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(Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images)

Michael Porter Jr. is leveling up... just in time for the postseason

Matt Brooks
Writer & Digital Content Specialist

Remember when the Denver Nuggets tore through the 2023 postseason, going 16-4? They're on that type of run again.

The Nuggets are 11-1 since the All-Star Break, the best record in the NBA in that span. They're outscoring teams by 11.4 points per 100 possessions, the second-best post-All-Star net rating. This hasn't been a soft stretch of their schedule, either; 7 of those 12 opponents had winning records, and the Nuggets are now 24-16 against above .500 teams. That's a top-four record in the NBA.

Nikola Jokić looks like the best player in the world and sure seems on track to grab his third regular season MVP. Jamal Murray is rounding into playoff form. Aaron Gordon is the ultimate connective tissue; his chemistry with Jokić might be better than ever.

But the X-Factor has been Michael Porter Jr.

Porter Jr. has come out of February's break on a mission. He's averaging 19.9 points and 7.6 rebounds per game on 55 percent from the field, 42.4 percent from three-point land, and 93.8 percent from the free-throw line. Before the break, Mike averaged 15.9 points per game on 47/39.4/79.1 percent shooting splits.

Two of his three 30-point games this season have occurred in this impressive 12-game stretch. He's been Denver's leading scorer in four of Denver's twelve post-All-Star games after doing so just twice in the previous 55 games.

Porter Jr.'s a shooter. One of the best in the world, to be precise. He's made an asinine 47.8 percent of his 6.6 three-pointers per game in March. 46.7 percent of his post-All-Star catch-and-shoot threes have been successful.

Shooting video game numbers from behind the arc has coerced tighter, more aggressive closeouts from opponents, and that's given MPJ room to display one of the most improved facets of his game: his skills off the bounce.

Mike's control in "catch-and-go" situations has gotten significantly better. Against hard closeouts, he'll take 1-to-3 dribbles and fire up a midrange jumper.

He's been especially proficient from the left elbow. That appears to be a comfort zone of his. His shot chart, courtesy of NBA Stats, certainly indicates that. Larger hexagons represent a higher shot frequency and blue indicates his shooting percentage compared to the league average. MPJ's taking a good amount of these left elbow jumpers, and he's making a ton of them.

MPJ's shooting 53 percent from 14 feet to the three-point line, which Cleaning the Glass qualifies as the "long midrange." That represents a career-high for him. But the long midrange isn't the only aspect of his in-between game that's absolutely flourishing. He's shown increased confidence in a newly brandished floater.

Porter Jr. is shooting 46 percent from 4-to-14 feet, or what CTG qualifies as the "short midrange." Typically, that's where players take floaters and hook shots. Mike is not a post-up player, so this number is almost entirely representative of the effectiveness of his runner. His accuracy from the short midrange ranks in the 66th percentile, well above average.

That right-handed push shot is the perfect antidote to when defenders overrun him on the perimeter—understandable, by the way, given that he's averaging 9 points from the three-point line since the All-Star break. He can hoist that floater from pretty far out, too, sometimes from just under the free-throw line.

"Sometimes, when you can't get all the way to the rim, that little touch-shot is something I've just tried to add a little bit," Porter Jr. said in February. "It's definitely a good shot for me. It's just something I've been trying to add."

Porter Jr. went on to say that his height, a full 6'10, undoubtedly helps. He's much closer to the basket than the average small forward, giving him more breathing room with the touch-shot.

"I'm right by the rim. If I just get the right touch, it's gonna fall. You can shoot it a lot," Porter Jr. said. "You don't have to be as accurate because, with the soft touch, you can bounce around the rim a little bit."

MPJ's in-between game isn't the only thing that's shown sizable growth. His game film is littered with crafty passes over the last handful of weeks, and we have a year's worth of tape showing he's an impactful secondary rim protector and a sturdy on-ball defender. He's no longer a guy you can hunt defensively. The Nuggets have no weak links; it's why they're a top-10 defense for the first time in the Jokić era.

Porter Jr. missed all of Denver's preseason with an ankle sprain. He told reporters that injury lingered in the first few months of the season. Still, he pushed through, which brings us to maybe his most impressive statistic of all.

MPJ's played in 66 of Denver's 67 total games. Absolutely remarkable for a player who underwent three separate back surgeries before the age of 23.

Averaging just a shade under 20 points per game since the break puts Porter Jr. in an elite class. He's one of the best third-scoring options in the league. But even if he's (understandably) unable to keep it up at this ridiculous pace, his improvement as an offensive player takes Denver's ceiling a level higher.

Porter Jr. has grown this season by getting better at what he's already good at, and he's added some little things. He remains one of the best shooters on planet Earth whose spacing is indispensable, but now, he's added counters to aggressive three-point defenses. He's not a guy you can just run off the three-point line thanks to his trusty pull-up midrange game and buttery floater.

That should terrify other teams. You're adding more scoring possibilities to an offense that was 0.1 points away from averaging 120 points per 100 possessions last postseason, the second-best offensive rating by an NBA champion ever.

Porter Jr. was always the biggest remaining swing piece on their roster, especially in its cohesive and dominant starting lineup. His continued growth could be the difference in turning this one-time champion into a full-fledged dynasty.