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The Far-Reaching Potential Impact of Drafting Michael Porter Jr.
Fueled by a point to prove, yet guided by the patience to take the time to prove it, Nuggets’ first-round draft pick Michael Porter Jr. arrived in Denver last week ready to get to work.
“I’m just one of those players that can do everything on the basketball floor,” he said. “I feel like when I’m on the floor, you always have a chance to win. I think I can get my shot off on anybody, whenever I want. …And I’m a winner, I love playing with unselfish players and I’ll do whatever it takes to win.”
The Nuggets are very interested in winning.
With 86 combined victories in the last two seasons, the Nuggets’ stated next step is to make the postseason in 2018-19. But this is about more than just getting into the tournament. This is about eventually becoming a contending team. Through solid drafting in the last four years, they have already put together the foundation of what can become an upper echelon Western Conference team. The addition of Porter Jr. gives the Nuggets a chance to realistically one day have one of the most talented teams in the NBA. We’re talking about the difference between being good or being great.
And all by players acquired through the draft.
Which, in this NBA, is becoming essential as collective bargaining rules make it easier for any team to keep their draft picks, and endorsement/multimedia opportunities aren’t reserved for those who live in Los Angeles or New York. Drafting and growing top-tier talent has become the new blueprint in the NBA.
Oklahoma City and Golden State are the best examples of drafted talent that helped the franchise ascend to the highest of heights. The Thunder, in a span of three years, drafted Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Serge Ibaka and James Harden – and rode that quartet to the NBA Finals. Those, however, were all lottery picks – all top five picks, in fact – with the exception of Ibaka, who was the 24th pick in the same 2008 pick that produced Westbrook.
What the Nuggets have done, draft-wise, resembles Golden State more than Oklahoma City, if Denver ends up winning big in future years. The Warriors drafted Stephen Curry seventh overall in 2009, Klay Thompson 11th overall in 2011 and Draymond Green in the second round, 35th overall, in 2012. Those three led Golden State to a title in 2015, and then to 73 wins and back to the NBA Finals the following season. The Philadelphia 76ers drafted their core of Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons and Dario Saric. Those three were instrumental in getting the Sixers to the second-round of the playoffs in the just-ended season.
The Nuggets have a chance to add themselves to that list. And it took a night of good fortune to have the chance to nab him.
“It was fantastic,” said Tim Connelly, Nuggets president of basketball operations. “We had doctors in the room, training staff in the room, Coach Malone and we all kind of looked around and that’s the kind of risk we have to take to get an elite talent.”
If Porter Jr. reaches the potential predicted of him, the Nuggets have a chance to create a dominating offensive team – along the lines of Golden State – exactly the same way the Warriors did it; through the draft. The Nuggets’ top three scorers on a 46-win team last season were all draftees – Nikola Jokić (41st overall in the second round), Jamal Murray (seventh overall), and Gary Harris (19th overall). In time, Porter Jr. could add himself to that list.
And that would make this the best run of drafting the Nuggets have had in franchise history.
The only other period that could be argued is from 1990-93, when the Nuggets selected Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, Dikembe Mutombo and LaPhonso Ellis in successive years. Those three helped the Nuggets to the league’s first 8-over-1 upset, beating the Western Conference’s top seed, the Seattle SuperSonics, in the 1993 NBA Playoffs.
The first step is getting the team back to the playoffs. And both Nuggets coach Michael Malone, in a May interview with Altitude Sports, and Connelly in a pre-draft interview with assembled media, both said postseason is next season’s directive after near misses in successive seasons.
“This coming offseason into next year, we need to be a playoff team,” Malone said. “Coming close is exciting. We’ve seen growth, we’ve seen great improvement and that’s all fine and dandy. But now we need to see results.”
Time will tell if Porter Jr. is part of that equation in the upcoming season or not. He’s got a few levels to get through to be ready to play. First is health. In an interview with Altitude Sports he said he is trending in the right direction, but will be patient with the process of making certain his back and hip and all that accompany it are 100 percent and not in danger of suffering lengthy setbacks.
Then, he’s got to get in basketball shape and get acquainted with the speed of the pro game. That’s not an easy task. And none of it can be sped through.
“We have some of the best trainers and doctors in the world in Denver,” Connelly said. “They are confident. I think we have a plan in place. I think we are going to be extremely patient, we are going to take the long view with everything we do with him. He was there certainly because there were concerns about the health of his back.”
Christopher Dempsey: firstname.lastname@example.org and @chrisadempsey on Twitter