MPJ is poised for an even bigger role this season… will he live up to the hype?
Michael Porter Jr. might be the most intriguing player on the Nuggets. He certainly has the most raw talent. And he’s the player who’s development this season and beyond will most determine if the Nuggets ever end up reaching their ceiling by winning the NBA championship or if they will simply remain a regular season juggernaut that can’t get over the hump.
Porter’s career in Denver has been a whirlwind, but when given the opportunities to play he’s more than delivered. In his second full season in 2020-21, MPJ averaged 19 points, 7.3 rebounds and shot 44.5% from three and finished third in Most Improved Player voting. Porter became even more valuable after Jamal Murray went down. In the 17 regular season games following Murray’s injury Porter ‘s scoring average jumped to 23.7 points on 47.1% from deep, helping the Nuggets to secure the three seed and ultimately defeat Portland in the first round.
The Nuggets expect that sort of output from MPJ as they head into 2021-22 with Murray still sidelined. Porter is now the clear second option behind Nikola Jokic and will bear that responsibility as opposing teams scheme to limit his effectiveness on offense and continue to target him on defense. It also comes with a new price tag worth up to $207 million starting next year from the extension signed this offseason. For better or for worse, Porter’s success will now be measured against his paycheck. If he’s deemed worthy of that kind of money, the Nuggets will be in a great place for years to come.
The best case scenario for MPJ is that he makes yet another leap on both ends of the floor this season. We already know he’s a walking bucket, but if his preseason stats are any indication this is going to be a very good year: 19.5 points, 5.5 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 53.8% 3P% on 6.5 attempts, all in just 24 minutes of playing time. Extrapolate those 24 minutes to the 35+ minutes he’ll actually play and holy shit.
If Porter’s ballhandling continues to improve so he can create his own scoring opportunities his value to Denver will skyrocket. If he catches one more pass per game under the basket without the ball going right through his hands that’s another scoring possession for Denver. It’s not unreasonable to think that Porter could average at least 25 points per game within the flow of the Nuggets offense, which spoiler alert, is going to be really good.
Defense will forever be a sticking point, but with Michael Malone behind the bench there’s no way Porter won’t be making strides on that end of the floor. Having defenders like Aaron Gordon and PJ Dozier around really help to mitigate any ineffectiveness Porter might have. Still, we should be surprised if Porter isn’t playing the best defense of his life this season.
It sucks that this is where we’re at 1.5 years into the pandemic, but the reality is that Porter’s vaccination status will loom over the team (it’s unclear whether or not he’s the only unvaccinated player on the Nuggets, but he is only one whose unvaccinated status was made public). Per the latest 2021-22 NBA protocols, any unvaccinated player who is deemed to have been in close contact with someone who has tested positive will face a mandatory seven-day quarantine. Guidance on what happens if an unvaccinated player tests positive is unclear at this time, but last year it meant up to a 10-day waiting period.
Given Porter’s Covid history (he tested positive once right before the bubble and once two weeks into last season) and how much the team travels etc. it seems inevitable that at some point this could be an issue, especially given the contact tracing rules. With many teams already fully vaccinated, including Western Conference rivals such as the Lakers and the Jazz, this could end up becoming a competitive disadvantage for Denver.
The Nuggets are absolutely relying on Porter to play the biggest role he’s had thus far, and potentially losing him for 7-10 days at random could be pivotal, especially if it occurs later in the season or heaven forbid the playoffs. It’s anyone guess what the NBA and Covid-19 landscape will be like over the course of the season, but worst case is Porter does miss time and it negatively affects the team and his shot at personal accolades.
MPJ will be an All-Star. He’s has always had the cult following, and this year he will finally have the stats to back it up – including a 50-point game at some point to really draw the attention to himself.