- Known as a knockdown shooter, Michael Porter Jr. has found new ways to contribute when his jumper isn’t falling
- MPJ continued to flash improved feel on defense in Tuesday’s season-opening win over the L.A. Lakers
- Porter Jr. has become a key to the Nuggets’ defense, especially in pick-and-roll situations
The last time Michael Porter Jr. took the floor for meaningful NBA action, he was mired in one of the worst shooting slumps of his young career. Across his final six playoff games of 2022-23, the 6-foot-10 sniper averaged 10.5 points on 40.2 percent true shooting, including 18.4 percent (7-of-38) beyond the arc. Despite that, he remained integral to the Denver Nuggets‘ championship pursuits, logging 31.3 minutes per night, headlined by a pair of 40-plus-minute outings.
For as wonderful a shooter and off-ball scorer Porter is, he’s built himself into something much more as he enters the prime of his career at 25 years old. Head coach Michael Malone and the Nuggets understand that and rewarded him with significant minutes even as jumper after jumper clanked off the rim, though Bruce Brown did intermittently siphon some of his minutes.
His cold spell didn’t end during Denver’s 2023-24 season opener on Tuesday night either.
He played 30 minutes and scored 12 points on 5-of-13 shooting (2-of-9 from deep). And again, Malone didn’t let that hinder his playing time — because it didn’t have to. Although Porter’s highly efficient scoring forms the foundation of his importance, it’s not an all-encompassing trait. Against the Los Angeles Lakers, his defense (two steals, a slew of impactful rotations) and rebounding (12 boards) were crucial. He still has some issues defending in space and whirling around screens, but he’s also 6’10” with multiple back surgeries under his belt. That’s to be expected and certainly doesn’t trump his standout areas defensively.
How Michael Porter Jr. Is Turning Himself Into More Than Just A Scorer
Denver typically deploys Porter as a low man in pick-and-rolls to complement its scheme and account for his defensive shortcomings at the point-of-attack.
When Nikola Jokic shows or operates near the level of the screen, Porter’s punctual backline rotations are a necessary buffer.
The Nuggets adhered to that gambit Tuesday, often sending two defenders to the ball and trusting someone else to cover the space behind Jokic. Porter repeatedly stepped into that duty as he and others bottled up Anthony Davis’ dives to the rim. Only one of Davis’ 17 shot attempts (as well as his four free throws) and two of his 17 points stemmed from a pick-and-roll; rarely did the former Kentucky big man see open real estate to convert lobs, wraparounds, or drop-downs.
Instead, Los Angeles entrusted him to create, a skill Davis has been less potent at in recent years as his quickness and fluidity decline. Porter’s timely interior rotations were among the reasons Davis’ scoring opportunities were so arduous. His ideal route was taken away and it left him struggling to counter.
At times, the Lakers’ offense grew sticky because it sought to hunt matchups perceived as favorably, usually against Porter or Jamal Murray, at least within Denver’s starting unit. Porter found himself on the ball a couple times and corralled both D’Angelo Russell and Austin Reaves.
Porter Jr. Is Becoming A Key To The Nuggets’ Defense
Porter has developed immensely in these instances, maintaining lively feet and wielding his size to bother smaller opponents on occasion. While his physical limitations are what they are at this point, he’s carved out avenues to compensate in the right matchups. The Nuggets prefer to insulate from those scenarios, but he is much better equipped to stay afloat now than he was a couple of years prior. It widens his margin for error and elevates Denver’s defensive ceiling.
The most eye-catching sequence of the night for Porter was a string of subtle, critical movements helping spearhead a shot clock violation. Little Things King is a term I love to bestow upon role players who most staunchly embrace grunge work that can be easily glossed over in real time. I don’t know if Porter is wearing the crown, yet he absolutely resides in the kingdom these days.
This possession turns ugly largely because he prevents the Lakers from ever really carrying out their intentions. Nothing goes right for them and he’s at the heart of their ineptitude.
In my eyes, this was the most impressive sequence of the night from MPJ.
Coordinates w/KCP to deny the initial action, shows slight help against AD to deter the drive, high-hand closeout that overwhelms Prince + fights over the screen to force an errant pass. Important stuff. pic.twitter.com/IQsNhTcT8F
— Jackson Frank (@jackfrank_jjf) October 25, 2023
Sometime soon, Porter will rediscover the shooting stroke that renders him one of the world’s foremost marksmen. He averaged 17.7 points on 62.9 percent true shooting between 2021 and 2023. Those skills didn’t evaporate.
In the meantime, however, as the Nuggets keep chugging along and he keeps receiving heavy minutes, he’ll continue etching his signature other ways and showcasing just how far he’s come throughout the past half-decade.