A Star Is Born: Michael Porter Jr.
Promise has surrounded Denver Nuggets forward Michael Porter Jr. for most of his life. In high school, he was named Gatorade Player of the Year after averaging 36.2 points, 13.6 rebounds, 5 assists, 3.2 steals, and 2.7 blocks per game his senior season. Those staggering numbers led to Porter Jr. being ranked as the number one recruit. His length and style of play even led to comparisons such as NBA superstar Kevin Durant. Following Porter Jr’s commitment to the University of Missouri, many presumed he would be the number one pick in the NBA draft after his freshman season.
That soon changed however.
During his freshman year at Missouri, Porter Jr. suffered a back injury which held him out of all but three games. One of those games however, was an NCAA tournament game. In just his second game back from injury, Porter Jr. still managed to have a double-double. He finished with 16 points, 10 rebounds, and three steals in a loss against Florida State. There was some obvious rust however, considering Porter Jr. missed the majority of the regular season. He shot just 4–11 from the field, and had three turnovers. Despite the injury, Porter Jr. decided the right choice was to declare for the NBA draft.
Leading up to the draft, it was a mystery where the Missouri power forward would be selected. Scouts wondered if Porter Jr. would be able to return to his high school form. Many questioned if the injury would severely limit his future potential. Even with the concerns, Porter Jr. was projected to go in the lottery. The superstar potential was still there. The promise was still there.
Porter Jr. perhaps ended up going to the best possible spot for him. The Denver Nuggets selected him with the 14th pick. The team already had an established power forward on the roster in Paul Millsap. This meant Porter Jr. wouldn’t be forced to play right away, thus allowing him to fully rehab from his injury. That’s exactly what ended up happening. Porter Jr. underwent back surgery, causing him to miss his entire rookie season.
Even with the lost season, the promise was still apparent. Denver had high hopes for Porter Jr. leading up to what is now his new “rookie” year. That hope was almost lost though, when Porter Jr. suffered a knee injury in practice. The injury didn’t turn out to be serious however, and Porter Jr. was available for the start of the season.
Besides injury concerns, the main problem Porter Jr. faces is finding playing time on a Denver team filled with depth. Players like Millsap and Jerami Grant often absorb most of the minutes at the position. Porter Jr. on the other hand is left averaging just below 15 minutes per game. I believe that is soon going to change.
Michael Porter Jr. just had his breakout game.
With the NBA season resuming, some players have missed the first few games of the restart. This holds true for the Denver Nuggets. With players like Jamal Murray and Gary Harris out of the lineup, someone was forced to step up for Denver. Enter Michael Porter Jr. The “rookie” played the most minutes of his young NBA career (44), and he did not disappoint. Porter Jr. finished with 37 points on 75% shooting (66.7% from three), and 12 rebounds in a win against the Oklahoma City Thunder. The Denver forward showed why there’s so much promise surrounding him.
Now some may consider this an overreaction to one game. However, Porter Jr. has shown flashes this year when given the minutes. In 23 minutes against the Pacers, Porter Jr. finished with 25 points and 5 rebounds. In 30 minutes against the Timberwolves, he finished with 20 points and 14 rebounds. In 29 minutes against the Warriors, he had 18 points and 10 rebounds. When given even average play time, Porter Jr. has shown his talent. Yes his 8.1 points and 4.2 rebounds per game don’t scream superstar. Those numbers however, are in average of 14.8 minutes per game. When you substitute his stats on a per 36 minutes basis, Porter Jr. is then averaging 20 and 10 (19.8 points, 10.3 rebounds per game), on 50.3% shooting.
The real potential (and comparisons to Kevin Durant) comes with his three-point percentage. This season Porter Jr. is shooting a blistering 42.2% from three. His ability to knock down threes at his size (6’10”) is much like that of Durant. Now obviously Porter Jr. has a long way to go before he’s on the level of Durant. I however, believe next season he’ll narrow that gap substantially.
This is for two reasons. First, he’ll have the experience of two NBA seasons (one active). Any experience helps, and Porter Jr. has gotten a sense of how to perform in this league. Second, Paul Millsap will most likely not be on the roster. Millsap will be an unrestricted free agent; and Denver is unlikely to re-sign the 35 year old power forward. Therefore, Millsap’s minutes will be available for Porter Jr. It’s now on Porter Jr. to continue his growth. With the added experience and new minutes available, the young forward has the opportunity to be an All-Star next season. And with his potential, that may be just the beginning.