Nuggets forward Aaron Gordon spent the offseason looking inward


LA JOLLA, Calif. – Aaron Gordon might be up for a renaissance this season.

No one ever said it publicly last year, but it was obvious as the season wore on: there was too much on Gordon’s shoulders. On the same night roster deficiencies forced him to guard opponents’ lead creators, he’d also be one of Nikola Jokic’s key wingmen.

A square peg in a round hole, Gordon was also playing out of position – a power forward forced to downshift from his natural position to accommodate Jeff Green in the starting lineup.

“With him being back to his normal position of being a four, I talked to him last week about it,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone told The Denver Post from training camp this past week. “I said, ‘Last year, we asked you to do way too much. You got Ja Morant tonight for 48 minutes, you got this guy for 48 minutes.’ … I think it wore him down.

“The good thing this year is we got Jamal (Murray) back, big guard. We got (Kentavious Caldwell-Pope), we got Bruce Brown. ‘You may guard those guys a little bit, but we have some other guys that can guard, so you can guard your natural position.’”

When asked about it, Gordon didn’t dwell on the frustrations of last season. He’s well aware what the dual returns of Murray and Michael Porter Jr. mean for him offensively, and what Jokic’s mere presence does for his game.

“I’m here to make his job easy,” said Gordon, whose affection toward Jokic was obvious throughout the past week in San Diego. “He makes everybody else better around him. So, we just look out for the big fella.”

The two closed camp Saturday morning, laughing and joking their way through a shooting drill. But he did far more this summer to add to his game than simply bank on their presence.

In between trips to Cape Town and Johannesburg, Spain and Alaska, where he went deep sea fishing with his brother, Gordon was in the gym. While continent hopping, there was still a nagging itch to improve.

“We have a goal,” he told The Post. “Even though we had an offseason, I was still focused on what we needed to get done. We’re not there yet. I’m not where I need to be as a basketball player. We’re not where we need to be as a team. We got more to go. Until we get there, I can’t detach completely.”

After the Nuggets succumbed to the Warriors in Game 5 of their first-round playoff series, Gordon audited his performance. At the team’s recent media day, he said he pored over Synergy, an analytics tool, to distill his strengths and weaknesses. He watched his three best games and his three worst, analyzing what it would take to be more consistent, and, to use his word, “excellent,” in the areas he was lacking.

Gordon said a lot of his offseason work focused on the mid-post area, where he honed his floaters and jump hooks. He put an emphasis on his transition play, in addition to spot-up 3s. In the Jokic-led offense, those 3s will come, but Gordon can make a profound impact being a bull inside.

“I gave him a goal,” Malone said. “‘You should be averaging over six free-throw attempts per game this year. Because that means you’re running in transition, getting on the rim. That means when you have the ball, you’re putting your head down, you’re attacking the basket.’”

In 2017-18, Gordon flirted with four free throw attempts per game. That was as close as he’s come to Malone’s lofty mark. If he does get there, it’ll be because he did more to channel his size and athleticism.

“You saw in the playoffs that one game,” Malone began. “He just put his head down and got to the foul line like eight times in the first half. When he has that kind of a mindset, other teams, they’re scared of him.”

Gordon knows it, too. He smiled when asked about his upcoming position change.

“Yeah, that’ll be nice,” he said. “I get to be closer to the rim.”


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