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It's showtime: Michael Porter Jr. has arrived

Harrison Wind Avatar
January 3, 2020

Michael Porter Jr.’s high-arching step-back jump shot has always been lethal.

It’s Porter’s signature shot that followed him from Columbia, Missouri’s Father Talton Catholic High School, to Nathan Hale in Seattle, then to the University of Missouri, and finally to Denver.

It’s an unblockable weapon that’s always been predominantly featured in his arsenal.

Porter’s step-back jumper also served as the signature moment from his career night Thursday in Indiana. Midway through a third-quarter scoring spree from the rookie in the Nuggets 124-116 win over the Pacers, Porter caught the ball on the left wing having already scored Denver’s last six points. He pivoted to face his defender, Doug McDermott, put the ball between his legs and crossed over from right to left. Porter rocketed off his right foot, stepped back beyond the three-point line and calmly sunk his seventh basket of the night.

It was a move right out of Porter’s high school highlight reel.

Porter was in one of those zones Thursday, the type of rhythm that he’s only found on a couple rare occasions since he was stepping back on defenders at the prep level. This time it was McDermott who was stuck as Porter’s dance partner for a few moments before the Pacers’ forward became paralyzed by just how much ground the 6-foot-10 forward covered on his signature hop step.

Porter had 10 points on a perfect 4 of 4 shooting in the third quarter and eight more points in the fourth before the rookie exited for good with 4:20 left in regulation. Overall, he tallied a career-high 25 points on 10 of 11 shooting (2-3 from three-point range) and five rebounds.

Porter was doused in the locker room postgame by a Gatorade bucket filled with water and his teammates mobbed the rookie like he had just nailed a game-winning shot.

It was all warranted.

Porter had a strong first half but turned up the heat in the third quarter. He checked into the game with 6:26 remaining in the period and the Nuggets trailing 79-75. After a Jamal Murray basket Porter scored Denver’s next 10 points to trim Indiana’s advantage to one.

Nikola Jokic, who scored 20 of his 22 points in the second half and also finished with seven rebounds, closed out the Pacers in the fourth by scoring 12 of the Nuggets’ 32 points in the final quarter to secure Denver’s 24th victory of the season.

While Porter and Jokic did the heavy lifting on offense in the second half, it was Murray who’s 17 first-half points kept the Nuggets within striking distance over the first two quarters and only trailing by two points at the break. Murray finished the night with 22 points, five rebounds, and seven assists as he bounced back from four-straight games where he had struggled on the offensive end of the floor.

But this was Porter’s night.

In the lead-up to Thursday’s date with the Pacers, you could sense that a performance like this from Porter could be coming. He’s looked like a more confident offensive player since drawing the first start of his career Sunday against Sacramento and with more playing time has come more comfortability and poise from the rookie.

Over the last couple of games, Porter has looked to create and drive into the teeth of the defense instead of only posing in corner or on the wing as a standstill three-point shooter, which he was for the first couple months of the season. The Nuggets have been calling more plays for him as of late, and in Indiana went back to him one possession after another when it was clear that he had the hot hand.

The Nuggets can survive his lapses on defense (Porter was better than usual on that end against the Pacers) when he’s scoring like he is right now. Over Porter’s last four games he’s averaging 15.5 points in around 19 minutes per contest. He’s shooting a scalding 26 of 36 (72%) from the floor and 7 of 14 (50%) from 3 and 5.5 rebounds per game over his last four games too.

The 21-year-old is must-see TV. Monte Morris dubbed the rookie “Showtime” earlier this season and Porter is proving he’s exactly that.

Porter’s scoring Thursday also covered up the biggest problem area for the Nuggets so far this season. His offense, playmaking, and ability to make something out of nothing changes the dynamic of the Nuggets’ bench, a unit which has been a thorn in Denver’s side this year.

Despite Porter’s rising profile, the Murray-Gary Harris-Will Barton-Paul Millsap-Jokic starting lineup likely isn’t going anywhere. Based on Michael Malone’s rotations this season, Porter’s will still get a healthy amount of minutes with Jokic but his scoring ability off the bench is the perfect foil to the Nuggets’ equal-opportunity starting five. For most of the season, Denver’s bench has struggled to score consistently. Good thing that’s Porter’s M.O.

Jan. 2 2020 felt like a landmark moment in Porter’s young career and potentially the Nuggets’ trajectory as a franchise. For the most prolonged stretch of his rookie season, Porter looked like the smooth-scoring wing who compared himself to Giannis Antetokounmpo and Kevin Durant when he entered the draft. He again was the former top prospect in his class who was in the mix to be the first overall selection in 2018 before injuries sunk his stock. He resembled the offensive force the Nuggets thought they might have stolen at 14th overall two summers ago.

Porter looks like a part of the Nuggets’ future Thursday but also their present. He’s been a lights-out shooter as of late on a team that’s just 18th in the league in three-point percentage. His shot-making ability and near seven-foot frame helps him create offense out of thin air for a team that doesn’t posses a ton of 1-on-1 creators.

And that patented step-back? It’s unblockable and unguardable. But if it’s reliable, we’ll see it in heavy doses over the remainder of the season.

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