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.
A quick look at Denver’s starting five immediately draws your eyes towards Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. After that, you’ll see the newly acquired Kentavious Caldwell-Pope that gives the team a 3-and-D wing that they’ve been searching for over the past few seasons. The player that will get overlooked all year is the one you looked at last. That’s Aaron Gordon.
The ninth-year forward is in his third season with the Nuggets, and the argument could be made that he is the second-most important player on the roster behind Jokic because of what he brings to the floor. Now, before you start laughing and closing this article, just hear me out for a second. Murray, MPJ and KCP space the floor and can score in bunches when they get hot. KCP gives you a great on-ball defender at the guard spot, which eases the load on Murray, and we’ve seen MPJ take a step forward on defense this year as well.
Gordon isn’t going to be the guy that puts up flashy numbers every night, although he will have nights where shots are falling, and he’s getting to the rim. He’ll often be tasked with guarding the best opposing forward to preserve MPJ’s energy for offense. That means guys will often put up points because they’re the best in the world at what they do. Everyone in the starting five plays a role, and Gordon is the one that may play the most important of them all.
The Dunker Spot
This play gave Gordon his eighth and ninth points of the night. This angle also doesn’t do the play justice for the pass that Murray throws. On the year, Gordon is shooting 80.4 percent at the rim and 86.1 percent on dunks. Essentially, when he gets inside, the defense might as well just head to the other end of the floor because he’s scoring a lot more than he’s missing. On this play, all Gordon does is find the open space down near the block. That’s all he has to do. Once his man goes to cut off the driving lane for Murray, Gordon slides over to the dunker’s spot, and he has the free basket just because he filled in the gap.
Here’s just one more example of Gordon not doing anything overly special. He’s just finding the space and scoring. On this play, LeBron James goes over to double-team Jokic, and that leaves just Lonnie Walker IV to handle Gordon and Christian Braun. Gordon knows he has a big size advantage so he just establishes his position and waits. Once the ball comes to him, it’s a simple up and in for him. Every single game, he has plays like this where he just finds open space near the rim, and he gets the offense a free two points as a result.
Running the Floor
As of Friday morning, the Nuggets are currently seventh in pace. Starting in 2017-18, the first year Jokic became the full-time starter at center, the Nuggets have never finished higher than 16th, and they’ve been outside the top 25 in three of those seasons. Now, they’re running more, and one player that’s excelling in that area is Gordon. He’s fourth on the team in points per possession in transition at 1.27. One prime example of the benefit of pushing the pace is the issues it causes for the defense. On this play, Gordon gets a block and rebound on defense. He immediately outlets the ball to Murray but keeps hustling down the floor. With the defense scrambling, no one is in position for when he rises up for the putback dunk. The pace with Jokic is generally slower, but, when you’re able to run the offense without him, you can moving a little quicker.
At his size, Gordon is a problem for defenders to manage when he gets moving. That’s why transition plays are so good for what he brings to the team. Gordon is completely out of the play until the very end. KCP has it and is driving towards the rim. He doesn’t have anyone to get the ball to, but, since Gordon is hustling down the floor, he ends up with that wide-open lane to the rim because no one is able to get in front of him. Jokic gets the rebound and outlet pass completed, but, after that, the offense is able to score without him because the rest of the guys can do that work to save his energy.
Filling in the Gaps
Primarily, Gordon is going to be defending on the ball, but, with a healthy team around him, he’s able to play more of the free safety style role that he thrives in. Playing as an “in-the-way” defender allows him to just fill in the space between everyone else. On this play, Gordon is off-the-ball, and he’s kind of floating near the edge of the arc. He slowly leaves his man as the play goes towards the rim, and, when he sees the ball-handler go to kick out the ball, he jumps in the passing lane for the steal to send Denver the other way like a free safety reading a quarterback’s eyes.
Here, LeBron drives into the lane on Gordon and gets him backpedaling. Gordon stops the drive without fouling and stays on his feet. LeBron has space to put up the floater, but he goes for the alley-oop instead. Damian Jones catches the ball behind the backboard, so he can’t get his shot up. He lands, and Jokic is going to concede the basket to him. Gordon, however, is not. Right as Jones gathers to go up for another shot, Gordon darts over to him for the block to get Denver the ball back. Gordon is going to be this team’s unsung hero all season long, and I think he’s perfectly fine with that because he’s playing his role perfectly.
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.