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Film Friday: Michael Porter Jr. needs an adjustment

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NBA: Cleveland Cavaliers at Denver Nuggets Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

If you’re not familiar with Film Fridays, each Friday, I’ll be looking at some recent Denver Nuggets’ games, lineups or something else from a film aspect to try and bring you a piece of content that you’re not getting somewhere else. Feel free to give any feedback positive or negative in the comments or find me on Twitter.

Prior to the 2018 NBA draft, there were a few players that were deemed to be a cut above the rest. Luka Dončić, Trae Young and Deandre Ayton were the three top prizes with a myriad of other talented players behind them. If it weren’t for a back injury that had sidelined him for nearly all of his freshman season at Missouri, Michael Porter Jr. likely would have been contending to be the fourth man of that top tier.

After sitting out his entire rookie season, he steadily broke into the rotation during his second year, and he was showing flashes of brilliance on the offensive end of the floor. However, his defensive lapses were frequent, and, with a team that was trying to compete for titles with a defensive-minded head coach in Michael Malone, he wasn’t going to be able to work through those warts as he would on a team that was focused on long-term development.

Now, 14 games into Year 3, stagnation is starting to settle in with Porter. Due to injuries and Covid-19, he has yet to play in the NBA’s Summer League or get a full offseason of work to improve on the defensive end, and he still isn’t meshing well 100% of the time on the offensive end with Nikola Jokic which is the player everyone on this roster needs to be able to play alongside effectively to be a long-term piece as the MVP-candidate center is the cornerstone of the franchise. With all of that being said, MPJ’s struggles are making trade talks swirl in the effort to land an established star, but, if he is to stay, what can be done to fix him?

Movement

We’ll use this play as our prime example. Porter and Paul Millsap are isolated to the corners, and that’s where they stay for the entirety of the play. It will go unnoticed because Will Barton scores and draws a foul. However, Porter has to do a better job of forcing the defense to move and wear them out. If they know he’s going to stay at the 3-point line wherever he’s at, they know they can hedge off of him before diving back his way if there’s a kick out. Even if he aggressively moves up to the wing with the rest of the offense working inside, that will pull his defender which gives more space for everyone else. If his defender crashes the paint, Jokic can kick it to MPJ for a wide-open 3-point shot. It’s a lot harder to guard someone that’s moving vs someone standing still.

Here’s a play that the motion pays off for Porter. He starts the play calling for the ball near the corner, and he’s wide open if Barton could get the ball to him. He can’t, and the defender is able to close the distance off slightly when the ball is in the hands of Jokic. Rather than remaining stationary, Porter lulls his defender to sleep and bursts around Jokic for the dribble hand off before rising up for the easy mid-range jumper. Plays like this are what have fans and analysts screaming for Porter to get more touches. However, his detractors point to the play above and say that’s why he’s not involved. If MPJ can figure out how to increase his movement and slashing more, he might find a way to get into the lineup more often.

Shot Selection

This is a combination of our first two topics. There is a lack of motion here by Porter, Barton and Monte Morris, and Porter then puts up a shot with a below-average look at the bucket. Jokic is the only player moving with a lot of purpose, and Porter’s only movement is a shuffle to his right. He’s being guarded by Anthony Davis, who is one of the few players in the NBA that has the length and defensive acumen to bother his shot. Far too often, Porter elects to take these shots. In most cases, he elevates above the defender and has a clean look. Here, if he were to move and pull Davis away from the rim, it opens up space for an easy look in the paint for Jokic. He also could have a driving opportunity if Davis crashes hard on the shot. He always has the green light, but that doesn’t mean he always has to shoot it.

Every old-school NBA fan loves that Porter got blocked on this play. You have a 3-on-2 situation, and Porter, who’s 6’10” and 218 pounds, could be heading to the rim with a full head of steam with only Dennis Schröder, 6’3” and 172 pounds, in front of him. Even if he has to give up the shot by kicking it out, he has Millsap, who’s shooting 41.1 percent on 3-point attempts, to his left. Kyle Kuzma was rewarded for his hustle with the block, and MPJ could have avoided that by not slowing up at the 3-point arc. That play makes sense in a lot of situations, but this wasn’t one of them. Porter has to be more willing to take that dribble or catch the ball going towards the basket.

Get Engaged on Defense

There are a few different plays that I could have gone with here. It’s weird to choose a game where Porter had 19 points while shooting 60 percent from the floor while having two steals and two blocks on defense. The Cleveland Cavaliers didn’t even score on this possession, but it does show one of Porter’s major issues on defense. He floats in space too often. He helps in the paint until Jokic recovers, but he doesn’t get back to his assignment. He hovers in no man’s land down near the block, and he finally gets back to the perimeter when the ball is in the hands of his man, Isaac Okoro. The problem is he’s flat footed, and he closes out late which gives Okoro an easy driving lane. If he had gotten back sooner, Okoro doesn’t drive and is forced to pass or put up a contested shot. Those are the plays Malone will pull you for. Porter needs to work on getting back to his assignments after helping. There are occasions where you just can’t rotate fast enough, but there are plenty more where Porter just looks like he’s occupying space on the floor rather than guarding his opponent.

These are the plays that will get Porter in Malone’s good graces. He has no right getting to this shot. After getting by screened by Bobby Portis on the left wing, he works through the rotations around the arc making sure that no one is going to get an open look, and he starts charging in the direction of Donte DiVincenzo, who’s shooting 40.7 percent on 3-point attempts this year, and he gets a finger tip on the ball to block the shot. There’s not another guy in the rotation that could have made the play because no one else has his athleticism and length. If Porter could figure out how to make these plays on a consistent basis, he’d have a case for starting over Barton. The problem is they’re few and far between, and he’s often a player opponents try to target. With inconsistent offense and defense, Porter’s not going to break into the starting lineup unless something changes.

For those of you that are still here, remember to leave your feedback in the comments or over on my Twitter, and have a fantastic film-filled Friday.