Aaron Gordon simplified his game to help Nuggets chase a title


Not long after Aaron Gordon was traded to the Nuggets, Nikola Jokic needed to lay the groundwork for their partnership.

If Gordon was the piece then-president Tim Connelly had hand-picked to be his power forward, Jokic felt compelled to establish some expectations. Sure, Gordon’s athleticism was jarring and his defensive versatility broad enough to help protect Jokic in the paint. And, of course, Gordon’s playmaking in Orlando teased the boundaries Denver’s duo could discover. When you paired two ball-handling big men together, with a shared predisposition for creativity, the possibilities were endless.

But first, Jokic had to get Gordon to understand something.

The fadeaways — shots that were always going to be available, minimized the chances at an offensive rebound, and mitigated Gordon’s physical advantages — weren’t the shots the Nuggets were hunting.

“Last option,” Jokic recalled telling Gordon.

Two seasons later, Gordon has largely excised those shots from his repertoire. He’s trimmed the fat out of his game to produce the most efficient season of his career.

Not only did Gordon heed Jokic’s advice regarding shot selection, but he’s also sacrificed his ego, shape-shifting to address whatever the Nuggets need on a given night. More than halfway through the season, his selflessness has yielded a campaign that could vault him to Salt Lake City for next month’s All-Star Game.

“Sometimes in the NBA, when you’re trying to prove yourself and you’re young, you think you have to do it with the ball all the time, and he’s so comfortable in his own skin right now, he does everything for somebody else,” acting Nuggets head coach David Adelman said. “He posts up smalls, gets somebody else a shot, runs the floor correctly, KCP gets a corner three, screens and rolls, brings the help, somebody else gets a shot. His game has become an extremely advanced, overall team player.”

Jokic was more concise.

“I think this year he’s playing really simpler,” Jokic said.

How he arrived at that point was a bit more complicated.


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