Denver Nuggets: Is Michael Porter Jr. already better than Jamal Murray?

Denver Nuggets, Jamal Murray, Michael Porter Jr. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Denver Nuggets, Jamal Murray, Michael Porter Jr. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images) /
Denver Nuggets, Jamal Murray, Michael Porter Jr.
Denver Nuggets, Jamal Murray, Michael Porter Jr. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images) /

Last week, our colleagues at FanSided put together their list of the top 25 NBA players under the age of 25 right now and there were two Denver Nuggets that made the cut. From the looks of the list, the future of the NBA is indeed in good hands.

But, you know, as we do with these types of lists, I’ve got some nitpicks. First and foremost I’m not sure how Anthony Edwards is not on the list in front of guys like Kevin Huerter (24), DeAndre Hunter (23), and a guy who hasn’t even played an NBA minute yet in Cade Cunningham (18).

But this isn’t about that.

This is about numbers 15 and 16 on the list, both of whom are Nugs. Can you guess who they are? Okay, Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. were pretty easy guesses if you knew the Big Honey hit 26 back in February, but the order might surprise you: they’ve got MPJ ahead of the Blue Arrow already.

If we’re talking based solely on projections for this upcoming season, then sure, toss MPJ ahead of Murray, the latter probably won’t see the court until the very late stages of this campaign if at all. But if we’re talking MPJ ahead of Murray based on body of work and future potential, count me firmly on the side of Bishop Bullwinkle on this one.

MPJ has flashed some delicious potential with his silky shooting stroke and unfathomable efficiency from the floor and he’s been rewarded handsomely for it: he just signed a four-year, $172 million extension that screams “if MPJ doesn’t meet his peak potential, the Nuggets are going to regret this”.

It’s a deal the Denver Nuggets kind of had to make though, and considering how well they’ve developed other draft picks (Murray, Monte Morris, P.J. Dozier, and oh yeah, the reigning MVP) it’s not a stretch to expect Michael Malone and company to get the most out of the supremely talented Porter.

After a strong finish to the regular season in the bubble was followed by a disappointing effort in the playoffs, the expectations for MPJ in his sophomore campaign were high.

Before Murray was injured, he was putting up 17.3 points and 7.8 rebounds per game on a 53/42/76 shooting line. Not eye-popping numbers but very efficient, which is exactly what you need from your third option.

Once the Blue Arrow went out of commission, Porter went off, averaging 25.4 points and 6.3 rebounds with a double-take-inducing 58/51/85 shooting line during a 15-game stretch where the Nuggets went 11-4 and locked up the third seed in the West.

He was dominating teams with his ruthless efficiency on the perimeter with 4.1 threes per game during that span, but the 23-year-old showed flashes of what else he can bring to the table during this stretch as well.

While his defense and playmaking still need to be jumpstarted, his defensive rebounding is a solid base. He also showed that with his size, length, and athleticism he can easily be a danger off the dribble too… even when going up against the Defensive Player of the Year.

Unfortunately, that honeymoon phase ended quite abruptly once the Nuggets were matched up with the Suns in the playoffs. Nikola Jokic needed MPJ’s help more than ever during that series, but the second-year player shrunk in the face of the pressure, putting up just 15.3 points a game while posting a 38/38/70 shooting line in a performance that has led to some questions about his value.

That wasn’t the first time he’s struggled in the playoffs either. He shot 50-plus percent from the field and 42-plus percent in each of his first two regular seasons, but those percentages fell to under 48 and under 40 in the playoffs, not to mention the steep drop from 25.4 points a game during his hot streak to just 17.3 during their 10-game playoff run in 2021.

One guy who the Rocky Mountain faithful knows doesn’t cower in the face of pressure is one Jamal Murray.

Believe it or not, the 2021 edition of Murray was actually building on that otherworldly performance in the bubble. He increased his per-game scoring average—which he has done every year he’s been in the league—to 21.2 but the most impressive part of his performance was his efficiency.

Usually, when a player starts taking more shots, the volume leads to a decrease in efficiency, but not so with the Kitchener, Ontario native. He shot 48 percent from the field and 41 from deep, both career highs, while also posting career highs in shots and threes per game. The volume increased, and so did the efficiency while his turnovers ticked up by only 0.1 to 2.3.

His knee injury was devastating and is likely to keep him out for most if not all of the upcoming season, but this is 2021 and players come back from serious leg injuries all the time. There are countless examples in recent years not least of which have been Paul George and Kevin Durant. There’s no reason that Murray at just 24 years old won’t find his previous form if not eclipse it.

It was clear how much he was missed in that series against the Phoenix Suns as well. While the Nuggets’ overmatched backcourt did the best they could, MPJ and Aaron Gordon stood in the corners picking their bums. You can’t tell me you think Murray would have done as little as MPJ did in that series.

Murray would have gone right at CP3 and Devin Booker, he’s a dog that loves the challenge, it’s easy to see. That mentality has also led the Blue Arrow to a vastly improved defensive effort and skillset over the past few years that the Nuggets desperately need in the backcourt and which MPJ is also sorely lacking and unlikely to acquire anytime soon.

Even in the 2019 playoffs, Murray upped his scoring from 18.2 in the regular season to 21.3. He lives for the big moments and he thrives in them: these are the types of players that win you playoff games, series, and championships. The killer instinct, that Mamba mentality.

In the bubble Murray lost a duel with Donovan Mitchell in Game 1 where he scored 36 points, then proceeded to will his team to a Game 7 after going down 3-1. After several solid games against the Clippers in the next series, he did it again, capping off another 3-1 comeback series win with a 40-piece on 58 percent shooting from the field in Game 7.

Against the best defensive team in the league and the eventual champions in the LA Lakers, he also averaged 25 points on 52 percent from the field to go with this work of art, but no biggie.

Change that boy’s name to Casanova because he is as suave and slick as they come, baby. Watching that clip with the music from Kobe’s old “BIG” NBA commercial playing in the background is quite a treat by the way.

I’m not sure it’s much of a consolation to Murray truthers like me or the man himself, but even though 2K was wildly out of line giving the Blue Arrow an 85 overall rating (he should be closer to a 90, like Russ, but I digress), at least they had him ahead of MPJ, who’s a pretty fair 84. You can’t win em all, that’s showbiz baby.

The Denver Nuggets did well in the annual NBA GM Survey. dark. Next