off, with a basketball in his lap.

Someone snapped a cell phone photo, and the shot quickly spread through social media.

“It was real funny,” Gordon said Thursday, when he was back in New England for a predraft workout with the Celtics. “I don’t know if I saw it the next day or later that night, but it was really funny, because it was like, ‘Whoa, that’s me.’ ”


There are many Celtics fans who wouldn’t mind if Gordon became a more permanent fixture in the city, and the team itself is a big fan of the uber-athletic 6-foot-9-inch forward.

Asked about being drafted by the Celtics, Gordon said, “I hope. I’m excited. We’ll see. June 26, a lot of things are going to happen from now to then, and even on that day. But I’d be happy. Really, I’m just excited to be drafted anywhere.”

Gordon averaged 12.4 points and 8.0 rebounds during his freshman season with the Wildcats, establishing himself as one of the top athletes in college basketball, perhaps second only to Kansas freshman Andrew Wiggins.

Because of that athleticism, Austin Ainge, the Celtics’ director of player personnel, believes Gordon would “be able to do some things like guard point guards, then switch onto the bigs in pick-and-rolls and do some creative things like that. Because he’s very versatile and athletic for his size.”


“Versatility” was the term Ainge used often when describing Gordon, who has also worked out for the Los Angeles Lakers, Sacramento Kings, and Utah Jazz.

“I think Aaron’s biggest strength is his versatility,” Ainge said. “I think he’ll be able to guard almost every position on the court, and that’s really his strength. He’s a great defender and he handles the ball pretty well for his size.

“And he’s going to have to continue [to work on] his shooting, but he’s a worker and I think he will.”

The biggest knock on Gordon is his shooting, especially from the free throw line, where he made just 42 percent of his attempts at Arizona.

“His mechanics are pretty good,” Ainge said. “And I think that gives me hope. Pretty sound fundamentally.”

Gordon said his shot has improved “a lot” since the college season ended.

“It’s the same shot every time,” he said. “More fluid, more relaxed. Obviously, there’s not thousands of fans around, but it still feels better, even when I’m in the gym by myself shooting. I can put it in, I can really control it. It’s fluid. It just feels better.”

Gordon explained that now, he’s “understanding how to shoot, and once you understand how to shoot, and what you need to do . . . once you understand, you can self-coach and then repetition, repetition.

“You can shoot a thousand shots or a million shots, but if you are shooting it the wrong way, then you’re never going to get better. So now I think I know how to shoot the right way, and now I’m just adding on.”


He also believes an improved free throw has translated to a more improved jump shot.

“A lot of what was happening throughout the season is, I would get on a roll, then I’d get to the free throw line and it would kind of cool me off a little bit,” Gordon said. “Whereas now, if I get to the free throw line, it’s just reestablishing what I can do from the perimeter. It’s keeping me on a roll.”

But Gordon is an intriguing candidate if only because of his age — at 18, he’s the youngest player in the draft, and he won’t turn 19 until mid-September.

“When you’re on the court, age doesn’t matter,” Gordon said. “Nobody knows how old you are, nobody cares how old you are. I just try to carry myself with the utmost maturity and show that I belong out there. And even thrive out there.”

There is a leaguewide question about what position Gordon will play: small forward or power forward. Ainge said Gordon, who weighs 225 pounds, could play both but would likely play small forward until he gets a little stronger.

“He’s plenty big to play [power forward] and he’s athletic enough to play [small forward],” Ainge said.

Gordon tried to dispel the widely accepted notion that he only wants to play small forward, which would allow him to spend more time on the perimeter.


“Teams get this misconception that I’m caught up on a position,” Gordon said. “I’m not caught up on a position. I’ll come in and play any position that you want me to play and I’ll guard any position that you want me to play.”

Gordon also praised Celtics coach Brad Stevens, who Gordon said reminds him of his coach at Arizona, Sean Miller.

“He’s a really good coach, a good guy,” Gordon said. “Very smart. Looks like he has his players’ best interests at heart, wants to win. Very, very good guy.

“I would love playing under Brad Stevens. But it’s up to them. Whoever I get drafted by, I’ll be excited and I’ll come in and I’ll bring wins.”

Baxter Holmes can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @BaxterHolmes.