COLUMNS

Aaron Gordon will supplant MPJ as part of the Nuggets “big three”

Nov 23, 2021, 6:28 AM
DENVER, CO - APRIL 26: Aaron Gordon #50 of the Denver Nuggets handles the ball against the Memphis ...
(Photo by C. Morgan Engel/Getty Images)
(Photo by C. Morgan Engel/Getty Images)

Nugglife. Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.

We’ve been conditioned to expect the worst. That’s been the history of Denver Nuggets fans. And late Sunday night after a blowout loss in Phoenix, the adding-injury-to-insult news from Mike Singer of the Denver Post came down about nerve damage in Michael Porter Jr.’s back that could potentially sideline him the rest of the season.

The internet reaction immediately jumped to conclusions about a career-ending worst-case scenario, despite not knowing anything about the extent of his injury. Assumptions that the Nuggets have lost one of their “big three” just after signing him to a $172 million max contract guarantee were rampant.

“Denver will never win a championship” and “this is the beginning of the end of the Jokic era” hot takes were everywhere. Nugglife.

But as most Twitter instant reactions are, it was all nonsense. Don’t believe a word of it.

First of all, nothing has been determined about Porter’s injury other than he has nerve damage. Singer reported that it may require surgery, which also means it might not. He’s gathering more information on how to best treat it and no one has any idea about a timeline for a potential return whether it’s this season or beyond.

Secondly, Porter’s slow start to the season that was so frustrating has now been explained. Understanding he’s been injured since the last pre-season game he played provides an entirely different context to his shooting struggles. If he can return with the rest of the rotation healthy, the Nuggets will be better than they’ve been at any point so far this season.

But what if he doesn’t?

MPJ’s injury history was the reason he fell to Denver with the 14th pick four years ago. Drafting him was a gamble. Last year when he averaged more than 19 points per game, the gamble was paying off. Now, there’s a chance the Nuggets could lose big.

Porter’s diagnosis will determine a lot about the Nuggets approach to their future. But good or bad, his diagnosis doesn’t determine their future. Like any gambler, the Nuggets need to constantly be re-evaluating their risk. Last season’s trade deadline deal for Aaron Gordon is now proving to be insurance on the Porter Jr. bet.

In addition to being the elite defender the Nuggets were missing, Gordon has shown he can be a reliable offensive option as he was for most of his seven years in Orlando. After one bad game against Philly game last week, Gordon responded with his best offensive game as a Nugget, going 10-of-12 from the field with 28 points and nine rebounds against Chicago. And he did it leading the team with Nikola Jokic out of the lineup.

Nuggets playoff disappointments have always come down to being unable to match up with the NBA’s true heavyweights. They haven’t been able to go toe-to-toe with the elite players that always contend for titles. With an MVP in Jokic they now can on offense, and Gordon gives them the versatile, physical, defender every Finals contender needs to have on the other end of the court. As talented as Porter is, that’s something he was never going to be, healthy or not.

Gordon’s also playing with a consistent intensity that only Jokic and Murray have displayed night-in and night-out. He takes on the defensive challenge of the league’s best players and has done everything the coaching staff has asked of him. And if Porter misses considerable time, he’s capable of handling a lot more of the load on the offensive end.

Porter Jr. may return better than ever, or he may not return at all. But the Nuggets can’t afford to put all their eggs in the MPJ basket, and now they don’t have to. Gordon’s been a perfect fit next to Jokic, he’s reliable, and he’s the third player in Denver’s big three they need to plan around going forward.

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Aaron Gordon will supplant MPJ as part of the Nuggets “big three”