The Nuggets have lacked an elite wing player ever since Carmelo Anthony. When Michael Porter Jr. fell to the Nuggets at the 14th pick in the draft, they received a player that could fill that void.
After sitting out a year due to injury, MPJ made a few appearances previous to the restart, but the coaching staff lacked confidence with MPJ on the defensive end. However, due to numerous absences of backcourt and wing players, Porter Jr. got his opportunity in the bubble. In the four games he played significant minutes (Thunder, Spurs, Trail Blazers, Jazz), he averaged 29 points per game.
His talent can be franchise-altering for the Nuggets.
Led by Nikola Jokic, the Nuggets have the potential to be a high-powered offense. While they have a high assist rate, they are 18th in points per game and don’t excel shooting the ball. With a unique playmaker in Nikola Jokic, it’s imperative the Nuggets have good shooters all around to open the floor for cuts and slips.
Michael Porter Jr. brings elite three-point shooting. He’s arguably the best shooter in the starting lineup albeit on limited sample size. In the eight bubble games he shot 42.2% from three on 6.5 attempts. From a form perspective, he has a high release and good elevation. Combine this with his height and his shot Kevin Durant-level unblockable. He’s also not only a standstill shooter. MPJ has the ability to come off screens and hit jumpers.
MPJ is the perfect weapon to pair with Jokic. He can hit shots on the move or spot-up and can create for himself.
When looking at Porter Jr.’s buckets, most of his looks are easy points. The Nuggets use lots of movement to allow Jokic to make reads. They’ll utilize screens all over the court to create advantages and opportunities for cuts. Porter Jr. is capable of making these reads, which is aided by his skill and tools.
He’s a mismatch coming off screens. If teams top-lock to prevent the three, he can backdoor for an easy lob due to his height. If the defender decides to attach himself to MPJ, he can curl and elevate for a shot uncontested. Then if the defense switches the screen, he can punish the smaller player and attack slow big men.
At the moment, the Nuggets don’t have another player that is such a huge threat off the pin down screen. His ability to make these reads and natural gifts make MPJ a tough player to guard before he even touches the ball.
Another area where Michael Porter Jr. gets his points is on the glass. With Jokic at center and usually on the perimeter, he draws the opposing center away from the basket. This lack of length near the hoop allows MPJ to attack the boards. Most of the time the Nuggets play Porter Jr. at the three, which usually means there is an undersized defender boxing him out. He recorded 4 offensive rebounds against the Spurs, 3 against the Blazers, and 3 against the Jazz. Not many wings can match MPJ’s height and quickness.
He averaged 6.7 defensive rebounds. He’s a threat to push the break once he grabs a rebound. He isn’t a strong ball-handler especially going left, but his length makes it difficult to stop him going downhill.
Areas of Improvement: Defense
It’s not entirely clear if MPJ was healthy or not the entire season, but the bottom line is Malone didn’t trust him on the defensive side, even when the offense was clicking. In the bubble, he showed the ability to smother smaller guards in one on one situations, but it’s the little things that he misses on.
He gets beat on closeouts often. He’ll lose track of his man when the shot goes up. In the Nuggets overtime game against the Jazz, he made some crucial errors that let the Jazz stay in the game. One possession he closed out on the same shooter as his teammate which left a Jazz player open on the wing.
MPJ will need to make improvements on that end or teams are going to go at him every possession in the playoffs. The Nuggets are in an awkward spot defensively. Jokic is not a good defender by any means. He doesn’t have verticality to contest shots, but he also can’t stay in front of players on the perimeter. Mike Malone often takes him out for crucial defensive possessions. Paul Milsap is versatile in that he can guard post-ups and a bit on the outside, but doesn’t do either well enough to make-up for Jokic’s weakness.
If Michael Porter Jr. can develop into an impactful defender, it would do wonders for the Nuggets. They’re going to need two big wings to make up for Jokic’s slowness. He can pan out to be a great defender on the perimeter and inside. It’s only a matter of his motor and if he commits to that end.
The fact MPJ was able to put up huge numbers and contribute to the Nuggets wins is a great sign so early. Most people don’t view the Nuggets as a championship contender with their current roster. They don’t have a go-to scorer on the wing and struggle on offense at times. With a few years of development, MPJ can be the player that elevates the team.
It’s too early to say what type of player he will end up as. He needs to show durability over a full season and show defensive improvements.
If MPJ wants to be a franchise cornerstone of the Nuggets, he’ll need to become a great defender. Especially playing with a defensively limited center in Jokic, two stars who can’t hold their own on defense are going to limit the Nuggets.
However, if Porter Jr. does become a two-way threat, the Nuggets can become the next NBA powerhouse.
All stats courtesy of NBA.com unless otherwise noted