Denver Nuggets prospect Michael Porter Jr. remains an exciting topic of conversation despite struggling to earn playing time in 2019-20.
After an up-and-down season – one primarily defined by a lack of playing time, but featuring plenty of jaw-dropping moments nonetheless – it’s hard to know which projections will beat out the others. One thing is known…2020-21 could go numerous directions for Porter, largely contingent on head coach Mike Malone’s confidence in playing the tantalizing youngster.
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Porter could start (likely at the small forward slot) playing significant minutes and possibly solidifying himself as a top-three player on the squad. Obviously, this is the ideal situation.
He may instead see extended minutes as the bench’s centerpiece scorer, lifting what’s been an offensively-crippled Denver Nuggets second unit. If Porter plays this role, it could springboard him into stardom the following season. Think January 2020, but extended throughout the entire season.
Or, of course, Porter could replicate the frustrations of his rookie season in a little-used role off the bench, at which point Nuggets fans officially have permission to panic.
Let’s further examine these scenarios and draw up stat-line predictions for each:
MPJ the starter:
17.4 points, 9.8 rebounds, 2.1 assists per game, 51.1 field goal percentage, 42.8 3-point percentage
The 17.4 points per game is lower than the dreamers would have you believe, but this is the likeliest range. Because as beautiful as this scenario appears, it won’t be flawless. Porter may see the least minutes of any starter, and defensive plays will still leave Malone seething on the sideline, even yanking Porter at times.
However, playing with Nikola Jokic will render Porter a highly effective and efficient scorer, especially by way of 3-point shooting and easy buckets off the cut. His already-spectacular shooting numbers should increase slightly due to a consistent role and multiple easy baskets per game off Jokic assists.
The 9.8 rebounds per game is a high mark, but Porter proved himself a dynamic board man last year, especially on the offensive glass. There’s no reason Porter shouldn’t be Denver’s second-best rebounder behind Jokic.
The assist projection is relatively low because Porter likely won’t spend much time as a playmaker with the ball. Instead, he’ll be at the finishing end.
With Porter’s shooting, size, and interior abilities at the 3-slot, look for Denver’s offense to glide into one of the NBA’s elite .
The impact bench player:
12.8 points, 7.3 rebounds, 2.6 assists per game, 50.7 field goal percentage, 42.6 3-point percentage
This version of Porter is still very good, closely resembling the player we saw in January.
The 12.8 points per game will peg Porter as a consistent bench scorer, and at times an outstanding one. There will be games Porter straight-up abuses a flimsy second-unit defender, resulting in an opposing substitution after a few quick buckets.
His percentages should increase slightly, due to a consistent role and a bright green light to shoot. The hope is that the bench offense runs through Porter, giving him more assist opportunities in addition to control of his own shots.
Porter’s rebounding should remain strong, and he’ll have plenty of double-double opportunities. Look for Denver’s second-unit to cease being the offensive liability it was in 2019-20.
The deep bench man:
5.9 points, 3.8 rebounds, 0.5 assists per game, 46.8 field goal percentage, 39.8 3-point percentage
Welcome to the darkest timeline, and here’s to hoping it doesn’t happen.
In this scenario, Malone decides he cannot trust Porter and buries him at the end of the bench. Porter may post a couple of strong scoring performances, but they’ll be few and far between, as his unreliable defense will keep him pine-bound. His shooting percentages will dip as he begins forcing the issue offensively in frustration at his limited minutes.
Expect a mini pandemic as Porter and Malone finally ditch the courtesy and duel a few rounds. It won’t be an egregiously disgruntled player situation (Porter’s a respectful kid), but it will be enough to determine he’s worth less to the team than his trade value.
At some point, the Denver Nuggets will stop making things look good as they permanently exclude Porter from the rotation and seek out a trade partner. The name of the game will be reaching a deal before his value sinks.
Again, here’s to hoping this doesn’t happen.
Final Prediction: Somewhere between the first and second scenario
Porter should play decent minutes and start at some point. He’s too talented as a multi-faceted scorer to sit for the long haul, and even a defensive stickler like Malone recognizes this.
Look for some level of defensive improvement, as most first-year players are bad on the stopping end. However, be prepared for the possibility Porter doesn’t start opening night.