The Denver Nuggets are entering the MPJ-Era and it’s Terrifying

MEMPHIS, TN - NOVEMBER 17: Michael Porter Jr. #1 of the Denver Nuggets looks on during a game against the Memphis Grizzlies on November 17, 2019 at FedExForum in Memphis, Tennessee. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2019 NBAE (Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images)
MEMPHIS, TN - NOVEMBER 17: Michael Porter Jr. #1 of the Denver Nuggets looks on during a game against the Memphis Grizzlies on November 17, 2019 at FedExForum in Memphis, Tennessee. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2019 NBAE (Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images) /

The explosion of Michael Porter Jr has brought newfound excitement to Denver Nuggets fans. His potential is as tantalizing as it is petrifying.

Let’s begin with a hypothetical. I think it’s safe to say all fans have some anxiety and fear when a player on their team goes down with an injury but, hypothetically, let’s imagine this player is deemed the future of your team’s franchise. Now, imagine that same player also has a fairly significant injury history and has played in less than 40 games in two seasons in the NBA. And, for flavor, let’s say this player missed the entirety of his collegiate basketball career dealing with an injury. Denver Nuggets fans, you know where I am going with this: Michael Porter Jr.

That was our scary reality on January 31, 2020 in the 3rd quarter against the Milwaukee Bucks. Michael Porter Jr went down on what appeared to be a fairly commonplace play, clutching at his leg and writhing in pain. I don’t know how it felt for you but my mind went through all of the stages of mourning in a matter of seconds. The roller coaster of emotions seems odd, but when you are considering the Nuggets are entering their “championship window”, it’s clear how much MPJ actually does mean to this team.

(Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)
(Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images) /

Basketball Past: 

Michael Porter Jr. played three years of High School basketball at Father Tulton Catholic High School in Columbia MO, and his senior year at Nathan Hale High School in Seattle WA. Michael moved to the Seattle area in his senior year when his father Michael Porter Sr. was hired by the University of Washington as an assistant basketball coach. Michael was able to win state championships with both high school teams, including leading Nathan Hale to a perfect 29-0 championship season. In his senior year he averaged over 36 points, 5 assists and 15.6 rebounds per game. He was also dominant on the defensive end at times averaging 3.2 steals and 2.7 blocks per game. This production catapulted him into the discussion of the best ranked high school players of 2017.

Considered one of the best college recruits in the country, MPJ received an invite to participate in the McDonald’s All-American game. Michael went on to win MVP of the game where he outplayed some notable players including: Deandre Ayton (Suns), Trae Young (Hawks), Kevin Knox (Knicks), Mo Bamba (Magic), and Jaren Jackson Jr. (Grizzlies). He scored 17 points and gathered 8 rebounds in 21 minutes, leading the West to victory.

He then began his collegiate career at The University of Missouri, but his playing days there were cut short almost immediately. He suffered an injury early on in the Mizzou Tiger’s season opener against the Iowa State Cyclones and did not return. The injury was described as a back injury that required a procedure called a microdiscectomy to treat two herniated discs. Michael did play again for the Tigers but only two games more: An SEC tournament game against Georgia and an NCAA tournament game against Florida St. Both games were losses to close out their season. MPJ declared for the draft shortly after.

The Summer continued on and the speculation was unending as the days crept closer and closer to the NBA draft. MPJ was still consensus top draft selection from most media outlets, but concern about this injury began to spread rapidly in the media and front offices as he had to cancel several scheduled workouts. Even with the setbacks, the concern didn’t seem extreme. Draft day finally arrived and team after team passed on Michael Porter Jr, until, with pick 14 of the 2018 NBA Draft, he was selected by the Denver Nuggets. His slide down the draft board signified that he was viewed as too large of a risk for many teams and not the surefire foundation building player he was once touted to be. This was perfect for Josh Kroenke and Tim Connelly’s plan. They were interested in a player that could take them over the top, not simply a role player. Perhaps a star had fallen into their lap.

