Denver Nuggets: How Michael Porter Jr.’s looming return could affect the rotation

Michael Porter Jr. #1 of the Denver Nuggets is introduced during pregame against the San Antonio Spurs at Ball Arena on 22 Oct. 2021 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Jamie Schwaberow/Getty Images)
Michael Porter Jr. #1 of the Denver Nuggets is introduced during pregame against the San Antonio Spurs at Ball Arena on 22 Oct. 2021 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Jamie Schwaberow/Getty Images) /
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Zeke Nnaji, Denver Nuggets (Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports)
Zeke Nnaji, Denver Nuggets (Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports) /

Denver Nuggets: How will Michael Porter Jr.’s return affect the bench?

While it’s very possible that we see Michael Porter Jr. come off the bench in his first few games back for head coach Michael Malone and the Denver Nuggets, he’ll be in the starting lineup in no time. However, that doesn’t mean that MPJ’s return doesn’t affect the bench mob.

The Nuggets recently traded away two solid prospects in center Bol Bol and wing P.J. Dozier for a short term shooting fix in Bryn Forbes, who has done what he was brought in to do, though in very limited minutes. And while that was a disappointing move when you look to the future, the Nuggets did hang onto two other very exciting players instead.

They are 6’5″ small forward Davon Reed, who has bounced around the league since being drafted in the second round by the Phoenix Suns in 2017, and 6’9″ power forward Zeke Nnaji, who the Nuggets picked 22nd overall in the 2020 NBA draft.

Reed most recently shone in 20 minutes off the bench in a win over the Golden State Warriors where the Miami (Florida) alumnus put up 17 points on 6-for-8 shooting to go with three boards, a block, and a dime. Not too shabby at all.

The 26-year-old has consistently impressed when Malone has given him significant run, as evidenced by the fact that the Nuggets signed him to not one, not two, but three different 10-day contracts before signing him to a two-way contract for the rest of the campaign in January.

Malone has not been giving the New Jersey native consistent minutes at all, however: Reed played 40 combined minutes over the past two games, just eight over the four before that, and 68 over the four before that. One would have to think that his minutes would go down to a pretty minimal level with MPJ’s return to the starting lineup pushing Jeff Green to the second unit.

A video of Reed playing one on one with MPJ surfaced last week, and Mike Singer, The Denver Post, later asked Reed about it, with Reed saying that “Mike looked really good,” and that he was looking forward to his teammate’s return. Surely he can’t be too happy, as Porter Jr. is likely to push Reed right out of the rotation… though a spot in Denver’s top 14 for next year is not farfetched for Reed at all.

The other big guy that’s likely to take a hit with MPJ’s return is Zeke Nnaji, who’s been seeing 17.3 minutes per game since MPJ went down compared to just five minutes a night when MPJ was in the lineup in October and November.

Unlike Reed, Nnaji is still a very young prospect, and like Reed, he’s got a ton of potential for positive growth, so getting him out there on the floor a little more has been exciting to see.

He makes just a hair under one triple a game, but he does so at an alarmingly high 48 percent clip to go with his 53 percent mark from the field overall. His 1.5 offensive rebounds per game are nearly identical to Gordon’s 1.6 mark in about half of the minutes.

This kid is going to be G-O-O-D like Kanye’s old music, but MPJ’s return is likely to stifle his playing opportunities down the stretch here.

Malone has never been a big fan of playing really young guys, so with MPJ’s impending return, the Minneapolis native will likely have to wait until next season to really show us what he can do.

MPJ’s restoration to the lineup will no doubt boost the potential of this Denver Nuggets team in a year where the championship seems genuinely up for grabs between at least a half dozen teams. Getting his efficient scoring back for the run-in will be a boon, even if it does shake things up a little bit for a bench unit that could see a pair of players make big strides heading into next season.

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