Kia Rookie Ladder

Kia Rookie Ladder: Denver gets glimpse of Michael Porter Jr.'s potential

Ranking of top five rookies in the NBA

It’s been a long time coming, but the Denver Nuggets are finally getting a good look at Michael Porter Jr.’s breakout potential.

Porter Jr., the No. 14 pick in the 2018 Draft who missed the entire 2018-19 season while recovering from back surgery, got his first start with the Nuggets on Sunday, and made the most of it.

Porter scored 19 points on 8-for-10 shooting while playing a career-high 26 minutes, filling in for Gary Harris to lead Denver to a 120-115 win over the Kings. Porter scored in a variety of ways, hitting several easy shots in the lane, a few smooth jumpers and capping it off with an emphatic putback dunk.

It was Porter’s first start since 2017, when he was at the University of Missouri, but he felt right at home.

”I was just wanting to blend with that starting group and do what I could on the court,” said Porter, who has struggled to find regular playing time. ”I feel less nervous starting just because you go straight from warming up into the game instead of sitting down and watching. It felt pretty natural.”

Porter has been a fan favorite in Denver, with the crowd cheering his every entrance as they look to grasp on any signs of him breaking out. Coach Michael Malone knows he’s got a future star in Porter, and that his time will come.

“I knew that Michael — if he is given minutes and given a chance to play — he is just too talented, the game comes too easy for him, especially offensively. I’ve seen a lot of growth recently on the defensive end of the floor,” Malone said after Sunday’s game.

“We’ve been struggling rebounding the basketball. He is so tall, so long, he helps run the glass. He’s coming along, I appreciate how patient he has been. I know it has not been easy, but he gets a chance to start tonight and I was excited about that opportunity for him. He went out and played great. That is just a glimpse of what is to come.”

Two nights later, Porter saw 11 minutes off the bench, scoring seven points and grabbing three rebounds in the Nuggets’ 130-104 loss to the Rockets.

It’s early, and the last three games might be an aberration, but the Nuggets will need a strong bench if they hope to make a deep playoff run. Porter Jr. could be just the guy they need to be contenders.

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1. Ja Morant, Memphis Grizzlies

Last edition: No. 1

Morant has seen his scoring numbers dip, but the Grizzlies are in the midst of a winning stretch that has them two games out of the 8th spot in the West. Over his past three games, Morant is averaging 10.7 points and 6.0 assists while shooting 46.4%. Most importantly, he’s playing under control: he’s got a 2.1 assist/turnover ratio in 2019-20.

2. Kendrick Nunn, Miami Heat

Last edition: No. 2

When you accomplish something faster than Dwyane Wade, you’re doing things right. Nunn became the fastest rookie in Heat history to score 500 points this week, hitting 504 in 31 career game (Wade got to 508 in his 32nd game). Nunn also became the fastest undrafted rookie since 1976 to reach 500 points. Nunn has averaged 13.2 points over his past five games, but his 3-point shooting has dipped a bit (28.6% in that span), which is something to keep an eye on.

3. Tyler Herro, Miami Heat

Last edition: No. 3

In the five games since our last Rookie Ladder, Herro has continued to put up efficient shooting numbers, hitting at a 43.6% clip overall and 44.4% on 3-pointers. His 13.7 ppg also ranks fifth among all rookies. Given that the Heat are in the thick of the Eastern Conference hunt, it’s no wonder the team has reportedly made him untouchable in any potential trade talks.

4. P.J. Washington, Charlotte Hornets

Last edition: Not ranked

After missing two weeks with a fractured finger, Washington returned Dec. 27 and hasn’t skipped a beat. In the three games back (all losses), Washington averaged 15.0 points and 4.7 rebounds while shooting 48.6% overall and 53.8% on 3-pointers. The Hornets are in a tailspin, having lost six straight, so Washington’s return could be the boost they need.

5. Brandon Clarke, Memphis Grizzlies

Last edition: No. 5

Clarke continues to put up big numbers while shooting at a ridiculously efficient rate. In his past four games, the No. 21 pick averaged 14.0 points while shooting 63.9% overall (3-for-6 on 3s). The Grizzlies finished December with an 8-8 record and are just two games out of 8th in the West, and Clarke is a big reason for that resurgence, thanks to his 64.5% shooting on the season.

Just missed the cut

Coby White, Chicago Bulls

Last 4 games (2-2 record): 16.0 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 52.1 FG%, 61.1 3FG%

Darius Garland, Cleveland Cavaliers

Last 5 games (3-2 record): 13.4 ppg, 2.6 rpg, 2.0 apg, 50.9 FG%, 39.1 3FG%

Terence Davis, Toronto Raptors

Last 7 games (4-3 record): 9.7 ppg, 4.7 rpg, plus/minus of plus-8.3, 52.2 FG%, 45.2 3FG%d

Michael Porter Jr., Denver Nuggets

Last 3 games (2-1 record): 12.3 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 2.0 apg, 65.2 FG%, 45.5 3FG%

RJ Barrett, New York Knicks

Last 6 games (3-3 record): 10.5 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 1.7 apg, 32.9 FG%, 37.5 3FG%

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(All stats through Wednesday, Jan. 1)

Send any questions or comments to my email or find me on Twitter @drewpackham .

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