Denver Nuggets Season Preview: Can Michael Porter Jr. contend for Rookie of the Year?

by Alex Labidou
Nuggets.com Staff Writer
@LabidouA

Michael Porter Jr. faces a unique situation as a former lottery pick on an NBA contender. 

Porter Jr. was one of the most anticipated prospects in the 2018 NBA Draft before being selected with the No. 14 pick. It is likely he would have been selected with one of the top three picks of that draft class, if there hadn’t been concerns about injuries suffered in high school and college. After a year of waiting, Porter Jr. will enter the 2019-20 NBA campaign as one of the most hyped first-year players in the league. However, while most lottery picks enter rebuilding situations with a high probability of playing, Porter Jr. has no such guarantee on a team that won 54 games last season.  

If the former McDonalds All-American MVP wants to play, he’ll have to earn his minutes by buying into Nuggets head coach Michael Malone’s system. If he does, he could be in the conversation for Rookie honors, whether that be Rookie of the Year or all-rookie team. He definitely showed some positive signs in the preseason. 

Although Porter Jr. finished 38th in minutes played by rookies in the preseason, he was tied for 24th in scoring (9.3 ppg), 15th in rebounding (4.0) and shot 55.1 percent – higher than two of the first three picks of the draft in Ja Morant (43.9) and RJ Barrett (46.3). While it is unlikely Porter Jr. will be able to get the minutes or touches on offense Zion Williamson, Morant or Barrett will receive, being a highly-efficient rookie on a contender could pay dividends. Malcolm Brogdon, the 2017 NBA Rookie of the Year, earned his recognition over the Sixers’ rookie pair of Dario Saric and Joel Embiid, due to being an impact role player on both sides of the floor for the playoff-bound Bucks. 

Scoring comes easy for Porter Jr., but it will be his potential ability on the other side of the floor that will get him minutes. 

READ MORE: Nuggets.com full season preview

“My biggest takeaway is he’s got to give the defensive end just as much attention to detail as he does on the offensive end,” Malone said after Porter Jr.’s debut in the Nuggets’ first preseason game. “He’s a gifted scorer and he can make big, big shots in tough spots but he’s got to be locked in on defensive end. If he does that, he’s got a chance to be an excellent player.”

On Tuesday morning ahead of the team’s trip to Portland, Malone explained it’s his role to help develop Porter Jr. and ensure he’s getting the experience needed to reach his potential. But he also insisted, it won’t happen either night. 

“My job is to find a way to squeeze him into it at some point,” Malone said. “I recognize the potential he has, I recognize the talent and the chance for him to be a special player. My job is at some point to get him minutes, so he can grow. He can not grow this year without playing. Does that mean he’s going to play tomorrow night [Opening night vs. the Trail Blazers]? Not at all. There’s 82 games and a lot can happen in those games where I find ways to get him in. ” 

He added, “I told him if you’re not playing right away, stay with me, keep working, stay hungry. Watch and learn. Sacrifice is a big part of it, you can only play so many guys. We have a lot of talented players who have won us games…I want to make sure that he’s earning anything that’s given to him, which he’s done so far. I learned my lesson years ago with certain players that giving a player something [without earning it] is only going to retard their development. Earn it.”  

Porter Jr. has the potential to be elite, but he can look at Brodgon’s initial impact to potentially carve a role for himself on a deep team. If he does, he could be among the first-year standouts to gain recognition at the end of the season. 

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