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Stat of the Week: Slumping superstars and how Michael Porter Jr. can recover his mojo

MPJ isn’t the only star struggling to hit shots right now

Denver Nuggets v Utah Jazz Photo by Jeff Swinger/NBAE via Getty Images

The Denver Nuggets have a shooting problem.

Averaging 30.1% from three in their first seven games of the season, the Nuggets have the third lowest three-point percentage in the entire NBA, just ahead of the Oklahoma City Thunder and Detroit Pistons. The Thunder are in last place in the Western Conference, while the Pistons are last in the East. The Nuggets aren’t in great company there, and that needs to change as soon as possible.

There are many reasons why the Nuggets have struggled from the perimeter, led by an overall dearth of shooting talent on the bench unit. The next most concerning aspect of Denver’s shooting struggle comes from Michael Porter Jr., who is having a ROUGH time to start the year.

MPJ is currently averaging 10.7 points, 6.3 rebounds, and 2.4 assists per game in the first seven games. Last season, Porter averaged 19.0 points per game. Chief among Porter’s shooting issue is his inefficiency. Last year, Porter was one of the most efficient shooters in the entire NBA. This year, he has begun the season as one of the worst.

Michael Porter Jr. has struggled with shooting efficiency

Year Usage % 2-point % 3-point % Free Throw % True Shooting %
2020-21 21.4 62.8 44.5 79.1 66.3
2021-22 19.3 45.5 23.3 62.5 41.4

In a nutshell, Porter is a completely different shooter this season. As one of the most efficient complementary players last year, it was always going to be difficult for Porter to remain as hyper efficient as he was in 2020-21. Given that Denver is without Jamal Murray, there was always going to be more pressure on Porter than ever before. Throw in the signing of a $200 million contract, and expectations were always going to be sky high.

Still, Porter has fallen far below expectations, even while accounting for some regression. Porter’s 41.4 TS% ranks 150th out of the 155 players averaging 25+ minutes per game this season. The only players ranked below him are Davion Mitchell, Reggie Jackson, Dorian Finney-Smith, Kristaps Porzingis, and Jaden McDaniels, which certainly isn’t the company Porter should want to keep as a shooter.

Porter has really struggled in a number of areas, but the most important is catch-and-shoot threes. Last season, Porter averaged an absurd 46.5% on 4.7 C&S three-point attempts per game. This year, that number is down to 27.3% on just 3.1 attempts per game.

Instead, those extra threes are going into pull-up jump shooting, where Porter shoots 25.0% on 2.3 pull-up three-point attempts per game. Last year, Porter attempted 1.4 pull-up threes per game and hit them at a 36.5% clip.

When shooters are in slumps, the old adage is to get them an easier shot. Whether it’s a catch-and-shoot three, a cut to the basket, or perhaps getting to the free throw line, finding a rhythm on outside shots can sometimes come from NOT taking them, and instead seeking out the easier look. Shooters rely on the utmost confidence, and seeing the ball go through the net is one of the most galvanizing aspects of competition on the court. Porter is a scorer. He wants to score.

The problem though, is that he’s making life more challenging for himself, especially on his three-pointers. Rather than attack the basket and utilize his 6’10” size against smaller Memphis Grizzlies, Minnesota Timberwolves, and Dallas Mavericks players in the last three games, Porter has mostly stayed on the perimeter, hoping for another shooting opportunity and taking whatever he can get.

It’s clear that Porter hasn’t helped himself enough on the offensive end, but the game plan hasn’t helped him either. At 6’10” and towering over half of his matchups, Porter is averaging just 1.8 paint touches per game this season, according to NBA.com and prior to the loss against the Grizzlies. Last season, Porter averaged 3.9 paint touches per game, often on back cuts dished out from Nikola Jokić and others. Last year, Porter averaged 2.0 possessions per game used on cuts. This year, I can’t even remember seeing Porter cut to the basket and hit with a pass. That’s partially on Porter for not making himself available, but it’s partially on the rest of the Nuggets for not looking to get him goin in that regard either.

Actually, here’s one...an easy dunk.

Too often, players that sign big contracts get caught up in what they’re supposed to be rather than what they are, what EARNED them that contract. Porter is no different. He wants to be a superstar desperately, and he already knows the tricks of the trade. He knows he needs to make the tough shots, perfect the difficult moves, do the things for his team that no one else can, the things that make him unique.

But he needs to relax.

The version of Michael Porter Jr. that cuts backdoor, hits open threes at a high clip, gets an the offensive glass, and makes highlight worthy blocks at the rim is an incredible player. Very few players MPJ’s height have ever been so dynamic of a shooter, but it’s important for Porter to remember that he’s a 6’10” forward first and foremost. He’s big! He’s strong! He’s spent so much time in the weight room to build up his body and heal his back that he might as well show why. He’s averaging just one offensive rebound per game. For the next two weeks, his goal should be to grab three each and every night.

Thus far, just 29.3% of his points have come from the paint area, a career low. For the next two weeks, his goal should be 50%. Go crash the glass and prove why you’re one of the most physically dominant players to come out of high school, not just one of the most gifted shooters.

To date, Porter has attempted just eight free throws in seven games, and the lack of aggression has caused him to settle for tough, low quality shots. For the next two weeks, his goal should be to average five free throw attempts per game, staying involved and aggressive as often as he can be while repeatedly working on his shooting stroke at the free throw line. That will translate to the rest of the court.

And then finally, cut the pull-up threes for now. Why make it harder than it has to be to shoot a higher percentage from three-point range? Focus on the open shots, find a rhythm, and once those begin to drop more frequently, then go back to expanding the shooting repertoire.

There’s nothing for Michael Porter Jr. to prove. Everyone knows he can shoot. It’s just a matter of time.

Aa an aside, Porter isn’t the only superstar to struggle this year. The entire NBA is experiencing a drop in shooting percentage across the NBA. It just so happens that Porter has had it worse than just about every other high volume shooter. Among the top 50 players in field goal attempts in the 2020-21 season, Porter has seen the largest drop off from 2020-21 True Shooting percentage to the same number in 2021-22.

Michael Porter Jr. isn’t the only player to see a drop in efficiency, but his drop has been precipitous.

It’s clear that Porter has had a rough start to the year, rougher than almost every other high volume shot taker. The baseline he set for himself was so high that the difference between last season and this season is, to this point, more pronounced than everyone.

But that means that Porter has the most potential for improvement in the entire NBA. His true shooting mark is legitimately 25% worse year-over-year, which means that a 25% improvement for Porter within this season would be pretty substantial. The Nuggets have found ways to win without Porter at his best. Imaging what the Nuggets can be when Porter ultimately does return to normal is a very enticing prospect.

There’s one person above all others who would love nothing more than to see that happen: Porter himself. He’s very competitive and wants top be great. He knows that shooters have to keep shooting if they want to get out of a slump, and he’s not entirely wrong.

Here’s to Porter’s shot returning as soon as possible.