Is Denver the Real Deal? How the addition of Aaron Gordon has changed the Playoff Race in the West
When the Denver Nuggets traded for Aaron Gordon on March 25th, people weren't sure exactly what he brought to their roster. He has the ability to be a star, but how would he fit being the 3rd option next to MVP-candidate Nikola Jokic and up-and-coming superstar Jamal Murray?
Through 3 games with Gordon in the lineup, Denver in 3-0 with wins against Atlanta (126-102), Philadelphia (104-95), and the Clippers (101-94). Gordon only played 21 minutes in a 24-point win against the Hawks (his 1st game with the team), scoring 13 points and finishing +17. In his 2nd game he played 25 minutes, only scored 6 points but still finished +19 which was best on the team. In his 3rd game, head coach Mike Malone unleashed him. He played Gordon 39 minutes in which he finished with a 14 points/6 rebounds/6 assists stat line, and was a +12 (second best on team behind Jokic).
The numbers that stick out the most from his first 3 games with the Nuggets is the opposing teams total points. They have held 3 projected playoff teams to 102 points or less. Gordon himself is not necessarily an amazing defender. But for a Denver team that didn't have a true defensive small forward, he is a savior. Gordon's size and ability to essentially guard 1 through 5 lets everyone else have a favorable matchup. Jamal Murray doesn't have to guard Paul George or Kawhi Leonard, who would have a big size advantage on him. Michael Porter Jr can now hide on the weaker offensive players on opposing teams while he improves his defensive skills.
On the offensive end, he is a more serviceable ball handler than they had before. He can create a shot for himself and others. Coach Malone can feel comfortable having one or both Jokic and Murray out of the game if Gordon is still on the court. In a 7-game playoff series this could be important minutes for those 2 superstars to rest and have the team be able to still sustain a lead. Last year in the playoffs those 2 did everything they could, and it wasn't enough.
An aspect of the playoffs that was forgotten because of the bubble last year is home court advantage. If the Nuggets continue to win in the regular season, they could secure themselves the #1 or #2 seed in the Western Conference. Home court advantage in a series against the Lakers or Clippers could prove to be huge. Crowds are still limited but by the time the playoffs roll around, we could be seeing 10,000 people in some arenas. It's not the same as a sold-out crowd, but it can give a team the certain energy they're missing.
Combine that with the high altitude, coming to Denver for the first 2 games of a playoff series could be rough. If you weren't aware already, these young Nuggets are dangerous.