Nuggets' forward proving to be thorn in Timberwolves' side

Denver Nuggets v Minnesota Timberwolves - Game Three
Denver Nuggets v Minnesota Timberwolves - Game Three / David Berding/GettyImages

After a 27-point, 11-of-12 shooting performance, Denver Nuggets forward Aaron Gordon is officially a burden. Thus far, Gordon has averaged 17.3 points, 4.0 rebounds, and 4.8 assists against the Minnesota Timberwolves in the Western Conference Semifinals.

Most egregious are Gordon's shooting splits. He's canning 71.8 percent of his field goals and 66.7 percent of his 3-pointers. The high-flying forward has already knocked down 8-of-12 triples. For reference, Gordon made one 3-pointer in five contests against the Los Angeles Lakers in the first round.

Both Anthony Edwards and Rudy Gobert are well aware of Gordon's breakout. The French center said, "…if Gordon turns into Kobe Bryant, we just got to live with that." And then, in the Game 4 postgame press conference, Edwards appeared to be in disbelief at Gordon's box score as he provided a hilarious reaction.

In Games 1 and 2, the Wolves defense completely stymied the Nuggets' efficient offense. Denver scored a combined 179 points over the first two contests. In Games 3 and 4, the Nuggets combined for 232 points and Gordon played a huge part.

Minnesota has used Defensive Player of the Year, Gobert as Gordon's primary defender. The reasoning behind the matchup is to allow star defender to help on Nikola Jokic. Instead of matching up directly with the league's MVP, Gobert has been tasked with partially defending a career 32.3 percent 3-point shooter. This gives the Wolves' big man the freedom to roam the paint.

Following back-to-back good showings from Gordon, the Nuggets decided to feature the former fourth-overall pick against the Wolves. Denver has utilized Gordon's on-ball playmaking rather than allowing the action to come to him. This change in playstyle has affected the Timberwolves' defensive scheme.

Minnesota can no longer sag off Gordon. Going into Game 5, it's likely the Wolves pay attention to the 6-foot-8 forward—at all times. In a little over 20 minutes defending Gordon, Gobert has allowed the Nuggets forward to score 22 points and connect on 9-of-10 field goals.

The impressive performance against the Defensive Player of the Year shouldn't relegate him to a lesser role. Gobert is still playing good basketball. For instance, he's held the MVP to a 10-of-26 shooting performance in just over 11 minutes.

When defended by Karl-Anthony Towns, Jokic is also shooting below 50 percent from the field. The defensive gameplan against the Serbian star is working, but it's allowed for role players such as Gordon to step up. Reserves, Justin Holiday, Christian Braun, and Reggie Jackson combined to go 6-of-9 from beyond the arc in Game 4.

Additionally, featuring Gordon has unlocked Jamal Murray. After harassing the Nuggets star guard to no end in Games 1 and 2, Murray has been able to pick his spots in Games 3 and 4. Rather than initiating the offense, Murray has been used as more of a secondary playmaker. Murray's play begins with a catch at the elbow or as he comes off a screen.

Instead of being pressured by Jaden McDaniels or Nickeil Alexander-Walker for 94 feet, Murray is granted the luxury of beginning play once the ball has already crossed the half-court line.

As pointed out by BBALLBREAKDOWN, sparing Murray of lead ball-handling duties at the beginning of the game allowed the Nuggets guard to take over in the final frame. The excessive exertion of energy coincided with an increased temper level in the opening two games. Now that Murray has been gifted a break at the expense of Gordon, he's been more effective when initiating the vaunted Murray-Jokic pick-and-roll.

Gordon's primary defender, Gobert, isn't used to defending behind the half-court line. Mike Malone's shift of Gordon to the primary ball handler has caused the Wolves' defense to be out of sorts. Not only are his shooting performances causing Minnesota headaches; Gordon's new responsibilities are wreaking havoc on the league's best defense.