Denver Nuggets Friday Film Study: Analyzing the Jokić-Porter Jr. combination

by Eric Spyropoulos
Staff Writer
@EricSpyrosNBA

Good things come to those who wait.

For the Denver Nuggets and their fans, that old adage can be applied to Michael Porter Jr.’s situation, as he first sat out the 2018-19 season to recover from previous injuries before he was slowly integrated into the team’s rotation a few months ago.

The progression was gradual at first, but the 21-year-old rookie forward has come on strong in recent weeks and has forced his way into a more prominent role in Denver’s rotation. The combination of his strong play and the injuries the Nuggets are dealing with throughout the rotation, has thrusted man on a consistent basis throughout January.

As a result of this larger role, the former 14th overall pick in the 2018 draft has put up impressive numbers this month. Porter Jr. has averaged nearly 12 points and 5.8 rebounds per game in 20.1 minutes per contest. What’s even more impressive is the 6’10” forward’s efficiency, as he has shot 46.2 percent from beyond the arc and owns a 70.3 true shooting percentage in January.

An increase in playing time has coincided with more minutes that Porter Jr. has spent alongside the Nuggets’ franchise centerpiece, Nikola Jokić. Although it took time for the two to get used to playing with each other earlier in the year, the combination has provided some impressive numbers and baskets in recent games.

Although Jokić hasn’t directly assisted on many of Porter Jr.’s baskets, the minutes the two have shared together on the court have shown a glimpse into how good Denver’s offense can be with both on the floor at the same time.

According to Cleaning the Glass, Porter Jr. and Jokić have shared the court on 302 possessions this season (this is where I make a “small sample size!” warning). Four separate lineups have made up those possessions, with two of them doing well and the other two struggling quite a bit (again, small sample size).

What’s clear in the grand scheme of things is that the Nuggets’ offense has been downright unstoppable in these moments. As you can see below, Denver has had a 129.5 offensive rating when Porter Jr. and Jokić have been on the court together, which would blow away the best offensive rating of all time by over 12 points per 100 possessions. As a result of the dominant offense, lineups with both Jokić and Porter Jr. have posted a +10.8 net-rating this season, good for the 94th percentile.

Now let’s take a look at what has made those lineups so successful on offense. There are three key aspects of Porter Jr.’s game that make him an ideal fit alongside Denver’s Serbian big man: cutting, finishing around the basket and 3-point shooting.

Cutting and finishing at the rim

Porter Jr. has showcased his ability to read the floor and willingness to cut towards the basket throughout the season, usually with Mason Plumlee serving as the playmaking big man in those lineups. However, against the Golden State Warriors last week, Porter Jr. came off an off-ball screen and cut to the rim with purpose, thus opening him up for the easy dunk coming off a feed from Jokić.

While that play was rather straightforward, Porter Jr.’s cutting ability this season has to inspire confidence for the Nuggets and their fans given Jokić’s propensity to find cutters and the rookie’s ability to finish around the basket at an elite level.

On the season, the former Missouri Tiger has shot 77.3 percent around the rim, where nearly 37 percent of his shot attempts have come from. Lineups with both Porter Jr. and Jokić have attacked the basket often, as 38.9 percent of the shot attempts have come at the rim, good for the 85th percentile. In those situations, those lineups have converted at a 73.7 percent clip, which is in the 100th percentile.

3-point shooting and floor-spacing

However, players need to not only know when to cut while playing alongside Jokić. When Denver’s All-Star big man has it going in the post, he also needs willing and capable 3-point shooters that will either space the floor for him to go to work in the post or knockdown open 3-pointers after opponents double team him. Porter Jr. has certainly checked both boxes this season.

On the year, the 21-year-old forward has shot 40.6 percent from beyond the arc. Given his size and silky jump shot, Porter Jr. is able to shoot over defenders and projects to be an above-average shooter throughout his career, which will be much-needed in Denver’s offense.

Against Golden State, Porter Jr. went 3-of-3 from beyond the arc, with Jokić assisting him on two of those long balls in the second half as the Nuggets came back from 19 points down to win in overtime.

It’s also notable that both 3-pointers came from the corners, where Porter Jr. has shot 46.7 percent this season. If Denver’s prized rookie can continue to knockdown 3-pointers at this level, he will be welcomed sight for Jokić when the two share the court.

In the grand scheme of things, the sample size is still very small for the Jokić-Porter Jr. combination. However, what has been clearly shown in those minutes is that Porter Jr. projects to be an ideal supporting player for Jokić on the offensive end given his 3-point shooting and cutting (and we haven’t even mentioned his elite rebounding capabilities – the lineups with both on the floor have posted a 34.7 offensive rebound percentage, good for the 99th percentile).

As the 2019-20 season progresses, Denver will be focused on maximizing their regular season success in order to have good positioning for the playoffs. However, along the way, a potential dynamic duo may be forming in the form of Porter Jr. and Jokić.

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