When the NBA went dark almost four months ago due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there was uncertainly on whether professional basketball would be back in 2020. Alas, the bubble idea has worked and the Denver Nuggets are thriving behind superstar big man Nikola Jokic and rookie, Michael Porter Jr.
It’s crazy to think Porter is still a rookie because when you watch him on the court, he is arguably the best player out there. After struggling in the Nuggets first game back against Miami last week, Porter has bounced back with two phenomenal games and has put the entire NBA on notice.
While the Nuggets wait on Will Barton (knee), Gary Harris (hip), and Jamal Murray (hamstring) to return from injury, Porter has taken full advantage and has practically cemented himself in the starting lineup moving forward.
It all started on Monday against Oklahoma City when Porter dropped a career-high 37 points on 12-of-16 shooting from the field. Not only did Porter score just a tick under 40-points, but he did it all on just 16 shots and oh yeah, he added 12 rebounds as well.
Michael Porter Jr. is the missing piece the Nuggets need. No Jamal Murray, Gary Harris, or Will Barton and MPJ filled the gaps with super savvy off-ball movement to get open and then displayed his major shot-making upside in the 4th. Played better D than usual too. Impressive. pic.twitter.com/3W6LgMYSep— Kevin O'Connor (@KevinOConnorNBA) August 3, 2020
Fast forward to Wednesday against the Spurs and it was more of the same, 30 points on a solid 11-of-19 shooting from the field to go along with a career-high 15 rebounds. Not only was Porter scoring the ball with ease, but he was crashing the boards and getting easy buckets to go along with it.
“I got to shout out my dad for that,” Porter told the media after the San Antonio game. “Growing up I always was a scorer, but he would always just tell me ‘Mike, you can get four to six easy points just crashing the glass. You’re taller than a lot of people, you’re more athletic than a lot of people.’ So he would always get on me after games — even if I had a really good game — if I didn’t get at least a few offensive rebounds, he would get on me. So, I got to shout out my dad for that. That’s been a part of my game for a long time.”
The real question surrounding the Nuggets going forward should not be whether or not Porter starts — he’s already answered that with his play — it should be who starts beside him. Barton and Harris have missed the Nuggets first three game along with Murray, but he will be back with the starting five whenever he does return from his hamstring injury.
It comes down to Barton and Harris for that two-guard spot, which might be an easier answer than we think. We have already seen Barton play a half in the bubble — he played in the first half of the Magic scrimmage — but we have yet to see Harris make an appearance.
You never want to speculate, but it feels like Barton is closer to returning than Harris, which makes Barton a logical choice to start alongside Jokic, Murray, Porter, and Paul Millsap whenever he does return. If Harris is healthy it makes the choice a little more difficult, but the decision that should be a no-brainer is starting Porter now and in the playoffs.
If the last two games are any indication for the future, the Nuggets have found their missing piece. It always seemed like the Nuggets were just a player away when they lost Game 7 of in the conference semifinals last season and well, Porter is that final piece to the puzzle.
Porter is an elite scorer, 3-point shooter, and rebounder, which is something the Nuggets could have desperately used in the playoffs last season. They have that now in Porter and can pair him with a first team all-NBA center in Jokic and a rising star in Murray.
Those three — with some help from the others — have an opportunity to make this bubble experience something special for the Nuggets. As the franchise continues to work for that first NBA title, they seem to be in perfect hands with these three guys leading the way.