Denver Nuggets' Michael Porter Jr. enjoying first official training camp

by Alex Labidou
Nuggets.com Staff Writer
@LabidouA

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. -- It was an 11-second moment that made its rounds on social media. In a clip posted by the NBA Tuesday, Michael Porter Jr. bounced a pass to Tyler Zeller, who fed the rookie on a give-and-go near the basket. Then, in a split-second, Porter Jr., who looked completely undaunted by a double team from Gary Harris and Nikola Jokić at the rim, went in for a thunderous slam. Those in attendance at the basketball courts at U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Center went wild.

What is frightening is Porter Jr. appeared to be unfazed by the moment, which received almost 2,000 retweets and 15,000 likes on Bleacher Report's Twitter account.

“It was cool, I didn’t think it was that crazy,” Porter Jr. said Wednesday. “People kept sending it to me, but yeah, it was just a regular thing.”

It is that ice-cold scoring ability that made Porter Jr. an easy selection for the Nuggets with the No. 14 pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, despite some concerns over his injury history. Since Porter Jr. was essentially redshirted in his first season as he worked his way back, this is his first official training camp. So far, he’s certainly had his share of growing pains as he tries to adjust to an atypical situation for a highly-touted rookie.

While most lottery picks have room for mistakes on rebuilding teams, Porter Jr. joins a deep roster that won 54 games last season. If he’s going to play, he’s going to have to fit in and earn minutes. In training camp, there have been moments of brilliance like Tuesday’s dunk and then there are times where he’s still trying to learn the Nuggets’ offensive and defensive sets.

“Michael is a great kid, he really is, but he’s going to do some things that are going to make my hair and beard get a little bit grayer,” Nuggets head coach Michael Malone said jokingly Wednesday.

Jokić has been impressed with what he’s seen from Porter Jr. so far, but gave a detailed explanation of where the forward needs to improve.

“He’s really talented, but he’s still learning,” Jokić said Wednesday. “Like you can see him looking for the basics of where he’s supposed to be [on plays].”

Jokic explained Porter Jr. won’t need much time to adjust due to his vast potential, but said the 21-year-old's ability to think on the fly, especially on cuts, will get better as he gets used to the Nuggets’ system. Porter Jr. was arguably the top high school prospect in the nation and he won the McDonald’s All-American MVP in 2017. He’s used to having offenses tailored to his strengths as a scorer, but it will be his off-the-ball skill and defense that will determine his time this season on the Nuggets. Porter Jr., for his part, appears excited to play with a unique facilitator in Jokic.

“It’s crazy, sometimes you won’t even think he’s looking at you, but then he’ll throw a perfect pass to you,” Porter Jr. said. “Like he told me I could be the best cutter on the team because I can finish above the rim. Nikola has such good vision so I just have to keep moving.”

Despite Porter Jr.’s obvious talent, he is competing for minutes in arguably the Nuggets’ deepest position on the roster: Small forward. Torrey Craig is an impressive defender who continues to improve offensively, Will Barton is one of the team’s most versatile players and Juancho Hernangómez is a long-range threat who can help keep defenses honest. But considering how far Porter Jr. has come, battling several injuries over the past two years, he’s appreciative of being able to finally participate in a training camp and raring to go for potentially his first NBA action – next Tuesday’s preseason game against the Trail Blazers.

“We have such a great team already. I’m a first-year player, [I] don’t know everything that’s going on. I probably won’t get the huge role that I want off the bat,” Porter Jr. said. “Every player started slow. I mean look at Kawhi [Leonard] when he was first in San Antonio [with the Spurs]. So for me, it’s about being mature, accepting my role and excelling in that.”

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