Gordon is so important to the Nuggets

Published June 11, 2023, 8:00 AMPolo Bustamante

It's no secret - Aaron Gordon is thriving in Denver.

Out of thousands of college and international basketball prospects, being part of the 60 selected every year can make you feel special. Even more so if you’re a top five pick. Naturally, you think that you’re a game-changing superstar in the making, that you’re destined to be one of the top players in the league.

That’s probably what Aaron Gordon had in mind for himself when he was taken fourth overall by the Orlando Magic back in 2014. Unfortunately, besides the spectacular show he put on at the 2016 Dunk Contest, his time in Orlando was pretty much forgettable. He never ended up becoming the second coming of Blake Griffin – a franchise-saving star.

That’s why the Magic decided to cut their losses and traded him to the Denver Nuggets in 2021. That trade might have actually saved Gordon’s career. The Magic wanted the idealized version of Gordon. The Nuggets, on the other hand, wanted the actual version of Gordon. They believed that the tools that he had now could be developed into something useful for them in the long run.

So Gordon was content to fill a role with Denver rather than play beyond his reach. He sat back and caught passes from Nikola Jokic, did the dirty work on both ends of the floor, and sacrificed his production for the greater good of the team. In return, he experienced great team success and even had a breakout year this season.

This playoff run that the Nuggets are on has highlighted just how essential Gordon has become to a lot of the things that they do.

The Nuggets have faced different types of teams in all the series they’ve played in. In all four series, Gordon has become an indispensable weapon. He’s a Swiss Army knife they break out in case of an emergency, especially on the defensive end.

Take their matchup against the Minnesota Timberwolves as an example. With Jokic’s hands full against Rudy Gobert, he stepped up to the plate and took care of business against Karl-Anthony Towns. Gordon put all 6’8” of his body to good use, limiting the seven-foot KAT to just 18.2 points on 45 percent shooting.

In the next round, Gordon was given the unenviable task of stopping Kevin Durant. He didn’t flinch. He put on his hard hat and went to work. Durant still managed to average 29 a game, but Gordon made him work for every one of those points. He limited Durant to just 45.3 percent shooting, more than 10 percentage points lower than his season average.

Gordon moved on from defending one of the best scorers in the history of the league to having to slow down one of the best players in the history of the game. LeBron James was still able to average a 27-10-9 line but those numbers were for naught as the Nuggets ended up sweeping the LA Lakers. The emblematic play of the series was Gordon walling off the paint in the final possession of Game 4, preventing James from getting a shot off to tie the game.

In the NBA Finals, Gordon has been one of the players responsible for cooling off the red-hot Jimmy Butler. After averaging 37, 25, and 25 in the East playoffs, Butler is now down to just 21 points per game in the Finals.

Gordon is one of the defenders assigned to take on Butler. When he’s not on the Miami Heat’s main gun, Gordon has still shown that he can slow down the rest of their wing players. His athleticism allows him to stay in front of their shooters out in the perimeter, stifling the Heat’s offensive plans with his activity and awareness on D.

On offense, anything Gordon does is a luxury. It’s usually Jokic and Jamal Murray who take care of the bulk of the work on offense. All Gordon has to do is to run his routes off the ball to either get into scoring spots or drag the defense out of balance.

In Game 4 though, what Gordon did on offense was an absolute necessity. With the Heat crowding Jokic and Murray, the Nuggets needed someone to unclog their offense. Gordon ended up being that guy. 

He was hitting outside shots which ended up opening the paint for Jokic to get work done. Gordon also showed that he still has an offensive bag, taking tired defenders off the dribble or pounding the rock into the paint with back-to-the-basket moves. He even helped out with playmaking as a passer out of the short roll.

Gordon led the team in scoring, dropping 27 points with three triples, and dished out six dimes. Beyond the numbers, it was the timing of his plays that were bigger, He was able to help the team pull away from the Heat in the third quarter and staved off the Miami run in the fourth.

Gordon may not have been the game-changing superstar for Orlando many pegged him to be. But he’s proven in the past two years with Denver that he’s still a game-changing player. His impact on wins might not be as noticeable as Jokic’s or Murray’s. Without him though, the Nuggets might not even be in the NBA Finals.

Gordon might not be one of the top guys in the league. But pretty soon, he’ll be a champion.