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.
Earlier this week, the first round of fan voting for the NBA All-Star game returned. At the top of the Western Conference frontcourt, you saw the expected names like LeBron James, Nikola Jokic, Anthony Davis and Zion Williamson. After that, things got a little weird. Despite not playing in over a month, Andrew Wiggins of the Golden State Warriors was fifth. Draymond Green and Kevon Looney, who average a combined 14.5 points per game for the ninth-place team in the West, were eighth and 10th.
LeBron James and Kevin Durant lead their respective conferences in the first fan returns of #NBAAllStar Voting presented by AT&T.— NBA Communications (@NBAPR) January 5, 2023
Fans account for 50% of the vote to decide All-Star starters. NBA players and a media panel account for 25% each.
The next fan update is Jan. 12. pic.twitter.com/osVeUGI8H4
Meanwhile, the consensus second-best player on the Nuggets, who lead the West, was nowhere to be found. In fact, no one other than Jokic was on the list, although there is really only one candidate due to injuries and inconsistent play, and that is Aaron Gordon. The ninth-year forward is having a career-year for Denver, and, for whatever reason, it’s going completely unnoticed.
Gordon is averaging 17.0 points with 6.9 rebounds with a slashline of .586/.373/.648. He’s shooting 75.7 percent at the rim, and, after struggling from outside during his first season and a half with the Nuggets, he’s taking fewer shots outside while increasing the shot quality. With Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. missing time, the Nuggets have needed Gordon to step up, and he’s answered the call without hesitation. So, why is it that he’s being ignored for a game in which his style of play fits perfectly?
After playing more on the ball last season, Gordon has gotten back to where he really thrives which is in transition along with a newfound success on the block when he gets switched onto a smaller defender. If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times. Gordon works as a player by being faster than the big guys and too big for the small guys. On this play, Gordon screens for Murray, and that forces Mikal Bridges to switch onto him. Yep, the guy that finished second in Defensive Player of the Year voting last season. Gordon just uses his size and strength to shield the ball from Bridges before rising up for the dunk. Bridges never even has a chance to stop him.
Here, Gordon is being guarded by someone that’s close to him in size, but Jaylen Brown just never looks like he really has a chance at preventing the basket. Gordon is listed as two inches taller and 12 pounds heavier, although weights obviously fluctuate during the season. He gets down the floor early to position where he wants to be. When he sees the ball shift to Jokic, he’s already working on positioning himself to open the passing lane. Also, credit to Jokic for the absolutely perfect pass on this one. Gordon receives the pass and throws down the dunk.
Run Faster & Jump Higher
Remember what I said before about Gordon thriving in transition and being faster than big guys that try to guard him? Gordon averages a healthy 1.28 points per possession on transition opportunities, and, among players with at least 2.5 transition possessions per game, he’s in the top 20 in free-throw frequency because he is often scoring or forcing opponents to foul him when he’s moving down the floor. What’s the NBA All-Star game all about? It’s about big names making splashy plays. I understand that Gordon isn’t the biggest name playing in the biggest market, but he makes splashy plays just about every night he’s on the floor. On this play, he gets a simple backscreen from Jokic, and he slips behind the defense to throw down the reverse alley-oop dunk that Murray threw from beyond the 3-point line. Looks like a splashy play to me.
When picking through plays for this one, I had almost too many to choose from. In the game against the Phoenix Suns alone, Gordon had about six or seven highlight dunks, including the one on Landry Shamet that we’ve all seen a hundred times by now. I went with this play because it looks to me like another prime example of a play late in the All-Star game when both teams are trying just a little bit harder. You force a miss on the defensive end which results in a run out. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope lobs the ball up, and it looks just a bit too high. Gordon snatches it and throws down a dunk that blows the roof off and gets the entire bench off of their feet. That’s the play where it gets added into the yearly highlight package with a million flashes of cameras going off around the arena.
Both Ends Matter Sometimes
Gordon isn’t an elite shutdown defender that’s going to isolate your team’s best player and take them out of the game. Instead, he’s more like a free safety. He’ll guard his man, but he keeps his eyes open around him when a chance for a splash play might be available. This play against Deandre Ayton is a perfect example. Ayton has a step on Gordon, and it looks like an easy layup. Gordon doesn’t give up on the play and gets the block. Does he get that block in the middle of the third quarter? No, he gets it in overtime when the game is tight and that play matters the most. When do the NBA’s brightest stars play the most defense in the All-Star Game? You guessed it. Late in the game when the score is close.
Looking at this play, I think that Malik Beasley legitimately just didn’t see Gordon when he threw his pass. Gordon slides into the paint to keep Jarred Vanderbilt from having a free dunk. Beasley sees what he thinks is a wide-open shooter in the corner, and Gordon springs into the passing lane to take the ball the other way. He and Bruce Brown have the two-on-one advantage against Nickeil Alexander-Walker, and they execute it to perfection which results in the big alley-oop dunk. It’s unfortunate that Gordon isn’t getting the recognition he deserves this season. In a year where stars are constantly missing games, he’s played in 33 of the team’s 38 games, and they’re 2-3 when he’s on the bench compared to 23-10 with him on the floor. More than likely, Gordon won’t make the All-Star Roster as a starter, but, if he’s not on the roster at all, that would be an all-time snub.
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.