Time, particularly that on the basketball court, has eluded Michael Porter Jr. as he begins what is technically his fifth NBA season.
Even after sitting out his first year in the league, Porter Jr. has never played more than 61 games, largely due to his troublesome back, which has already gone through more than a couple of surgeries. Complicating matters are the intricacies involved with the recovery and preventive maintenance that come with back injuries, which have robbed Denver Nuggets fans of more opportunities to see performances like this.
The potential has always been there with Porter Jr., with the flashes of brilliance during his sparse time on the court validating that. At 6-10, his ability to bring the ball down and score from virtually anywhere at the halfcourt makes him a matchup nightmare. It was with that potential and some games played that the Nuggets decided to hand Porter Jr. a five-year, rookie maximum extension worth $172 million that could go up to as high as $207 million depending on whether Porter Jr. made one any of the three All-NBA teams.
When healthy, Porter Jr. gives Denver a multidimensional offense that makes them unguardable at least on paper. Naturally, the Nuggets’ offense runs through two-time NBA MVP Nikola Jokic, but he has a plethora of options with Porter Jr. and Jamal Murray, who is also returning following a long recovery from a torn left ACL, on the wings. The athletic Aaron Gordon and the emerging Bones Hyland are there as well to be complementary offensive options but the fact that Hyland, Murray, and Porter Jr. can also create plays for themselves and others pretty much makes it a game of pick your poison for Denver’s opponents.
Considering how deep the Nuggets are, it bodes well for them that Porter Jr. has so far averaged 10.4 field goal attempts over his career, with his current average in three preseason games this year at a little over 11. The 14th overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft won’t ask for too many touches and will make the most out of what is given to him. That he averages a little over an offensive rebound a game certainly points to Porter Jr.’s ability to find ways to get his own shot by any means necessary. Of course, not everything that happens in the preseason translates into the regular season, but given how Porter Jr. needs some run before the real games begin, this is a baseline of what the expectations for Porter Jr. will be.
As exciting as this all sounds, there is the health factor that will likely force the Nuggets to slowly ease Porter Jr. back. Through three preseason games thus far, Denver has tried to see where he is at and with a solid performance like his 20-point, 7-rebound night against the Chicago Bulls came a nine-point dud (on 11 shot attempts) against the Phoenix Suns three days after. In the regular season and the playoffs, he will likely be a target on defense despite his height and ability to get steals. That he has a history of major injuries only exacerbates that.
There will also be the usual nights off for “maintenance” during what can be a gruelling regular season especially since the Nuggets would rather that the 24-year old be on the court than in street clothes in April and May (and perhaps even June if things fall into place). After all, Denver already made a hefty investment and long commitment to him. The Nuggets’ depth makes this much easier, since they can rely on the next man up in those situations when there is a need to rest Porter Jr. in the meantime.
Health woes may have robbed Michael Porter Jr. of some time on the basketball court but they didn’t take away the skills that made him a highly-touted player even back in high school. Despite everything he has gone through in his career thus far, Porter Jr. understands that the only way now is forward.