I recently moved houses and one of my new housemates has never watched basketball at this high a volume. To show off one of the more fun teams in the league, I put on a Denver Nuggets game and he was not disappointed.
One thing he loves is the sound of a 3-pointer splashing through the net (how can you blame him). On a random possession, I told him to watch out for number one on Denver, saying that the way Michael Porter Jr. rises up and drains shots is beautiful.
As if on cue, the ball swung around the court, landed in Porter Jr.’s hands, and he splashed home a 3-pointer from the corner:
It was a great sign in the moment, we got to experience the wonderful shotmaking of MPJ right after mentioning it, but the way Mike has played this season is the best-case scenario for the Denver Nuggets.
Through four games, Michael Porter Jr. is averaging 18 points per game and 5.8 rebounds while hitting 51 percent of his field goals and a clean 50 percent of his 3-point attempts. No, that wasn’t a typo, he’s making half of his eight long-range shots a night and taking 9.9 per 36 minutes.
The high-scoring MPJ is back, he’s fully healthy, and if he can keep this up, he could help thrust this Denver Nuggets team into title contention.
How is Michael Porter Jr. scoring so well?
Michael Porter Jr. hasn’t had a bad game yet. Despite lowly team performances against the Utah Jazz and Portland Trail Blazers, the scoring wing is shooting the ball above 50 percent from the floor, and even in the Portland loss, he posted a negative-three plus-minus in a 25-point loss.
In a game where both the starters and bench units struggled to find efficient offense, MPJ was effective regardless who he shared the court with.
But that’s just who he can be. As a six-foot-ten shooting forward, Kevin Durant-esque, MPJ isn’t as impaired by defenders as most players, that’s a pretty wild comment to make in the world’s best basketball league.
Given his size, he can naturally finish well at the rim but he’s always on the lookout for his shot, either off the dribble or the catch. Nikola Jokic is one of the best passers in the league and after years of sharing the court together, he knows just where to find him.
In the above clip, Draymond Green has to help down on MPJ’s cut to the rim because Porter Jr.’s defender might not be able to stop him if he catches it under the rim. Like the Splash Brothers he’s matched up against, he doesn’t stop moving and makes the most of a distracted Klay Thompson.
Because of his size, he draws defensive attention no matter where he is. He’s not being treated as a small shooter running around the court.
Watch as Lu Dort, a great defender in his own right, climbs over the screen, forcing the MPJ inside but it doesn’t matter as he finishes beautifully at the rim:
MPJ’s a professional scorer and at full strength, he has confidence in his jump shot, he knows he can get it off over any defender, and it’s doing wonders for his efficiency both behind the arc and in the paint.
With Jamal Murray slowly rounding back into form, an elite MPJ as a second option behind Jokic is more than okay. For those playing at home, we only have 16 more games with Jamal being “really bad” before he’s back to his usual form according to Nikola Jokic’s preseason comments.
And if MPJ’s scoring wasn’t enough, he’s one of the better rebounders for his position. As the 24-year-old continues to mature, he should only get stronger at pulling down boards and finishing around the rim, an added bonus.
In the loss against the Portland Trail Blazers on Monday night, MPJ consistently found his way to the bottom of the net, tallying 18 points. Porter Jr. might not be a win-more offensive player, he could be a transcendent volume scorer who hits shots regardless of the game situation.
Michael Porter Jr. finally “cares” on defense
We’ve seen a healthy Michael Porter Jr. excel on offense but the knock on him has always been the defensive side of the ball. The sample size is small, but it appears as though this is being addressed in 2022-23.
Following the win against the Oklahoma City Thunder, head coach Michael Malone told Mike Singer, The Denver Post that he’s proud of MPJ’s improvement on that end:
"“I’m on him a lot about his defense, but I think being a coach in a leadership position, you also have to reward them when they’re doing things correctly and build the confidence up.“What Michael showed me is that, will he ever be Scottie Pippen? Probably not. I don’t want him to be Scottie Pippen. I want him to be the best version of Michael Porter Jr. he can be, and right now what he’s showing me is that he cares.”"
If MPJ can be passable on the defensive end, there’s a real pathway for this roster to be an elite team on both sides of the ball. If Porter Jr. can hold his own, then the defensive role players in Aaron Gordon, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, and Bruce Brown more than make up for any shortcomings the duo of Jokic and Murray make have.
Speaking with TJ McBride, Denver Stiffs after the OKC win, MPJ recognized his potential on that end:
"“I just know that I have it in me — even through all of the injuries — to be a good player on (the defensive) side of the floor. It is really just trying to get past that being the kind of thing that people talk about when they talk about me. I don’t want there to be a thing like ‘yeah, he is a good player, but…’ or, ‘he was a really good shooter, but…’. I do not want to hear that my whole career.”"
The Denver Nuggets are an even .500 after their first four games of the 2022-23 season but with promising signs from MPJ combined with a healthy roster, there’s reason for optimism.
Let’s hope the team can start establishing itself in a crowded Western Conference and by the time the NBA Finals roll around, my housemate is still listening to Michael Porter Jr. tickling the twine.