Photo by Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images
The Nuggets rookie forward spoke out after Game Four about his role in the offense, bringing to the surface issues that normally stay in the locker room.
Michael Porter Jr. finished the first half with 15 points on six field goal attempts, scoring inside and out, but only attempted two field goal attempts in 17 second half minutes as the Nuggets lost 96-85 to drop to 1-3 in their series against Kawhi Leonard and the Clippers. The 85 points scored in the game is the second-lowest point total of the playoffs for them, with their Game 7 80-78 win over the Utah Jazz being the only other game where they scored fewer points.
In Porter Jr.’s opinion, what was the reason for his scoreless second half in the loss?
“I just didn’t touch the ball. They didn’t do anything differently.”
Porter Jr. continued by saying, “That is up to the playcalling, the coaches and whose hands they want to put the ball in. We kept going to [Jokic] and [Murray] and they are two amazing players, but I just think to beat them we need to get more players involved. We have to move the ball a little bit better. We can’t be predictable against that team.”
When Mike Singer of the Denver Post asked him a follow-up question to that comment, Porter doubled down on his opinion that he needs more shots.
“I think if I am going to be out there on the floor playing a lot of minutes, I think I should voice that,” he said. “I will probably talk to the coaches and tell them what I see being out there on the floor just letting them know, look, they know what we are doing. We have to swing the ball. We have a lot of players that can play basketball and score, so we have to get some more guys involved.”
Well, can’t put that toothpaste back in the tube.
Coach Michael Malone recognized that they had issues on offense against the Clippers in Game Four too.
“We have to be a hell of a lot better on offense. I have to help our guys more. They’re just dogging, and hounding Jamal Murray, and it’s been really hard to get him open for quality looks. I have to get him easier looks … obviously we’re struggling right now.”
“It’s too bad that we couldn’t find a rhythm offensively, and when we did find a rhythm, and we did find open shots, we just weren’t able to knock them down.”
When asked about Michael Porter Jr., Malone was complementary of the rookie’s contributions, but focused in on the need to get him involved.
“He’s another guy we need to find a way to get open looks for.”
Is MPJ right or wrong?
If you listen to guys like Damian Lillard, then yes, Porter Jr. was wrong to say that, regardless of saying it to the media or to his teammates. If you listen to fans that have called for Coach Malone to be dismissed for years, then Porter Jr. was right to say that. There’s a middle ground where MPJ was right to say that, but wrong to voice it in a press conference while casually snacking in front of a bunch of television cameras.
In my opinion, MPJ isn’t entirely wrong, but he definitely made a choice to say that during media availability. Part of it can be excused to inexperience, but I don’t think that MPJ is the kind of guy that wouldn’t repeat those comments if he had spent the last two years being trained on how to talk to the media. He’s a person with firm opinions on things in life, and he’s not going to be cowed into silence by others.
It will be interesting to see how his teammates respond to his comments. He specifically mentioned Jokic and Murray, and while he was recognizing their talent, they may not take it as a compliment. A veteran like Paul Millsap may not appreciate a rookie basically saying that his field goal attempts aren’t as important as the rookie’s, but Millsap is also on an expiring contract. A guy that fought just to get a chance to be in the NBA like Torrey Craig may not appreciate what is a selfish opinion from someone that is much younger than he is.
All that is speculation though — I’m not in the locker room, and I don’t know those players. What I know is what I see on the court, and what I see on the court is a rookie who is already one of the best players on the Nuggets at being able to score the basketball. There are other tools that he needs to work on – for example, he has played 279 minutes in the playoffs and has eight assists – but for a team that struggles at times to convert open looks on offense, getting Porter Jr. the ball seems like an obvious solution to that problem.
The odds of the Nuggets coming back from a 3-1 deficit in this series are zero — this isn’t a team in the Clippers that won a couple games this series because of historic shooting percentages that will drop back down to earth with a defensive adjustment. But Porter Jr.’s comments highlight a bigger issue that has roots from months earlier in the season.
There’s a quote that I like, which says, “When the time for decision arrives, the time for preparation is past.” The Nuggets failures now are because of a lack of preparation by the coaching staff earlier in the season. The failure to recognize Porter Jr.’s ability to contribute to the offense and figure out ways to make him a bigger part of the team are bearing fruit now when they can’t run plays for him because his teammates aren’t used to having to execute with him. The failure to find ways to adapt to his defensive inexperience now in the postseason are because they didn’t test ways to keep him on the court when there wasn’t a limit on the number of losses available.
The Nuggets offense has become more predictable over the past few seasons. As the team has identified the talent of Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokic, it’s made more sense to run more things through those two players. But the front office was able to find an incredibly gifted offensive player in the draft, and for some reason, the coaching staff hasn’t been able to figure out how to add another scorer to their rotation.
The big picture with the Nuggets hasn’t changed because of Game Four or a series loss to the Los Angeles Clippers. This is a very talented team, with a collection of young stars that has enough talent to get the Nuggets closer to their goal of winning a championship than any other team they’ve had in their franchise history. The challenge for the next season, which may very well start Friday evening, is figuring out how to be more creative offensively and help Michael Porter Jr. figure out how to fit in with the rest of the core, not fit out as he currently does.
This might be who Michael Porter Jr. is — an extremely talented player who speaks up when he’s frustrated. You may not like that he talks a big game, but in my opinion, he has the talent to back up what he’s saying. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that if he stays healthy, he could be a player that averages 28 points a game. He could be a really special scorer and a huge win for the franchise after they gambled on him in the 2018 draft. But if he’s going to be that player, it’s up to the coaching staff to figure out how to best take advantage of his talents while he’s on the roster.
For now, they just have to take things one day at a time.