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Denver Nuggets Film Friday: It’s make or break time

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NBA: Playoffs-Denver Nuggets at Phoenix Suns Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

If you’re not familiar with Film Fridays, each Friday, I’ll be looking at some recent Denver Nuggets’ games, lineups or something else from a film aspect to try and bring you a piece of content that you’re not getting somewhere else. Feel free to give any feedback positive or negative in the comments or find me on Twitter.

Prior to the trade deadline last season, the Nuggets pushed their chips to the center of the table when they traded for forward Aaron Gordon. Gordon was in the midst of his seventh season with the Orlando Magic after being selected fourth overall in the 2014 NBA draft. Upon his arrival, Gordon looked rejuvenated for his new squad, and the Nuggets were quickly inserted into the top contenders for the title with his play.

In the five games the team’s starting five of Jamal Murray, Will Barton, Michael Porter Jr., Gordon and Nikola Jokic played together, they shared the floor for 110 minutes with a net rating of 18.5. Among all lineups that shared the floor for at least 100 minutes, that rating was the 10th-best in the NBA, and it was unfortunate they didn’t get to continue to gain chemistry due to injuries sustained by Murray and Barton.

Now, heading into the 2021-22 season, Gordon is a free agent at the end of the year, and he’s at a turning point in his career. He’ll be 26 at the end of the year, and he’s struggled to stay healthy for the last few seasons, along with the fact that he has never developed a consistent 3-point shot to make him a legitimate 3-and-D wing. While his athleticism and effort will likely keep him on rosters moving forward, he won’t see the raise in pay he is likely hoping for if he underwhelms again this season.

Stop Settling for Jumpers

Since he entered the league, the goal was always for Gordon to start knocking down jump shots at a consistent rate. Unfortunately, that hasn’t happened yet, and it may be time for Gordon to focus on the parts of his game where he is the most successful. On this play, I’m not sure where the path to success is. Gordon catches the ball in the left corner, and he starts driving across the floor towards the right elbow. He gets there before rising up and attempting a contested jumper with six seconds left on the shot clock. This shot just doesn’t make a ton of sense, and, despite that, Gordon attempted a couple of these every game.

Gordon could stay around the 3-point line and just put up a 3-pointer when Jokic hits him on the left wing. Instead, he uses his awareness to get an easy bucket. Jokic is between the free-throw line and 3-point arc Rudy Gobert guarding him. Gordon knows that no one else is on the floor to protect the rim, and, when his man slides over to help on Jokic, Gordon has a free run to the rim. Gordon is a solid slasher, and, next season, he needs to focus on that. There will be enough other shooters on the floor to offset his lack of an outside shot, and he needs to take advantage of the space inside the arc that will be available to him.

Stay Active on Defense

Gordon could be one of the best defensive players in the NBA if he wanted to. His size at 6’8” & 235 pounds gives him the ability to match up with players at every position physically, and he also has the lateral agility to stay in front of smaller players better than most forwards. However, in order to take that next step defensively, he needs to lock in more consistently. This play is an example of a mental lapse that he was able to eliminate with his athleticism. The Los Angeles Lakers are coming up the floor in transition, and Facundo Campazzo is far behind the play still. No one picks up Lakers’ center Andre Drummond, but Gordon reads the pass and is able to burst over for the block. There aren’t many players that can make this play at his size because most forwards don’t move like this.

Here’s a prime example of Gordon not fully locking in on the defensive end of the floor. P.J. Dozier is guarding Kyle Lowry and gets screened by Pascal Siakam, who’s being guarded by Gordon. Dozier fights over the screen with Gordon sliding over to help, but Gordon hesitates and slides too far which makes it impossible for him to get back and contest the open 3-point shot by Siakam. Dozier gets over the screen relatively easy, and Gordon also has Jokic behind him on that side of the floor. He has to read the situation in front of him and be able to get back to his man without giving up the wide-open shot. In the starting five mentioned at the beginning, Gordon needs to be the defensive lynch-pin of that unit. If he can be the player that he flashes on occasion, he can really round out that group.

3-Point Efficiency

Look, I know I just said two sections ago that Gordon needed to focus on getting to the rim more, but I also think he needs to increase his 3-point accuracy. I don’t think he should be putting up 3-point shots off of the dribble, but the team needs him to get to at least 30 percent from 3-point range. After arriving in Denver, he shot just 26.6 percent from downtown. I’ve already said he’s not the primary offensive threat for this team, but he has to be at least passable from outside to keep the defense honest. On this play, Facundo Campazzo drives into the paint before kicking the ball out to Gordon for the open 3-point shot on the left wing. Gordon doesn’t do anything spectacular on this play. He just holds his spot and knocks down the shot when the ball gets to him. That’s all he needs to focus on doing from outside.

This play is actually perfect because it illustrates two mistakes at once. First, Gordon takes a step-back contested 3-point shot with 16 seconds still left on the shot clock. That’s not the best shot for the offense, and he shouldn’t be trying to initiate the offense like that. Gordon then follows up the initial mistake with a turnover after grabbing the tip-out from Paul Millsap. The player he’s attempting the pass to, Porter, is never open with four New York Knicks between he and Gordon. Gordon needs to learn to make the smart play rather than going for the flashy play in these situations.

For those of you that are still here, remember to leave your feedback in the comments or over on my Twitter, and have a fantastic film-filled Friday.