Denver Nuggets: 3 Unique ways Aaron Gordon has become a championship x-factor

The Denver Nuggets appear to be headed for another Western Conference Finals appearance and Aaron Gordon is one of the biggest reasons why.
Denver Nuggets v Minnesota Timberwolves - Game Three
Denver Nuggets v Minnesota Timberwolves - Game Three / David Berding/GettyImages
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Aaron Gordon has become a huge difference-maker and x-factor for the Denver Nuggets as they attempt to repeat as NBA Champions.

After Game 2 of the Western Conference semifinals between the No. 2 seed Denver Nuggets and the No. 3 seed Minnesota Timberwolves, it looked like the Nuggets might be headed toward elimination. They were coming off a 106-80 loss on the road and the Timberwolves’ defense was giving their offense fits with their historic defense. Since then, the Nuggets have won three games in a row and are now in the driver's seat looking to advance to the Western Conference Finals.

Nikola Jokic has rightfully gotten a ton of attention for adjusting after the first two games of the series and dominating the Timberwolves’ defense in games three, four, and five. However, one player has not gotten the recognition he deserves for stepping up this series: Aaron Gordon.

Jamal Murray has struggled against the Timberwolves and not getting high-level creation from him has hurt the Nuggets. However, Gordon is playing out of his mind and has been a huge reason why the Nuggets have turned the ship around in this series. Let’s break down what he’s been doing so well and how he’s become the X factor for the Denver Nuggets.

Aaron Gordon has offered a much-needed scoring explosion

As I said earlier, Jamal Murray has not been great throughout the playoffs and he has struggled mightily vs. the Timberwolves. For the entirety of the playoffs, he is averaging 20 points, five rebounds, and six assists per game on 47.4% true shooting. These numbers have only gotten worse vs. the Timberwolves as he’s averaged just 17 points, five rebounds, and five assists per game on 48.2% true shooting.

Those numbers are extremely underwhelming for a guy who has been considered a high-level playoff performer in recent memory. His biggest issue offensively is that he hasn’t found a rhythm as a scorer, shooting just 44% on twos and 31.5% on threes in the postseason.

With him struggling, it has been difficult for the Nuggets’ offense to perform at a high level offensively because now they are relying more heavily on Nikola Jokic than usual and he doesn’t often function as a heliocentric player. This is where Aaron Gordon comes in.

With Murray facing a scoring slump, Gordon has stepped up in a big way, averaging 16 points per game on 66.4% true shooting across the entire playoffs. Obviously, he isn’t performing like a superstar in terms of his scoring. He’s not scoring at a high enough volume for that. However, he is putting the ball in the hoop with insane efficiency.

His two-point scoring has been unreal as he is shooting 65.1% inside the arc in the playoffs. He has been extremely effective shooting around the basket, hitting 71.9% of his shots from 0-3 feet. He isn’t shooting well from just around the rim, though, as he is also shooting 39.1% from downtown on 2.3 attempts per game.

Aaron Gordon is a low-usage offensive player and that has not changed during the playoffs. This is important to keep in mind because he is not creating a ton of his own shots and this is important context. While a lot of his scoring comes off assists, his film and production in this area are still very impressive.

One thing that I’ve noticed while watching him play this postseason is the Nuggets have used him as a ball handler at times and allowed him to operate off the dribble and he has been able to generate shots at the rim in these situations. This kind of usage has not taken away from how he is typically used, though, as he is still lurking in the dunker spot and spotting up on the three-point line as he waits for Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray to create advantages.

With him providing a strong scoring punch, the Nuggets have been able to attack the Timberwolves in different ways, which is why we've seen them have more success on offense as the series has progressed.