On the Lookout: Gordon to debut for Nuggets against Hawks

Published March 28, 2021, 5:00 PMMiguel Flores

Aaron Gordon will play his first game with Nikola Jokic and the Nuggets as the Hawks visit Denver.

It was only a matter of time before the Atlanta Hawks (23-22) and the Denver Nuggets (27-18) picked up the pace after their slow starts this season. These two dark horse contenders meet tomorrow at 9:00 AM on One Sports.

If points are scored through entertainment value, both these teams would be offensive juggernauts. Not that they aren't already.

The Nuggets, winners of nine of their last 12, have been carried by their MVP candidate Nikola Jokic. The Joker's numbers are seriously good. It's easier to ask which categories Jokic doesn't lead the Nuggets in as he's having one of the best offensive seasons from any big man in league history. From traditional stats (27.1 points, 11.3 rebounds, 8.6 assists) to advanced stats (31.8 player efficiency rating, .650 true shooting percentage, 10.6 RAPTOR wins above replacement), Jokic has the best case for MVP on pure numbers.

The only thing missing is team success. Jokic has been trying to keep the Nuggets afloat, but injuries and several COVID-related absences led to Denver hovering around .500 through the first half of the season.

Luckily, the Nuggets are getting healthier and flexing their offensive muscle. Jamal Murray, hampered by shoulder pain to start the season, has picked up the pace averaging 20.8 points on 48.9 percent shooting in the last two weeks. In the same stretch, Michael Porter Jr. began flourishing, firing 21.1 points on 58.4 percent shooting. Offense is Denver's main calling card, ranking fourth overall in offensive rating while falling to 19th in defensive rating.

Adding a versatile forward like Aaron Gordon could help mitigate that disparity, but these conditions should foster a back-and-forth highlights exchange with the Hawks. Like Denver, the Hawks heavily rely on maintaining an uptempo, high-scoring environment. Ranking ninth in offensive rating and 22nd in defensive rating, the Hawks make a lot of buckets and don’t worry about stops as much.

This style mainly caters to the skillset of their star Trae Young, who is the epitome of the “points guard” wave. Sporting a massive 32.5 percent usage rate, Young wields the keys to the Hawks offense with audacity, averaging 25.7 points and 9.5 assists. You've seen highlights of Young chucking 3s from near half court, but the Hawks’ bread and butter are two-man actions between Young and either of their bigs John Collins or Clint Capela.

Collins was arguably the catalyst of the Hawks' hot streak, averaging 20.0 points on 56.4 percent shooting with 8.9 rebounds over their last 11 games -- nine of which were wins. Capela, on the other hand, has been a sneaky Defensive Player of the Year candidate, ranking second in the league in average rebounds (14.3) and fifth in blocks (2.2).

Despite early concerns about having two traditional bigs in the starting lineup, the Hawks have made it work through nifty spacing and ball movement. The Hawks showed this when they last faced Denver on February 23 (PHT) with Young popping off for 35 points and 15 assists, while Capela and Collins both had double-doubles in an Atlanta win.

Tomorrow’s game, however, will be held in Denver with its vaunted altitude. While the Nuggets have been uncharacteristically lackluster at home this season, the thin air in Denver always plays a factor for visiting squads.

Monday mornings are tough, but the Hawks versus Nuggets game should give your week a proper start.