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Highlights: Michael Porter Jr.’s top plays from his rookie season

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The Nuggets rookie small forward was able to show off his incredible shooting touch, athleticism, and rebounding skills this season despite limited opportunities.

Denver Nuggets v Cleveland Cavaliers Photo by David Liam Kyle/NBAE via Getty Images

When the Denver Nuggets selected Michael Porter Jr. in the 2018 draft with the fourteenth overall pick, the organization and fans knew that it would be a full year until they would be able to see him on the court.

Porter Jr. slid to the Nuggets because of a back injury, and he spent the 2018-19 season recovering from surgery. The year off allowed him to regain his strength, and get right physically so that when he was able to suit up for the team, the athleticism that made him the No. 1 recruit out of high school would show in his game.

Chase-down block v OKC

The preface for this highlight is, indeed, a lowlight. That dribble pull-up that is nearly impossible to block? It’s easier to block if you hesitate and don’t commit to that jumper. Darius Bazley has a great vertical, and is able to turn back Porter Jr.’s shot attempt. Here comes the highlight.

Porter Jr. doesn’t give up on the play, hustling down the court after Bazley and Dennis Schroder, and after a nice diversion from Monte Morris, rises up and takes the ball off the glass for the block.

The first 3-pointer of his career

MPJ’s first basket would come on a layup — nowhere near as special as Kenneth Faried’s first basket — but his first 3-pointer was special. At his height and with his shooting form, it’s going to be difficult for 99 percent of the players in the league to block his jump shot. He has an aesthetically pleasing arc on his jumper, the ball arcs high out of his hands, and it drops through the rim suddenly off the inside of the rim. It’s easy to see that nearly any jump shot from Porter Jr. is going to be a good shot, and an open 3-pointer that he can dribble into from the top of the key is a fine shot.

Stepback over Buddy Hield

Unlike some of the other lottery picks from his draft class, it took a while for MPJ to get his first start. With Will Barton and Torrey Craig entrenched above him on the depth chart, he didn’t start until December 29 in a home game against the Sacramento Kings, with Barton sliding over to shooting guard to replace an injured Gary Harris.

The Kings decided to have Buddy Hield, their worst defender, tag Porter Jr., and the Nuggets quickly took advantage of the mismatch. On this play, Porter Jr. catches the ball on the right wing, dribbles into the key with his left hand, and after seeing Hield keep up with him, hops into a jump shot and rises up over the Kings’ guard. Two feet down onto the hardwood, wham, bam, thank you ma’am, and Porter Jr. knocked in the smooth stepback jumper.

Hield couldn’t stop Porter Jr. the remainder of the game either, so the Kings put Richaun Holmes on him in the fourth. No matter — Porter Jr. was able to hit another stepback, with this one coming from behind the 3-point line, to help keep the Nuggets ahead in the fourth quarter.

Dagger putback against Kings

This came in the same game as his stepback against Hield, but is a more impressive play. He’s able to accurately track when the ball is going to come off the rim, jump into a position where he can grab the ball, then snatches it with two hands and violently throws it down on top of Hield. All in all, it’s a night that the Kings franchise shooting guard would probably like to not be reminded of.

Twisting layup against Myles Turner

The Pacers game was such a special evening for Porter Jr. This was a great play, showing off his ability to elevate, float, contort in the air, and avoid the shot blocker. Myles Turner is one of the best shot-blocking bigs in the league, and is a perfect position to contest Porter Jr.’s shot. No matter.

Up, under, around, or through, Porter Jr. has the ability to get the ball in the basket. This takes not only incredible physical tools but incredible touch, and Porter Jr. makes it look so easy.

Tomahawk dunk against Detroit

While this is probably my favorite dunk by Porter Jr. from this season, I can’t talk about it without also mentioning how much I love that the Nuggets guards set so many screens. It doesn’t take much, but every little bump that throws off a defender’s rhythm helps, and on this play, Monte Morris gives just a little shoulder screen that frees up Porter Jr. for the eventual dunk.

Porter Jr. matches up with Tony Snell in the halfcourt set, and runs a motion across the key towards Morris’s screen. Snell can’t power through, and it allows Gary Harris to snap the ball to Porter with nothing between him and the rim but some pristine Colorado air. Sekou Doumbouya makes a business decision, and Porter Jr. takes advantage, cocking the ball back and hammering it home.

Dropping Khris Middleton

The Nuggets had a difficult back-to-back in January, finishing out the month with games against the Utah Jazz and the Milwaukee Bucks. The Nuggets were without their starting guards in Jamal Murray and Gary Harris, with starting power forward Paul Millsap out, and Mason Plumlee was out too with an injury. They weren’t injured enough to get Porter Jr. into the starting lineup, but he was still able to make an impact in both games.

For the Nuggets to win, they were going to need buckets, and a lot of them. The Nuggets bench responded in an enormous way, helping power a big third quarter run that gave them a lead they wouldn’t relinquish. This highlight came in the second quarter though, with the Nuggets getting a stop on defense and getting out into transition. Khris Middleton, the Bucks All-Star small forward, picked up Porter Jr. around halfcourt, making the rookie slow down his dribble once he reached the 3-point line.

Porter Jr. turned his back towards Middleton, hit him with a fake spin, and the veteran forward tumbled onto the deck. See ya! Porter Jr. glanced down at the fallen soldier, stepped into a jump shot, and knocked down his midrange jumper. Very nice.

Putback against the Warriors

One of the things I’ll remember about this season is how often the Nuggets played down to their competition, losing games to teams that will finish in the bottom five of the standings. This mid-January game against the Warriors was no exception. The Nuggets were getting carved up by Alec Burks — yup — and needed 40 points in the fourth quarter to tie the game and send it to overtime.

Jokic had passed the ball out to Beasley from the post, and with seven seconds on the shot clock, Beasley takes a good shot. Porter Jr., much as he did all season, crashes the glass from the corner, skies over Draymond Green for the rebound, then flips the ball back up and off the glass while getting fouled for the clutch basket.

Porter Jr.’s putback gave the Nuggets their first lead of the game since their first basket of the game, when they went up 3-0. He’d follow that up with a good contest against Burks on the final possession of regulation, helping force a miss, and stayed out on the court for the entire overtime period too.

The stepback jumper against the Indiana Pacers

This was by far and away Porter Jr.’s greatest play of his rookie season. It came during what was arguably his best game, and was a shot that made NBA fans across the country realize that the Nuggets rookie could be special.