FOX Sports NBA Writer
Aaron Gordon knows he could be a star elsewhere.
Instead, he has fully embraced a comparatively thankless role in Denver, playing on offense behind Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray and others while often protecting the opposing team’s biggest star.
But Gordon doesn’t see his role with the Nuggets as relatively tenuous — he sees it as a privilege.
“I don’t care about the credit,” Gordon told FOX Sports. “The victories are important to me.”
Gordon’s approach has brought great benefits to the Nuggets, who have reached the NBA Finals for the first time in franchise history. In their 104-93 win over the Miami Heat in Game 1 on Thursday, Gordon shined with 16 points in 7-for-10 shooting while helping Jimmy Butler have just 13 points in 6-for-14 shooting the account had.
The Nuggets acquired Gordon at the 2021 close from the Orlando Magic, who selected him #4 overall in the 2014 draft. In Orlando was Gordon The Dude on a team that missed the playoffs five times and was eliminated in the first round twice. At Denver, he often goes undercover and does things that don’t show up in the scores – chasing loose balls, protecting the rim and forcing players to change shots.
When asked if he preferred his new job to his old one, Gordon smiled broadly.
“Win?” he told FOX Sports. “Yes. In any case. I would much rather score 15 points on a winning team than 25 points on a losing team.”
Nuggets coach Michael Malone has been deeply impressed by Gordon’s sacrifice, particularly this season after Murray and Michael Porter Jr. returned from prolonged absences through injury.
“We always talk about Nikola embodying the culture of the nuggets, and I think Aaron Gordon is a prime example of someone who’s really selfless,” Malone said. “With Jamal and Michael coming back healthy this year, he knew his role was about to change. He never fought it. He embraced it from day one of the season.”
Gordon excelled as a two-way player for the Nuggets, averaging 16.3 points on a career-best 56.4% shots, 6.6 rebounds and 3.3 assists in the regular season, which got him there to talk about forming his first all-star team in 10 seasons.
But Gordon was passed over for that honor as Jokic was the only Nuggets player selected as an All-Star.
According to Malone, Gordon isn’t celebrated enough.
“He does a lot of the dirty work for us,” Malone said. “And often he doesn’t get the recognition he deserves.”
This postseason, Gordon has put his heart and soul into guarding the NBA’s best players.
According to NBA.comWhen guarding Minnesota’s Karl-Anthony Towns in the first round, he held him on 10-for-27 shots (37%). In the second round, he outplayed Phoenix’s Kevin Durant with a batting average of 26 to 68 (38.2%). LeBron James had more success against Gordon in the Western Conference Finals, shooting 12-20 (60%).
Now Gordon faces what may be his biggest challenge yet: Butler, who guided the Heat to the Finals as the second-eighth in NBA history.
“Jimmy is a really, really tough guard just because he’s doing so much on the floor and he’s always so elusive,” Gordon told FOX Sports.
But on Thursday, Gordon got the better of Butler, holding him to the fewest points he has scored this postseason. He did so while setting the tone for the Nuggets by scoring 12 points on 6-for-8 shooting in the first quarter, helping Denver by up to nine points and up to 24 points in the game during that period.
For Jokic, having someone of Gordon’s skill set is a great and welcome addition.
“Oh, I love playing with him,” said Jokic, who had 27 points, 10 rebounds and 14 assists. “I love playing with some, I’d like to say dominant, big men, if that makes sense. The best thing he did was accept his role. And he’s really great at that.”
“…He’s probably our best defender, him and (Kentavious Caldwell-Pope). And just defending the whole game against the best player, I think that’s really difficult.”
Gordon – who has a player option for the 2025-26 season – has dedicated himself to being a tenacious defender. He studies his opponents, analyzes scouting reports and watches films.
“I probably watch a game every day,” Gordon told FOX Sports. “Maybe a game and a half a day.”
It’s paying off for Gordon, who is just three wins away from claiming the Larry O’Brien Trophy.
And for him Thursday alone was surreal.
Before the game, he took a moment during the national anthem to process that he was finally playing on the NBA’s biggest stage for the first time. And after the Nuggets won, he said he was looking forward to being 90 and sitting in the rocking chair, telling his kids how he locked in some of the game’s best players.
Malone capped off the evening by presenting Gordon, the game chain’s defensive end, with a necklace, which he uses to reward efforts on the less noticed side of the field.
For Gordon, his role with the Nuggets may seem less lofty. But for him it’s a dream come true to play in this team.
“It is a [style] where everyone is so selfless and the ball is moving and there’s energy all around the ball,” Gordon told FOX Sports. “So it’s a fun kind of basketball.”
Melissa Rohlin is an NBA writer for FOX Sports. She has previously covered the league for Sports Illustrated, the Los Angeles Times, the Bay Area News Group and the San Antonio Express-News. Follow her on Twitter @melissarohlin.
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