If we redrafted the 2018 class today, the Denver Nuggets would have zero chance at picking Michael Porter Jr.
Despite playing in just 39 NBA games since his arrival, Porter’s scoring prowess would vault him into the conversation for the fifth pick in a redraft. The Nuggets got him with the 14th a year and a half ago.
Of course, there were major concerns about Porter’s back before his NBA career even began.
He injured himself during his first college game at Missouri and underwent back surgery that caused him to miss all but three games of his collegiate career. He still declared for the draft after his freshman season. But now he was trying to prove to lottery teams that he was worth a gamble instead of vying for the number one overall pick like many analysts predicted when MPJ was coming out of high school.
This caused him to slip right into Denver’s lap—a team right on the cusp of contender status that needed one last, cheap infusion of star talent.
The Nuggets were cautious and sat Porter Jr. his entire first season after he underwent a second back surgery in 2018. The setback was frustrating, to be sure, but couldn’t hold him back forever, as he boldly announced his presence with a 15-point debut this past Halloween.
At 6’10”, Porter Jr. has good size for a combo wing/forward. He mostly plays small forward (74 percent of his minutes according to Cleaning the Glass), but can also slide up or down a position depending on how coach Mike Malone wants to use him.
Cut from the cloth of an elite scorer like former Nuggets star Carmelo Anthony, Porter is trying to give chuckers a good name.
Despite limited playing time this season (averaging just 14.3 minutes per game), he’s flashed the potential to be a three-level scorer. His percentages at the rim, in the mid-range and from behind the arc are all above-average according to Cleaning the Glass. His shot chart also shows a player who isn’t afraid to take shots from anywhere and everywhere:
Perhaps, the most surprising aspect has been MPJ’s ability to knock down threes at an elite clip. His 43.2 percent success rate is better than documented sharpshooters such as Bojan Bogdanovic, Kyle Korver and Davis Bertans. Of course, Porter attempts fewer threes than each of those guys, but his success isn’t any less surprising.
Relegated to a lot of spot-up duty at this point in his career, nearly two-thirds of his threes come in the catch-and-shoot, and he’s making 42.2 percent of those attempts. He does a tremendous job dictating the pace when going into his shooting form, no matter how close a defender is:
After catching the pass, Porter Jr.’s right foot deliberately steps forward, as he calmly proceeds into his shooting motion. Despite the defender being in proper guarding position with a hand in the air to deter the shot, MPJ rises and uses his height and high release point to knock down the three with a man in his face.
Fully embracing the role of an unabashed shooter, Porter isn’t afraid to fire from anywhere and everywhere. The good news is he just needs a sliver of room to get his shot off:
The bad news is… he just needs a sliver of room to get his shot off:
As an old-school scorer always looking to get buckets, Porter Jr. sometimes gets a little crazy and overzealous with his shot selection. But that’s part of his learning curve.
Playing for a team vying for a championship right now, he must find a way to straddle the line between bucket-getter (which the Nuggets absolutely need) and chucker (which they do not). Nikola Jokic is the hub for everything that happens in Denver, but he’s not an every-night lead scorer.
Jamal Murray fills a lot of that role, but any team needs additional options. Gary Harris, Paul Millsap and Will Barton all contribute buckets, but both Barton and Harris can be streaky while a 34-year old only plays 24.9 minutes a night these days. Thus, Porter Jr. has a ready-made niche for his bucket-getting, provided the efficiency continues to rise.
He’s also still developing his ball-handling skills. Although MPJ probably shouldn’t be leading too many fastbreaks, he has enough handles to attack in the halfcourt. Just ask Khris Middleton:
Shots like this are important to Porter Jr.’s development as his career continues. Statistics tell us that he gets to the rim quite frequently, but a lot of those attempts come from the offense Denver runs. Jokic is particularly adept at exploiting crevices in the defense and allowing his teammates to reap the benefits.
Lacking the lateral athleticism needed to create consistent points in the paint, MPJ must develop a way to score when his path to the basket is blocked and a jump shot isn’t an efficient first look.
When forced to create on his own, far too many of his attempts end up looking something like this:
His best bet is to continue attacking from outside while developing his game in other ways. Porter doesn’t live in the mid-range—taking just 23 percent of shots in this area—but this could provide another possible solution in the near future. He has a pure stroke and an aesthetically pleasing shot off the bounce, which should allow him to continue building off his solid (albeit, not great) numbers between the rim and the three-point line.
At just 21-years-old and working his way back from two major surgeries, it’s unfair to expect MPJ’s game to be fully developed at this point in his career. The key is to find balance and prioritize what’s most efficient today.
He already tends to fall in love with his jumper a little too much, which can get him in trouble from time to time:
As he received the handoff from Jokic above, Porter Jr. took one dribble and settled for an off-balanced pull-up just inside the arc. Yuck. Instead, he should’ve continued to attack the rim in a mini two-on-one situation. There was plenty of room to do so. This would’ve given him more momentum toward the hoop and either opened up a much easier shot attempt for himself or a bucket for one of his teammates.
Again, even though the Nuggets need MPJ’s scoring, they don’t need it so badly that it’s worth firing desperate looks when the rest of the lineup is typically filled with other adequate options. This is where Porter moving the basketball better—then moving without it until it finds him again—will work wonders. That’s a maturity and experience thing.
He’s already getting the hang of this professional basketball thing, as January was his best month yet. Playing a career-high 21.4 minutes per game last month, he averaged 12.3 points while shooting 48 percent from behind the arc and posting a 63.6 percent true shooting percentage.
Porter’s fearlessness is his best attribute. He’s ready to fire the rock at any moment, and defenses must get used to that. He’ll only become more effective the more he harnesses that attitude and firepower.
If January is a sign of things to come, he’s on the right track.