As soon as Nikola Jokic gobbles up a defensive rebound, Aaron Gordon knows the assignment.
While Jokic ambles up the floor, surveying the landscape for an advantage, oftentimes the most effective offense is when Gordon plants himself deep in the paint and waits for the delivery. As soon as he seals his man, it’s almost always game over.
Calling it a happy accident isn’t giving the Nuggets’ front office enough credit for last season’s blockbuster trade to obtain Gordon, but deeming it a foregone conclusion might be too much praise. The Gordon-Jokic pairing has been seamless. Their shared dynamic represents the biggest reason the Nuggets have been able to stay afloat during this COVID-crunched, injury-marred season.
With Jokic conducting, Gordon is enjoying his most efficient NBA season by far. At nearly 52% shooting from the field, Gordon’s lapping his previous-best (44.9%) showing from a full season in Orlando. On two-point field goals, he’s shooting a career-best 60%. The majority of his scoring is done in the paint (7.7 points per game this season), but there’s still a more glaring number within his offensive profile.
More than 61% of his field goals have been assisted this season, which is about a 10 percent jump from his high mark in Orlando. On average, Jokic throws more passes to Monte Morris and Will Barton per game, but no one capitalizes on those helpers more than Gordon. A quarter of Jokic’s 7.9 assists per game go to Gordon, the highest mark on the team.
With essentially a full season to learn the nuances of Denver’s offense, Gordon has mastered the cutting, spacing and patience it takes to optimize Jokic’s talents. Those lessons are bearing fruit.
On a recent road trip, Gordon acknowledged trying to play “bigger” in the post, utilizing his strength to bulldoze his defenders. He also told The Denver Post he was “seeing the game differently.”
“Just angles,” he said. “Attacking angles. Making reads. I finally feel like I’m making better reads.”
But what prompted his improved approach? In fact, it was conversations with Jokic, of course.
“Jok’s IQ is through the roof,” Gordon said. “He’s a basketball savant. Just genius. It’s great talking to him, understanding how he sees the game. How we can make it easier for him and where he needs us to be.”
Those chats have happened at impromptu times throughout the season. Sometimes they happen during games. Other times they happen off the court. Gordon and Jokic have found a shared language in their selfless approach to basketball.
“I don’t know the right answer,” said Jokic. “I’m just trying to help him. … I’m just telling him what I know. If that helps him, or not, I don’t know. I’m just trying to tell him what I see.”
In typical Jokic fashion, he wanted no credit for Gordon’s leap in productivity. The truth is that the two have become a formidable duo, with Jokic serving Gordon for easy dump-down buckets and Gordon returning the favor as a willing rover. According to NBA.com’s two-man lineup data, the Jokic-Gordon pairing owns the second-highest offensive rating on the team behind Jokic and Morris.
The irony is that had it not been for devastating injuries to Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr., the budding two-man game between Gordon and Jokic might never have materialized.
“To be (37-26) … that speaks volumes about our group, coming together, creating on-court chemistry,” said Nuggets coach Michael Malone. “Whether it’s the second unit, … the starting group, Nikola and Aaron, in particular. I think you always have to find silver linings in positives while you’re dealing with some adversity with the injuries.”