Denver Nuggets: Aaron Gordon is the missing piece

ORLANDO, FLORIDA - DECEMBER 05: Aaron Gordon #00 of the Orlando Magic and Paul Millsap #4 of the Denver Nuggets charge down the court at Amway Center in the second half on December 05, 2018 in Orlando, Florida. (Photo by Harry Aaron/Getty Images)
ORLANDO, FLORIDA - DECEMBER 05: Aaron Gordon #00 of the Orlando Magic and Paul Millsap #4 of the Denver Nuggets charge down the court at Amway Center in the second half on December 05, 2018 in Orlando, Florida. (Photo by Harry Aaron/Getty Images) /

The Denver Nuggets have been missing Jerami Grant quite a bit this season following his offseason departure.

To fill the void left by the now-current Detroit Piston, Michael Porter Jr. has been a source of production on offense. While averaging 15.9 points and 7.2 rebounds a night and shooting north of 41 percent from three, the sophomore forward has seen more of his minutes come at the four, where the Nuggets are plus-17.0 points per 100 possessions per Cleaning The Glass — compared to just plus-0.7 when he’s at small forward.

But nobody in Denver can replicate what Grant brought to the defensive end. He’s lanky and athletic, having primarily guarded superstar names like Kawhi Leonard and LeBron James during the Nuggets’ run to the conference finals.

Despite their yearly progress from fun upstart to a top team in the west, the Nuggets have always lacked in quality stoppers. Their three best players are best known for their offensive talents. The best perimeter defender (Garry Harris) is often injured. Arguably the most reliable interior defender (Paul Millsap) is 36 years old.

The defensive rating remains on par but losing Grant further exacerbated a void in desperate need of filling if this fringe contender is to legitimize itself. Ahead of the March 25 deadline, the answer might arrive with Aaron Gordon being linked to the Mile High by multiple reporters.

In need of some reinforcements, acquiring Aaron Gordon could be what the Denver Nuggets need to fill the void left by Jerami Grant.

Gordon has been put in hypothetical trades for years while wasting away on middling Orlando Magic teams. He’s recently forced the organization’s hand by putting in a trade request in pursuit of a team that can exceed the 42 wins that represent the most he’s had in any of his previous six seasons.

The Nuggets are looking for upgrades to compete in a loaded Western Conference. With several notable youngsters on the outside looking into the rotation and most of their first-round picks to spare, Gordon is a viable target Denver can get behind without having to gut its entire roster.

Despite playing alongside a shell of a fully healthy Magic roster, Gordon has shown improvements in several key areas, averaging career-highs with 4.2 assists per game while shooting 40.2 percent from beyond the arc. Those complementary skills would allow for less friction when acclimating alongside Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray.

But as much as he might contribute, the Nuggets wouldn’t be acquiring Gordon to help put up more points. With Jokic’s MVP-caliber season leading the way and Murray finding some of the magic that made him a bubble star, their offense ranks fourth-league wide.

Defensively is where Gordon would make the biggest contributions for Denver. Without Grant, that’s where he’s most needed and he’s qualified to do so in ways most might not even know about.

Below is an approximation of what some of the game’s best have shot with Gordon as the closest defender according to

  • Jimmy Butler: 2-of-6
  • Luka Doncic: 2-of-12
  • James Harden: 2-of-9
  • Jaylen Brown: 4-of-11

That’s an impressive list of All-Stars Gordon has had a large hand in slowing down. He has the size (6’8” and roughly 230 pounds) of a traditional interior bruiser who can keep bulkier players out of the paint and the athleticism and the mobility to guard out on the perimeter. That makes him capable of guarding 1-on-1 while also being part of a switch-heavy scheme.

Denver isn’t alone in pursuit of Gordon’s services with the Boston Celtics and Houston Rockets also trying to compile a trade package enticing enough for Orlando to agree. Look past him and there really isn’t anyone else on the trade market who could bring what he does to both ends of the court.

The Nuggets have been conservative when browsing the shop market in recent years, having faith in the development of their long-term core. But that plan was thrown a bit sideways when one member decided to play elsewhere.

There was no planning for Grant’s departure because few thought it would happen. Many months later, there’s no denying that Gordon would be the best solution.

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