Upgrade Your Fandom

Join the Ultimate DNVR Sports Community!

How Draymond Green is dominating the Aaron Gordon matchup

Harrison Wind Avatar
April 21, 2022

Here’s my overarching take on how Draymond Green has approached defending Aaron Gordon in the Nuggets and Warriors’ first-round series: Green has zero respect for Gordon’s jump shot and he might not respect his game.

That’s what Games 1 and 2 told me. Michael Malone made a similar observation too at Nuggets practice on Wednesday.

“Draymond Green is literally not guarding anybody,” Malone said. “He is a free safety out there. We have to, and players he’s guarding have to find a way to be effective and make them pay for doing that. Until we do, it’s going to be really hard for Nikola to get off when he’s got three guys around him and they’re saying, we’re going to make one of you other guys beat us. That’s going to be a big key for us to try and get back into the series, to have that next player step up and have a big game.”

Here’s what Malone’s talking about.

From Monday’s Game 2: Green is so unconcerned with Gordon floating around the 3-point line in this first-quarter sequence that he walks over to supply an extra body to guard Jokic’s roll to the rim. Will Barton has no window to throw Jokic the ball with Green and Looney occupying the paint.

Here’s an example from Saturday’s Game 1: This is a pretty straightforward double-team on Jokic from Green who has no problem leaving Gordon open on the wing. Jordan Poole eventually rotates over, but it’s a half-hearted effort. The Warriors are fine letting Gordon take that shot.

Of course it’s a smart strategy. Gordon shot only 33.5% from 3 this season and is a career 32.3% 3-point shooter. In two games this series, Gordon is shooting 6-19 (31.6%) from the floor, 1-7 from 3-point territory, and is 1-9 on field goal attempts outside the paint.

The Warriors want Gordon to beat them from the perimeter. Gordon’s abiding. Golden State’s benefiting.

Here’s another example of Green daring Gordon to make 3. He doesn’t even fully close out to the corner after doubling Jokic in the third quarter of Game 2. That’s a shot the Warriors want the Nuggets taking.

Green barely looks at Gordon during this third-quarter possession from Game 1. He spends most of the play stalking Jokic from afar and getting in position for the rebound.

Green straight up dared Gordon to shoot this top-of-the-key 3, and then was in a perfect position to grab the rebound if it came to him.

The Nuggets should have some counters to Green’s defensive approach on Gordon ready for Game 3. There are two games of data now on how Green’s playing the matchup. There has to be adjustments from Denver in terms of how Gordon is being utilized. Engaging Green with more off-ball movement from Gordon is probably a start.

“We talked with Aaron today,” Malone said on Wednesday. “Different ways to counter how they’re guarding him and how he can not only help himself, but if they’re not going to guard him he can help his teammates as well.”

Green is an incredible defender. His physical post defense is perfect for a playoff environment where some of the ticky-tack fouls that get whistled during the regular season aren’t called. He’s strong enough to body Jokic or any Nuggets player in the post and not give up too much ground. His wingspan is long enough to poke the ball away if Jokic leaves it exposed for a second or a teammate’s entry pass isn’t on point. He’s also just the best defender in the NBA. His defensive IQ is as elite as Jokic’s on offense.

He has defended Jokic so far in this series better than anyone has in years. It’s not close.

“Draymond’s really been hurting us too, people aren’t really noticing that,” Austin Rivers said. “Draymond’s really hurt us in this series. He’s just controlling the tempo of the game. He’s getting them all these shots. On defense, he’s beating up Jok.”

Malone wants Gordon to play more aggressively, which has been a theme of the forward’s first full season in Denver. When Gordon plays well, it’s because he attacks the rim, uses his athleticism and muscle to overpower his matchup and takes high-quality shots. When Gordon falls short, it’s always because he relies on his jumper.

Last season, Gordon attempted 43% of his shots at the rim, per Cleaning The Glass, in 25 games with the Nuggets after coming over from the Magic in a midseason trade. He followed that up by attempting 53% of his field goals at the rim in 10 playoff games. This regular season, 48% of Gordon’s shot attempts came at the rim. It was the most shots at the rim he’s taken since his second NBA season.

But so far this series, Gordon has played into the Warriors’ game plan. Just three of his 19 field goal attempts across Games 1 and 2 have come at the rim.

The good news for Gordon is that Green only spent an average of 3.1 minutes and 14 possessions guarding him in Games 1 and 2, per NBA.com tracking data. Instead, Green has spent most of the series guarding Jokic, who he has matched up on for an average of 5.8 minutes and 26.2 possessions per game. Gordon’s opportunity to get loose is against those smaller Warriors lineups when Kevon Looney goes to the bench, Green slides over to guard Jokic, and Gordon is checked by Andrew Wiggins or Klay Thompson. He theoretically should be able to out-muscle those players to the basket.

“I think it starts with an aggression level,” Malone said. “Be aggressive.”

While in San Francisco for Games 1 and 2, I spoke with a lot of Warriors media, ranging from reporters who recently started covering the team to seasoned Golden State insiders who date back to the championship years, about Green. A common scouting report on Green’s defense was that he loves to defend players whose jump shots he doesn’t respect.

From the tape, it’s clear Gordon falls into that category.

The pressure’s on Gordon to deliver in Game 3. The Nuggets need a bounce-back game from him to keep their playoff hopes alive.

Scroll to next article

Don't like ads?
Don't like ads?
Don't like ads?