Will Aaron Gordon Be Worth the High Cost For the Nuggets?
By Liam McKeone
The Denver Nuggets have finally acquired the help they've been seeking for Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray in the form of the high-flying Aaron Gordon. The Orlando Magic have decided to tear it down at the deadline this year, a process that included shipping out their longest-tenured player. Gordon asked for a trade and has been on the block for weeks.
Hours ahead of the deadline, the Magic finalized a deal with the Nuggets to send Gordon to Denver. It was not cheap.
Gary Harris is a decent young player but his ability to shoot has declined significantly over the last two seasons due to injury, and he has two years left on his four-year, $84 million deal. The first-round pick will almost certainly be in the 24-30 range, so no big loss for Denver. Giving up R.J. Hampton, though, is tough. He's only 20-years old and was a mid-first round pick in last year's draft. All in all, that's quite a haul.
Gordon is an excellent fit with the Nuggets' offense. He'll finally be able to play power forward, the optimal position for a player of his strengths, after years of getting forced into the small forward position with Orlando's oversized front court. He will thrive off the spacing generated by Jokic and we will see more than a few Jokic-to-Gordon alley-oops in the upcoming months. He's also under contract through this year and the next for a high but not unreasonable sum; Gordon is owed $18 million this year and $16 million next year.
It's a win-now move for Denver, coming off a Western Conference Finals loss to the Lakers. But is Gordon really worth it? He can switch on defense but does not have the reputation of a stopper on that end by any means. He's having the best season of his career from deep, shooting 37 percent on 4.5 attempts per game, but a career 32.5 percent mark from three-point land suggests we should take that half-season improvement with a grain of salt. The Nuggets are trying to take down LeBron James and Anthony Davis, Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. Gordon will help them on both ends of the floor, but will he be enough?
Hampton is an unknown quantity at this point but was a five-star recruit in high school. Nobody really knows what he's got because instead of taking a traditional route to the NBA he went to New Zealand and was a role player for a team filed with grown men trying to win games, not develop a prospect's skillset. It's early to give up on him for Gordon, who will definitely move the needle in the regular season but it's unclear if he'll do the same when the games really matter.
Still, Denver knows they have a championship-caliber player in Jokic and a great sidekick in Murray. Hampton wasn't going to show anything for at least a year, maybe two. They already have a prospect they're actively trying to develop while attempting to win in Michael Porter Jr. It's a move that will pay dividends in the short run. But championship-level dividends? We'll have to see.