In The NBA:

It wasn’t long before the Denver Nuggets front office decided to take the slow approach with Michael Porter Jr. It was quickly decided that his first season would be about getting healthy and returning to his playing form. He sat out his entire first NBA season, even as the Nuggets were having one of their best seasons in franchise history. Questions about MPJ’s progress and health, about his time-table to return, were being asked on almost a daily basis and MPJ mania hit Denver as soon as the Nikola Jokic-led Nuggets were ousted from the playoffs. Michael Porter Jr watch had begun.

NBA Summer League 2019 in Las Vegas would be the debut all Nuggets fans had been waiting for. By all reports Michael looked to be fully recovered and ready to take the court with his team and finally end the injury speculation when, during a team scrimmage, he suffered a knee sprain. The injury was not serious but it kept him from playing the entirety of the Summer League schedule.

MPJ mania raged on as Nuggets training camp took off. The fans and local media were beside themselves just waiting to catch a glance of Michael. Training camp was the first real peek the world got at Michael, and the reviews were filled with hope and optimism. Finally, first preseason game arrived for the Denver Nuggets. His debut was slightly lackluster as he went 1-5 from the field for a total of 5 points but Nuggets fans didn’t care, the wait was over and Michael Porter Jr was officially on a Nuggets box score. In his second preseason game against the Suns he made 5 of 10 field goals and scored 11 points on the night. You could begin to see immediately why he was so special. His shot was fluid and smooth and he was clearly a natural athlete.

As the regular began he earned very few playing minutes early and was even a “DNP-CD” in a few games before he finally began to see an increase in his playing time. A bout of injuries from key players including: Paul Millsap, Jamal Murray and Gary Harris opened up the roster for more minutes.

MPJ has now played in 39 games for the Denver Nuggets thus far and is averaging 8.0 points and 4.4 rebounds per game in 14.3. The numbers aren’t staggering by any means but Michael has had some very productive games already. January 2, 2020 against the Pacers was his coming out party. He scored a career high 25 points and was a +13 on the floor. Against the Golden State Warriors he played nearly 30 minutes in an overtime game, scoring 18 points and grabbing 10 rebounds to help the Denver Nuggets secure the win. Two games later against Minnesota he scored 20 points and pulled down a career high 14 rebounds. These were followed by the aforementioned Milwaukee game. MPJ had scored 15 points and gathered 11 rebounds in the 3rd quarter when he went down with the ankle injury. He hasn’t played since then.

What’s to come?:

The progression has been interesting and exciting to watch. At times Michael Porter Jr.  looks like the superstar he was projected to be so early on in his career, at others he looks like the rookie who hasn’t played basketball for two years. The talent jumps off of the court when you watch his game. His ability to shoot over smaller players and get himself into a position to score is already very good and he has been surprisingly active on the defensive boards. His overall defense still leaves a bit to be desired at times but is improving as he gets more integrated into the scheme and his length can bother opposing players. His three-point shot and mid-range jumper look about as pure as any player in the league but he still needs to put some muscle onto his frame if he wants to get to the basket with the best of them.

Michael Porter Jr’s upside is elite. He could be a multiple time All-Star in this league, as stacked as it is with talent. Even in an NBA that seems to have a superstar on every team, MPJ may have as much, if not more, natural talent than 95% players drafted in the last ten years. A healthy MPJ raises the floor of the Denver Nuggets but note that I said a healthy MPJ. For as much potential there is, there is also the chance he could go down with an injury and never comes back the same or struggle` to stay healthy for any extended period of time. Greg Oden comes to mind when comparing the two. Both were robbed of their would-be rookie seasons due to injury but Greg Oden only played 82 games from 2007-2010 dealing with various knee injuries. He attempted  comeback three years later but retired shortly after leaving NBA fans saying “what if?” Could that be what we are saying in 5 years about MPJ?

(Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
(Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images) /

This latest injury to Michael Porter Jr is just that: his latest injury. Players are always dealing with some nagging ailment or malady but not many as significant as the slew that has plagued MPJ.  Reports say that he will likely be back in action after the All-Star Break; for this, I am thankful. Watching MPJ has been an absolute delight over the last few months, and he has raised the play of Denver Nuggets without question. His potential is exciting and his play is electrifying. I am just terrified he will burn out before he gets a chance to really shine and that could be tragic for MPJ and for the future of our Denver Nuggets.

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