The game of basketball can be so easy for Aaron Gordon when he’s playing alongside Nikola Jokic. And 16 games into the regular season, it feels like that’s a belief Gordon has fully adopted.

Gordon was phenomenal in the Nuggets’ 114-104 win over the Clippers, tallying 29 points, 7 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 blocks and 2 steals. He shot an efficient 12-16 from the field, 2-4 from 3, and raised his field goal percentage on the season to 60.5%. It’s a career-high and a significant improvement from the 52% he shot last season, which was also a career-best mark. Gordon’s currently shooting a career-high 39.1% from 3 too.

His game against the Clippers also continued a season-long trend. Gordon’s letting the game come to him like never before. He’s playing to his strengths and not coloring outside the lines. Gordon’s doing most of his work in the restricted area — he’s shooting a career-high 62% of his shots from there, which places him in the 100th percentile among forwards — and has cut down on his mid-range attempts. Last season, 23% of Gordon’s shots were from mid-range. This year, that number is down to 14%.

Gordon’s doing serious damage in the paint too. He’s shooting a healthy 73% in the restricted area and already has 39 dunks this season. That’s the fourth-most in the NBA behind Giannis Antetokounmpo, Nic Claxton and Anthony Davis. Last year, Gordon dunked only 130 times. He’s already 30% of the way to that number through only 16 games.

This is a new version of Gordon. His off-balance, off-the-dribble, deep two’s that sabotaged the Nuggets’ offense in the past are being minimized. The contested, record-scratch 3s that he shouldn’t be taking are dropping in frequency too. This feels like a player who’s fully adopted the Jokic Ball way of life. He’s not fighting it either. The result has been the best version of Gordon that we’ve seen across his nine-year career.

By now, Gordon has secured a privileged spot in Jokic’s circle of trust, which was evident by how the final minutes of Friday’s win unfolded. After a Michael Malone timeout with 5:12 remaining in the fourth and the Nuggets holding a 103-88 lead, Gordon took Jokic’s place as the hub of Denver’s offense. All of a sudden, it was Gordon operating in the two-man game with Jamal Murray. All of a sudden, Gordon was initiating Denver’s offense out of the high post. It was an interesting change-up, but one you could tell Jokic fully endorsed.

The Nuggets scored on their next five possessions to ice the game. Gordon had three of those baskets and recorded three offensive rebounds over the 2 1/2 minute stretch. He was physical, played with power, and was a constant presence at the rim.

Gordon pledged after last season to become a smarter basketball player. It was his top offseason focus. Over the summer, the 27-year-old dove into his film from last season and broke down his individual game, where he excelled and where he struggled. His goal was to raise his basketball IQ, better complement Jokic on the offensive end of the floor, and become a more efficient player. Gordon returned to Denver focused and with a clear vision about what his role should be in Denver’s high-powered offense next to Jokic, Murray, Michael Porter Jr. and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.

He’s playing the smartest basketball of his career. He’s seeing the game on the offensive end of the floor clearer than ever.

Gordon is playing the perfect part for the Nuggets.

Author

Harrison Wind is the Denver Nuggets beat reporter for DNVR Nuggets. The University of Colorado alum grew up in Boulder and has covered the Nuggets for the last three seasons. You can hear him every weekday on the DNVR Nuggets podcast. Follow Harrison on Twitter - @HarrisonWind

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