MIAMI — Calvin Booth would like to tell you that he and the Denver Nuggets“The front office predicted a night like Friday when they acted for Aaron Gordon in March 2021. That they’d tested all the models and trawled through hundreds of hours of recordings of the burly forward and saw something in him that suggested he’d be just as much a match Nikola Jokić And Jamal Murray as he was.
But in all honesty, says the Nuggets CEO, they just wanted to replace production they lost in the future Jerami Grant left in free agency in 2020.
“We didn’t realize how talented he was,” Booth told ESPN after Gordon scored a game-best 27 points in the game The Nuggets’ 108-95 win against that intense heat to take a 3-1 lead in Friday night’s NBA Finals. “We didn’t realize what a perfect teammate he was and how self-sacrificing he was.”
Gordon had a different reputation in his first six-plus seasons with United Orlando magic than what he’s built as the ultimate star-in-his-character player for the Nuggets.
He was the No. 4 draft pick in 2014, which comes with expectations for scoring and star power that Gordon never quite met. He tried to do them justice anyway.
“Now that I know AG, I get it: he knows what a fourth pick is supposed to do,” Booth said. “But there was also no clear hierarchy. So he looks around and says, ‘Is it me? Should it be me?’ He tries to fill that role but is then criticized for acting a certain way.
Everything changed when Gordon came to Denver.
The hierarchy of the nuggets had been fixed for several years. The team consisted of Jokic and Murray. Michael Porter Jr. was the next goal scorer. What the team really needed was defensive strength and anything Gordon could offer them offensively.
The Nuggets may not have fully realized it when they traded for him after him asked the Magic for a deal. But that was exactly what Gordon had always thought.
“I felt like I was going to be a defender for this team, a defender for this team,” Gordon said. “I knew they could score. MPJ, one of the best shooters in the world. They have a two-time MVP in Joker who can do anything on offense. You have Jamal Murray who can score 50 points any night.” . I knew I would play defense and make their job easier.
“I like to play defense. This is my niche. That’s how I got into the league defensively.”
“Offensively, it was about getting in where I fit in, finding cuts, finding openings, finding transition balls, trying to get easy balls, and then just — really getting in where I fit in.”
Gordon was a stalwart defender for the Nuggets in the playoffs, regularly defending the opponent’s best offensive player, regardless of size or position. According to a study by ESPN Stats & Information, in 19 playoff games, opponents shot just 39.8% from the field and 27.1% from three balls, with Gordon being their main defender.
In the first round he held Minnesota Timberwolves center Karl-Anthony-Cities According to ESPN Stats & Information, 36% shot from the field and 11% from three balls. In the second round when he matched with Phoenix Suns guard Devin Bookerhe kept him at 43% shot and forward Kevin Durant to 39%. against that Los Angeles Lakerswith which he agreed Lebron James.
In Friday’s win, which brought Denver within one win of its first NBA title, Gordon held the heat on just 30% shots and denied 70% of the shots fired against him.
“I mean, that’s why we got him. he is a dog He is strong. He is physical. He’s tough,” Murray said. “He brings everyone together off the pitch and he’s a selfless player. He’s been solid all playoffs, all season, all the time he’s been here.”
While the Nuggets have grown accustomed to Gordon taking on the toughest defensive challenges, it’s still a pleasant surprise given what they expected when they traded him and how offensively he played alongside Jokic, Murray and Porter Jr. plays.
“You know, he plays a different role,” Jokic said. “He sacrificed himself and that’s why he’s a great teammate.”
Gordon is extremely popular in the Nuggets’ locker room for both his personality and his game.
He has been known to wear his teammates’ promotional t-shirts during training and events. Not only Jokic’s MVP jerseys, but also the former Nuggets guard Bones Hyland‘s shirts too.
“He could really win the Teammate of the Year award,” Nuggets assistant Charles Klask told ESPN.
So when he had a game like Friday, everyone lined up to celebrate him.
“He won the game for us today,” said Jokic. “He was our best player on the field and guarding the best player every night is a tough job and maybe he’s not going to get a lot of credit but we know what he’s doing for our team and we really do that . thankful for him.