Coming of Age for Aaron Gordon in Return to Orlando

Aaron Gordon, Denver Nuggets drives to the basket on 29 Apr. 2021. (Photo by Justin Tafoya/Getty Images)
Aaron Gordon, Denver Nuggets drives to the basket on 29 Apr. 2021. (Photo by Justin Tafoya/Getty Images) /

After the Denver Nuggets welcomed back Nikola Jokic and Bones Hyland to help snap their six-game losing streak on Monday, they head just a couple hundred miles north to Orlando tonight. It will be the first time Nuggets forward Aaron Gordon returns to where his NBA career began.

Gordon was the No. 4 overall pick in the 2014 draft for the Orlando Magic. Although Gordon shined in two Slam Dunk competitions during his time with the Magic, he never achieved the superstar expectations that come with a lottery pick.

Andrew Wiggins, now coming into his own at Golden State, was No. 1. Joel Embiid, also from University of Kansas, went one pick ahead of Gordon. Julius Randle, now with the Knicks, was taken at No. 7 and the Bulls’ Zach Lavine also went this draft (No. 13).

Denver Nuggets: D-Fense, D-Fense

Gordon has never been an All-Star. Yet he’s vastly underrated. Some only know him as a dunker. That’s because he shines on the side of the ball that doesn’t often make highlight reels. His defense has always been strong but he’s taking it to another level with the Nuggets.

Gordon is often deployed on the opponent’s top scorer. He’s able to keep up with smaller players on the dribble while also using his size to affect their shots. Yet he sticks on big fellas like Giannis Antetokoumpo as well.

Along with Gordon’s individual defense, the Nuggets team defense has improved. Prior to the six-game losing skid in November, only two opponents scored more than 100 points. In particular, Jokic, previously seen as a defensive liability, has amplified his defense this year, as Nugg Love’s Sean Carroll reports.

Coincidence? I think not.

Denver Nuggets: Veteran of the New Guard

Gordon has not only brought defense to the Nuggets, but an all-around explosiveness that is leading to a career season in many departments. It’s not surprising Bones Hyland, (@Bizzy Bones11) the rookie with an abundance of exuberance, has taken to Gordon (@Double0AG).

When both Jokic and Bones were sidelined with injuries, the Nuggets were searching for answers. Although the Nuggets never came away with a win, they fought hard and the supporting crew, including Gordon, picked up valuable experience.

In the first game with Jokic injured, Gordon set his new high-scoring mark with the Nuggs: 28 points on 10-12 FG shooting. That went along with nine rebounds, four assists and two blocks.

Gordon has been in the league eight years now (Gordon played only one year at University of Arizona), but at 26 he’s the same age as Jokic and now a part of the future for the Nuggets. Others who picked up the slack in the absence of Jokic and Bones — including Will Barton, Facundo Campazzo, and Jeff Green — are all in their 30s. In essence, Gordon has become the veteran of the new guard.

Denver Nuggets: Career Highs for Gordon after Change of Scene

Gordon is averaging just about 14 points per game, higher than his career average of 12.8. His FG shooting percentage has increased each of the last three years and is at its highest ever this year at 51.7 percent. That’s second only to Jokic for Nuggets averaging more than 10 minutes per game. Prior to this year, his highest was in 2015-2016 at 47.3 percent.

In Gordon’s final two seasons with the Magic, he shot only 43.7 percent before requesting a trade at last year’s deadline. Gordon had won only two playoff games in his six-plus years with the Magic. He eclipsed that total in the first playoff series he played with the Nuggets against Portland Trail Blazers.

Gordon’s scoring efficiency (1.343) and shooting efficiency (.57) are also at career-highs this season. Currently, he’s also shooting a career-high 75.9 percent this year at the free-throw line, compared to his career average of 69.8 percent. And Gordon’s player efficiency rating, you guessed it, a career high — 16.56.

A change of scene can sometimes be good for a player. Sometimes it can be very good. For Gordon, it seems great. And the team’s third-highest player at just below $16.5 million is earning his keep.

Denver Nuggets: Gordon’s Magic Revenge Matchup

ORLANDO, FLORIDA - JANUARY 27: Aaron Gordon #00 of the Orlando Magic reacts during the first quarter against the Sacramento Kings at Amway Center on January 27, 2021 in Orlando, Florida.
(Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images) /

When Gordon first played the Magic with the Nuggets last April at Ball Arena, the Nuggets won 119-109. Not surprisingly, that was Gordon’s high-scoring game with the Nuggets until this November. He scored 24 points on 10-13 FG, including 7 rebounds, two assists and two blocks.

With Bones and Austin Rivers now in COVID protocols, Gordon and everyone else in the rotation will be picking up extra minutes.

We’ll see if Gordon puts up the same kind of numbers he did against the Magic last season, but the return to his first NBA homecourt should fire up an already intense player.

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