Michael Porter Jr. was on fire to open the first quarter of the Nuggets’ win over the Bulls two nights ago. He sunk his first three shots of the game, two of which were 3s, and scored eight of Denver’s first 11 points.
He was on a heater, so Michael Malone let him cook. Instead of subbing Porter out for Bruce Brown at the six-minute mark of the first quarter, a move Malone has gone to over the last couple of weeks so that Porter can stagger with the Nuggets’ bench, Denver’s coach kept Porter on the floor. Jamal Murray went to the bench in Porter’s place to later play with the second unit and Porter kept scoring.
Here’s what we learned at Nuggets practice on Tuesday: We’re going to see more of that flexibility within Malone’s rotation going forward. If Porter opens the first quarter hot, Malone is going to keep him on the floor and Brown will sub in for Murray. If Porter doesn’t, he’ll go to the bench for Brown and stagger with the second unit. There’s room in-between those two extremes for Malone to read the game and how he wants his rotation to look that night, but that’s generally how he’ll go into each night.
“Let’s keep on feeding that,” Malone said Tuesday. “Feed the fire.”
Porter’s a fan of that approach. He said that he was going to ask Malone about potentially keeping him on the floor in the first quarter if he was feeling it, but Malone made that move anyway in Chicago. He might be making that move a lot more going forward too. Porter leads the Nuggets in first-quarter scoring at 6.8 points per game. He’s shooting a staggering 58% from the field and 59.4% from 3 in first quarters too.
Keeping Porter on the floor later into first quarters also gives Murray more opportunities to play with Denver’s second unit. Murray has played 32, 35, 30 and 32 minutes in his last four games. It feels like his minute restriction (at least on normal rest) is climbing higher and higher. The Nuggets can now experiment more with his role and what lineups he’s playing within. Denver likes the prospect of playing Murray more off the ball next to Brown or Bones Hyland on the second unit. Hyland has missed the last two games in health and safety protocols and his status for Wednesday’s home game vs. the Knicks is up in the air.
Malone also lauded Porter’s discipline on both ends of the floor at Tuesday’s practice. He’s been impressed by Porter’s shot selection, off-ball movement, and the effort he’s been putting forth defensively. It’s been an obvious development this season. You can really sense that Porter’s making an effort to play the right way. He’s fitting into the Nuggets’ starting five and has bought into the Jokic Ball system. I dove into his developing chemistry with Jokic earlier this week. I’ve never seen Jokic trust Porter more than he did in Chicago.
“I can score within the flow of the offense without taking tons of dribbles and isolation. I’ve just got to be moving,” Porter said. “When I go into a game focused on that, then it just kind of comes to me.”
Porter will have a chance to follow up his season-high 31 points against the Bulls in the Nuggets’ first home game in 10 days on Wednesday night. Denver went 3-1 on its recent four-game road trip that included wins over the Spurs, Pacers and Bulls and a loss in Boston to the Celtics.
The Nuggets took care of business. They beat the teams they should have and lost to a Celtics team that looks like a championship favorite and that they also probably should have. The Knicks, who are spiraling downward and may be on the cusp of firing coach Tom Thibodeau, are currently on the NBA’s toughest back-to-back. They play in Utah Tuesday, then fly to Denver for Wednesday night’s matchup. It’s a game where the Nuggets should cruise.
Malone instructed his team to log onto NBA League Pass, which NBA personnel gets for free, and watch Knicks-Jazz tonight to scout their next opponent. Denver’s coach said most of his players don’t typically watch their next opponent’s most recent game.
Porter said he’d be watching and always scouts his opponent’s last game. With two days off, he’ll be well-rested too. Malone’s hoping he can replicate his play from the Nuggets’ win over the Bulls — on both the offensive and defensive ends of the floor — Wednesday night vs. New York.
“Offensively, I can count on one hand how many shots he’s taken that we can say, ‘Probably not a great shot.’ His willingness to space and move and cut without the basketball has been tremendous. Creating a two-man game with Nikola Jokic is so important,” Malone said. “And then defensively, he’s disciplined. He’s putting forth effort. And I told him, ‘That’s all I ever want from you. If you try and somebody scores on you, so what? That’s why they have scoreboards. Teams are gonna score.'”