Denver Nuggets: How to get Michael Porter Jr. going?

Denver Nuggets forward Michael Porter Jr. (1) before the game against the Dallas Mavericks at Ball Arena on 29 Oct. 2021. (Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports)

Denver Nuggets forward Michael Porter Jr. (1) before the game against the Dallas Mavericks at Ball Arena on 29 Oct. 2021. (Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports)

The Denver Nuggets didn’t need Michael Porter Jr. to get going against the Dallas Mavericks. In fact, the whole entire Denver team didn’t really need to do much as they waltzed to an easy win.

Porter Jr. finished the night with 12 points, three rebounds, one assist, and two turnovers while shooing 5-12 from the floor and 1-6 from behind the arc. It’s another poor shooting performance for the 23-year-old wing that has failed to live up to his recent maximum contract extension.

Before the matchup, head coach Michael Malone recognized that MPJ has struggled in this early season and said it was the team’s job to get him back into form via Mike Singer, The Denver Post:

“We gotta get Michael Porter going. He’s four games in, and I know that he’s capable of playing at a much higher level — from a shooting standpoint, his efficiency, his rebounding, his defense — so we gotta get more from Michael Porter.”

Through six games, MPJ is averaging 10.8 points while shooting 33 percent from the floor and 25 percent from 3-point range. His 39.7 effective field goal percentage is a steep dip from his career average 61.4 percent.

A lot of what MPJ does on the court is predicated on him hitting shots. Following the Jamal Murray injury last season, Michael Porter Jr. averaged 22.8 points a night while hitting 55 percent from the floor, 45 percent from 3-point range, and 86 percent from the free throw line.

He shot an unsustainable level from all over the court, but even accounting for some level of decline, MPJ should comfortably be leading the way as the second-best player on this team. Right now, he’s simply not that guy.

Will Barton, who has been starting on the wing next to Michael Porter Jr. and is having one of his more efficient seasons in recent years, says it’s just a shooting slump and he will come out of it:

“He knows what he’s gotta do, just stay at it. It’s tough times during the season, it just happens right now it’s the beginning for him. We’ll all have a stretch during the season where we’re struggling. … The thing with him is just to continue to play hard.

“Don’t worry about shots falling right now. Try to do other things. Compete hard on defense. Rebound. Just do other things, and if you have good energy, the tide will turn for him.”

Porter Jr.’s shot diet hasn’t changed much this season, the only real difference is that Barton’s fully healthy and absorbing some of Jamal Murray’s ball-handling duties. The former Missouri product is still getting opportunities to create for himself as well as benefitting from playing next to Nikola Jokic.

When plays are run for him, he’s struggling to convert. He should be a league leader in 3-point percentage but instead, he’s near the bottom of the league.

One possible reason for this is how much more attention he’s getting from defenders. In the past, the opposition’s best wing defender would guard Jamal Murray and MPJ, a third option at the time, was able to work on smaller, weaker defenders.

As the second offensive option heading into the season and the best wing scorer, opposing teams are throwing their best defenders on him from the starting tip. In the above clip, the long, athletic Jaden McDaniels is on Porter and in the following, it’s the sturdy Josh Okogie that he has to get past.

Michael Malone pushed back on questions about the pressure of MPJ’s new role, telling Singer, The Denver Post that it’s easy to blame the new role:

“I think he’s just not making shots right now. And I think sometimes for Michael (Porter Jr.) and most players when you’re not making shots, you can allow that to impact other areas of your game.”

The only other issue is that MPJ, so far in his young career, hasn’t developed into a distributor or elite off-ball player as of yet. Yes, it’s nice to mention it and hope he can use his scoring gravity to help the team, but outside of opening night, it hasn’t happened yet.

If MPJ can get past his defender, or in the above case, lead the break, he has shown he can make the right pass.

That was one assist of the five he totalled against the Phoenix Suns and it had plenty of Denver Nuggets fans wondering if it was a sign of things to come.

It doesn’t even need to be a high-level read like the next clip, but just something else for when the shot isn’t falling.

As long as MPJ is on the court, regardless of his shooting percentages, the best wing defender will be on him and he’ll be drawing some attention.

The safest bet is to wait until the shots start to fall.