Reviewing the 2021-22 season of Nuggets forward Aaron Gordon
The story of the regular season
Before the season started, the Nuggets and Aaron Gordon came to terms on a long term extension that would keep Aaron Gordon in Denver for 4 years to the tune of 92 million dollars. It was a big pay day, but the front office felt that Aaron had earned that money; and many fans agreed. The Nuggets had found the fourth guy for their core. He was supposed to be the fourth or fifth option, but because of injuries to Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. he ended up being the third option for the entire season — only taking less shots than Will Barton and Nikola Jokic. However, for stretches of the season you could argue he was the second option for the team.
He did a good job given that the team was not supposed to be this dependent on him. He averaged the second most points on the team, and was efficient in doing so. He improved his jump shot — he did not elevate to a knockdown shooter by any means, but he was only a 26% 3 point shooter with Denver last season and got up to 33.5% from beyond the arc. That’s only 2% behind what league average was. He and Nikola Jokic also developed a great two man game that allowed him to get to rim pretty easily due to Jokic’s gravity.
The off-ball cutting and rim running that he showed last season was only expanded upon during this season. He shot 79.6% at the rim (defined as within 0-3 feet of the rim) during this season, a career high. He was able to leverage his feel for the game and off the chart athleticism to create those opportunities. Add the chemistry that he has with Nikola Jokic now, and you have a lethal combination for both players. They compliment each other very well and enjoy playing off of each other.
Defensively, Aaron Gordon was Denver’s best defender by a decent margin. However, he wasn’t used in his optimal defensive role. He should be used as a help defender, or a guy to match big wings like LeBron James, or Luka Doncic. They did do this with him where they could, but not always. Instead, because of Denver’s lack of back court defenders, he was used as a point of attack defender on guards a lot of the time. While he is very athletic, he can struggle to keep up with point guards at times. This is more than fair, but Denver definitely needs to address this to fully utilize Aaron Gordon’s best defensive qualities. He isn’t a end all, be all defender and Denver needs more guys than just him if they want to be a good defense.
Did it translate to the playoffs?
The Nuggets playing the Golden State Warriors was a pretty poor draw for Aaron Gordon matchup wise. Instead of playing the Dallas Mavericks, who have Luka Doncic — a forward sized player that Aaron Gordon matches up well with — the Nuggets got Steph Curry and Jordan Poole. Those two were very quick, and it took Aaron Gordon a couple of game to find his rhythm defensive, and offensively. Eventually he learned how to slow Jordan Poole down a slight bit, but it still was not the best defensive series he could’ve had.
On the other end of the court, he did put it together after game 2. Before game 3, he averaged 7.5 points on 31.6% shooting from the field and 14.3% from 3. It was an ugly couple of games for him. He wasn’t getting to the rim, or even drawing free throws. He was settling jumpers that just weren’t hitting. After game 2 though, he put it together for the rest of the series. In the last three games of the Nuggets’ series, he was the second best Nugget and his averages jumped to 18 points per game in those three contests on 48.6/25/72 splits. He also got a lot more aggressive with drawing fouls, and asserting himself around the rim. He jumped up to 8.3 free throw attempts per game from the 1.5 he had in the first two. Obviously, the Nuggets still lost, but Gordon developed throughout the series. With that, he should be better and more ready for the playoffs next season.
Best Moment – Game winner over Clippers in overtime
The best singular moment of Aaron Gordon’s season has to be the game winner he hit in January against the Los Angeles Clippers. It came in an overtime game, and the Nuggets at that time were still trying to find their stride. He helped them get a feel good win with that shot.
Season Grade – A
Overall, Aaron Gordon is not a second option on a contender, but we knew that. What he did prove is he wants to win. He will do his damnedest in order to bring Denver any wins that he can. With roster turnover likely coming, and Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. trying to be reintegrated, Aaron Gordon will be an important rock for Denver next season. This season though, he was a rock. He was solid all season, at times great, at times mediocre — but rarely ever bad. He did the most he could in the role he was given on offense, and did his best to be the stitching of the patchwork that was Denver’s defense this season.
What does the future hold for Aaron Gordon?
Aaron Gordon, as mentioned above, will need to be a foundational player for Denver moving forward. There is a lot of uncertainty about the future; given the health and potential roster turnover coming in the offseason, but Aaron Gordon is certain for Denver. He and Nikola Jokic will be back, and will need to show out early next season while the rest of the roster finds their stride. The front office will do their best to find that defense that Denver was lacking, and with that it will free Gordon up to do more defensively — shine where he’s meant to play defensively.
There’s reason to be optimistic for Gordon. He learned what it means to be in high level situations, and adapted throughout the series. Improving at every corner in the playoffs. He developed alongside the roster, and has embraced the city of Denver. He’s here to stay. He will be a core member moving forward.