The Denver Nuggets’ Michael Porter Jr. had as topsy-turvy of a start to 2021 as anyone after being criticized by head coach Mike Malone for his defense and then testing positive for COVID-19 all before January was over. MPJ is back at full-strength now, though, and boy is he better than ever.
The 22-year-old’s recent tear has ripped past the trade deadline as well, with Porter Jr. putting up 20.7 points, 8.7 rebounds, 2.7 triples, and 1.0 blocks per game over his past three on extremely efficient 62 percent shooting from the field and 57 percent shooting from the three-point line.
The fact that his recent run of form has continued through the deadline is surely surprising to many that expected Denver’s acquisition of Aaron Gordon to tank Porter Jr.’s playing time and overall value. They’re both talented, long wing defenders that can play the 3 or the 4 effectively, so there was some evidence to support that thought.
It turns out, that notion could not have been more unfounded. Porter Jr. has played 31.7 minutes per game since Gordon’s arrival, and it seems as though he is not personally threatened by Gordon at all. On the contrary, he actually seems as excited as anyone to be sharing the floor with the Slam Dunk legend.
“We love him out there, just defensively we’re just so long and versatile,” Porter Jr. said when asked about Gordon’s impact on the floor following Tuesday’s win over the Philadelphia 76ers. “And then we can just run the floor, [we’ve got] so many different weapons. It feels like I’m just looking at my twin out there [laughs] so it’s just cool to have another dude like that out there on the wing with me. We’re just so interchangeable at the 3 and the 4, it’s fun.”
Gordon arrived in Denver following a blockbuster trade with the Nuggets and the Orlando Magic which saw Denver send beloved defensive star Gary Harris, rookie RJ Hampton, and a protected first-round pick in 2025 to Orlando in exchange for Gordon and forward Gary Clark Jr. (Fun fact: the NBA only has three players named Gary, and all three were dealt on deadline day, with this deal seeing two of the three move. Gary Trent Jr. was also shipped from Portland to Toronto.)
The Gordon deal was one of the first to be done on trade deadline day so Denver dealing Porter Jr. certainly entered into the realm of possibility. Mike Singer of the Denver Post reported back in December that a James Harden trade with MPJ as the centerpiece had been discussed and there was certainly a sentiment that the mercurial young buck could be dealt at some point.
The Columbia, Missouri native’s lowest point on the court this season came on February 16th, when he went 0-8 from the field and was held without a point. This was at the tail-end of a seven-game stretch during which he averaged 9.4 points on 35 percent shooting from three and drew the ire of the usually jovial Nikola Jokic with his poor shot selection in crunch time.
While he continues to play his best ball in the heart of the Rockies, the rocky moments of MPJ’s season seem to be well behind him—and Malone and the Nuggets are embracing that. After playing under 30 minutes per game in each of the first three months of the season, MPJ played 32.6 a night in March and flourished beautifully.
Since March 4th—a hefty sample size of 13 games—Denver’s young phenom has contributed 21.2 points, 8.5 rebounds, and 2.8 triples on eye-popping efficiency with 60 percent shooting from the field and a 54 percent mark from downtown over that stretch. Not to mention the Nuggets are 10-3 in that span as well.
Denver has actually been on an extended roll that has coincided with Porter Jr.’s recent ramp-up, winning 13 of their last 16 contests, the best record in the NBA during that time. The Nuggets are also 14-4 when MPJ plays 30+ minutes this season, so they would do well to keep that up down the stretch as they challenge for one of the coveted top four spots in the Western Conference.