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Michael Porter Jr. unveils another layer to his diverse offensive game

Harrison Wind Avatar
January 21, 2020

Michael Malone was irked following the Nuggets’ disheartening fourth-quarter collapse to the Pacers Sunday about yet another question regarding Michael Porter Jr. after being peppered about Denver’s rookie at every practice, game, and press conference over the last month. But Monday was yet another example of exactly why Denver’s tantalizing rookie has been such a central figure in every postgame discussion, win or lose, over the Nuggets’ latest string of games.

It’s because Porter can flip the momentum of a game in a split-second, which he did again in the Nuggets’ 107-100 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves. The forward sunk two triples in the span of three possessions in the fourth quarter to give Denver some much-needed breathing room. It’s because Porter has suddenly injected life into a dull season that by every measure has been a successful one so far but has lacked the excitement of last year’s opening four months. It’s because his rise is reminiscent of when Nikola Jokic took the Nuggets and then the NBA by storm three years ago. It’s also because Porter has been damn good.

After his latest heater and fifth-straight double-digit scoring night — a 20-point, 14-rebound, 4-assists effort against the Timberwolves where Porter shot 7 of 12 from the floor, 4 of 8 from three-point range and was a team-high plus-17 in 30 minutes off the bench — the 21-year-old is averaging 11.9 points (61.6 FG%, 45.9 3P%) and 5.4 rebounds in 19.8 minutes per game since Dec. 28.

He’s been the Nuggets’ best three-point shooter during that stretch of 13 games too. Better than Nikola Jokic, who tallied 17 points, 13 rebounds, and five assists but also five turnovers in Minnesota and has shot 39.1% from 3 over that span. Better than Malik Beasley, who — four days after his 10-point fourth quarter sparked the Nuggets to a comeback win over the Warriors — hit two more big shots over the final 12 minutes of regulation. It lifted Denver to a 19-3 record on the second nights of back-to-backs over the last two seasons.

Down three starters in Jamal Murray, Gary Harris, and Paul Millsap for a third-straight game, the Nuggets also got big-time performances from Jerami Grant (19 points on 8-13 shooting, 3-6 from three-point range and seven rebounds) and Will Barton (18 points on 6-11 shooting, 3-6 from three-point range). Monte Morris, who contributed eight points and eight assists were solid too. All three didn’t have the impact Porter did Monday.

The most impressive part of Porter’s night didn’t come in the fourth quarter when he sunk two catch-and-shoot high-arching no doubters from beyond the arc. It was how Porter piled in 11 points and 10 rebounds over the first two quarters while he wasn’t getting his usual looks to drop.

First, Porter got on the board with this tip dunk in transition.

But he missed his next three field goals, two threes and one layup where he was blocked by Jarrett Culver. Porter was then able to get to the line after running hard down the floor in transition and drawing contact.

A couple minutes later, he made this well-timed weakside cut and finished at the rim thanks to an on-the-money bounce pass from Grant.

On the Nuggets’ next possession he crashed the glass and got another second chance bucket.

Porter also tallied three first-half assists including this doozy to PJ Dozier. By the way, Porter’s continuing to backup Malone’s assertion that the swingman is “an underrated playmaker.” He handed out a career-high five assists against the Warriors and dished out four helpers Monday. He’s making the right but more importantly the simple pass with more and more regularity lately.

He hit his first three-pointer shortly before halftime and once Porter spent a few minutes on the floor in the third he found his familiar rhyhtm. Porter went 3 of 5 from beyond the arc in the second half.

But how Porter navigated a first and second quarter where his jumper didn’t immediately fall was impressive. The more ways players can contribute to winning, the better, and Porter continues to prove that his offensive game packs a lot more than just a pretty jump shot. He did the dirty work against the Timberwolves. He got a few hustle baskets too and finished with 20 points, his second-highest point total of the season behind his career-high 25 in Indiana on Jan. 2.

Defensively he’s making strides as well. Porter got beat bad on a backdoor cut late in the fourth quarter but used his length to affect a number Timberwolves’ shots at the rim throughout the night. His rebounding, something that has always been present throughout his rookie season, was vital in Minnesota too. Porter corralled a career-high 14 rebounds (two offensive), surely a welcoming sight for Malone who’s been frustrated recently by his team’s weak presence on the glass.

His breakout month solved a few immediate problems for the Nuggets, and without three starters, Porter’s emergence came at just the right time.

A second unit scorer that can carry a bench lineup if need be?


A source of instant isolation offense when the Nuggets’ motion attack breaks down?


Another playmaker and able cutter to soften the blow of not having Murray and Harris in the rotation?


A three-point marksman on a team that has been streaky from distance for much of this season?


With the trade deadline just over two weeks away, perhaps the three-point shooter that the Nuggets may be looking to acquire exists in-house. And maybe, Porter, for all the good he’s doing, the different facets of his game he’s shown, and the steps he’s taking with each passing month, is just getting started.

“He’s growing up in front of our eyes,” Malone said following the Nuggets’ 30th win of the season. “And he has so much room to grow, which is what really excites everybody in Nugget nation, is that Michael Porter has all the makings of a young star, but there’s so much more room for growth.”


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