Denver Nuggets’ Michael Porter Jr.: I’ve got a long way to go
The comment made its rounds on social media moments after it dropped on Inside the NBA Thursday night.
“By the end of the season, [Michael Porter Jr. is] going to be the second-best player [on the Nuggets],” Charles Barkley said on the broadcast, following the Nuggets’ comeback, overtime win against the Warriors Thursday night.
Barkley, a former 11-time NBA All-Star, is known for his sometimes-outlandish hot takes in his role as a television analyst for TNT. To Porter Jr.’s credit, he admitted he appreciated the compliment from the Hall of Famer but acknowledged he’s got a lot of things he needs to work on as an NBA rookie.
“It’s high praise but in the end of the day, we’ve got a lot of good players on this team,” Porter Jr. said. “I’ve got a long way to go before I’m second. We’ve got Jamal [Murray], Will [Barton III] and Gary [Harris]. I’m not even starting, so I appreciate the praise, but I’ve got a long way to go.”
One thing that is certain is Porter Jr’s steady improvement on both ends of the floor. His scoring and shooting percentages continue to rise since November, going from 38.5 percent in November to 65.5 percent in January. The first-year player also appears to be more comfortable in the Nuggets’ defensive schemes and his rebounding has also improved each month. Denver’s head coach Michael Malone, who eased the rookie into the rotation, praised Porter Jr. for his steady progress.
“Michael’s feel for the game is improving, his defensive effort is improving and he’s playing at a high level, which is great to see,” Malone said at Saturday’s practice.
Porter’s offensive improvement has come from taking more attempts within the rhythm of the offense. In November and early on in December, Porter Jr. forced shots, according to Malone. Porter Jr.’s 25-point outing against the Pacers on Jan. 2, when he went 11 of 12 from the field, appeared to be a crucial moment in his development.
Although Porter Jr. logged just 12.5 minutes per contest in the four games after, when given a big opportunity against the Clippers on Jan. 12, he seized it. The 21-year-old would pour in 13 points in 19 minutes, adding four rebounds, a block and a steal in a Nuggets' victory. He’s been averaging 16.8 points per game while shooting 68.7 percent from downtown to go along with 7.3 boards, 1.7 steals in Denver's three games since. More impressively, Porter Jr. continues to address weaknesses in his game head-on. Prior to the contest against the Warriors Thursday, he had more turnovers (24) than assists (14) on the season. Afforded the opportunity to play extended minutes with franchise center Nikola Jokić against the Warriors, Porter Jr. showed he can be an effective facilitator, dropping five dimes to go along with his 18 points, 10 boards and two steals in his first career double-double.
“I think he’s an underrated playmaker. I think the great thing that he’s showing is ‘Hey, I’m not just an elite scorer,’ Malone said. “He’s proven he’s a very effective rebounder, his defensive discipline has really improved, and it gets better almost every game.
He added, “Offensively, he can create his own shot whenever he wants but when he draws two to the ball, he’s very unselfish and he finds the open man. He’s the complete basketball player and that’s why his future is so bright.”
With Porter Jr. getting more playing time, he acknowledged defenses are beginning to scheme against him. He knows it’s his responsibility to make the right play.
“At this point, I just try to take what the defense gives me,” Porter Jr. said. “If two come at me, I make an easy pass. Nikola is such a big presence, if you find him around the hoop, you know he’s going to score…Around the hoop, last night [Thursday], they were collapsing so I had easy outlets in Mason [Plumlee] and Nikola. “
As Porter Jr. continues to develop, the odds are he will get more chances to play alongside Jokić. Malone pointed to the size advantage the Nuggets have when the 6-foot-10 Porter Jr is on the court with the 6-11 Mason Plumlee and 7-0 Jokić.
“You just got tremendous size and length out there and that’s always a positive,” Malone said.
Porter Jr. added: “I love playing with Nikola, when you’re on the court with him, you know he’s going to make the right play and that you don’t have to work too much. I think he assisted me for eight of my points, maybe more so. I love playing with him, he’s a great player to play with.”
Porter Jr. also said Jokić has also given him some pointers on where to be on the court and where to pass to. Porter Jr.’s receptiveness and attention to detail haven’t gone unnoticed in the Nuggets locker room.
“He’s a young guy so he’s always learning, and I love being a leader to him,” Malik Beasley said at Saturday’s practice. “Just teaching him things because I know he can be special. For him to look up to me, I’m only two years older than him so that’s pretty cool. But he’s been working really [hard] and he’s been willing to learn. A player like that you got to credit him.”
With three starters (Murray, Paul Millsap and potentially Harris) out to due to injury, Porter Jr. is among several players who will have an opportunity to play extended minutes Sunday against the Pacers. He knows this is a good opportunity to showcase what he can bring to a Nuggets team that is expected to contend this season.
“I know I’ll be playing a lot,” he said. “They’ll be calling on me to score and make plays [for others] so I just have to be ready every single game.”