The hype was real about former 2017 #1 high school recruit.
Many considered Michael Porter Jr. as the best player in his class and a top pick in the 2018 draft. His talent was undeniable, but injuries derailed his draft stock. He played just three games with Missouri in college due to a back injury, and many viewed it to be an issue worth staying away from.
MPJ’s draft process was a tumultuous one, forcing him to cancel several workouts with NBA teams because of hip spasms. Many teams throughout the league turned their back on him because of a health report that Adrian Wojnarowski called “less than glowing.” It was worse than that.
Fortunately for the Nuggets, Porter Jr. slid down to the 14th pick behind names like Marvin Bagley lll, Mohamed Bamba, Wendell Carter Jr., and Kevin Knox. The Los Angeles Clippers passed on him twice with the 12th and 13th selections, trading for Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and selecting Jerome Robinson. Neither are with the team any longer.
Fast forward to 2021, Michael Porter Jr. is blossoming into the #1 overall talent many thought he was. Although the ability was apparent, the road was not easy for MPJ to crack the starting lineup. Michael Malone scattered his minutes because Porter Jr. struggled to play within the offense and engage defensively as Malone would have liked. Now, those concerns have slowly dissipated as MPJ is finding his rhythm with the team.
Throughout Porter’s first full season, many attacked him on the defensive end. He seemed confused with his defensive rotations and timid in his one-on-one ability to guard his opponent.
MPJ’s 2021 season has been a revelation on both ends of the court. He is now taking on and succeeding in defensive matchups with elite players. His effort is noticeable, but most of all, you can see how smart he is defensively.
This play is the culmination of all those minutes Porter Jr. missed in years before. Michael Malone knew he could make a significant difference on the defensive end and it shows here.
Porter Jr. does a great job of eyeing his man and the ball. He fights over a weak attempt at a screen from Jimmy Butler and follows his man driving to the rim. Porter Jr. maintains his athletic position shuffling his feet until Ariza gives it up. Jokic helps on the drive by Ariza but that causes his man to float open under the rim. Achiuwa thinks he’s broken free for an open layup, but MPJ does not hesitate and rises for the block.
This is where Porter’s basketball IQ and talent merge. At 6’10” 218 pounds, he has a chance to be one of Denver’s better defenders and has proven he can be a great help defender when engaged.
Here is another example of his basketball instincts:
MPJ is matched up with Rudy Gay in the bottom corner, but since there is screen and roll action to the opposite side, he slides to the paint as help. DeMar DeRozan drives baseline on Jokic, and if MPJ is not there it is likely a reverse layup for DeRozan. Instead, Porter Jr. realizes Jokic has inside position, so he steps in front of DeRozan and drives him baseline for the turnover.
Another underrated part of this play is MPJ’s right arm as DeRozan goes out of bounds. Porter Jr. knows he has DeRozan trapped in his chamber of tears, so he predicts DeRozan will pass it to the corner. He raises his right hand, blocking the passing line, and DeRozan has no choice but to just accept fate and return the ball to Denver.
There are few players in the league that can shoot from anywhere on the court from any platform. Players like Kevin Durant and Steph Curry developed their game where they do not have to be balanced or set their feet set when they shoot.
MPJ has the potential to be one of those players but that skill will come in time. When Michael has his feet set and is balanced, he is as automatic a shooter there is in this game.
Not many players have the green light for a transition three like that, but MPJ is not most players. Threes will be open often in transition because the defense wants to stop the ball and penetration to the basket. This isn’t a terrible defensive possession by the Rockets. They have five men back and MPJ’s defender puts up a decent contest, but MPJ is not like most jump shooters. He is so tall and has great lift on his shot that even a hand up won’t block his vision of the basket. He receives the ball a few feet behind the three-point line, does not hesitate, sets his feet, and hits the three.
When Porter Jr. has a balanced jumper, it is pure more often than not. He likes to shoot with his feet closer together, but when he lands, he often has a bit wider base and that’s what helps his balance.
This next clip is what I think can help him be a perennial All-Star.
Yes, MPJ is a great three-point shooter, but there are a lot of those in the game today. If he wants to make his case for NBA stardom, his offensive game has to be diverse and that’s what we have seen of late.
Denver loves to run this two-man action at the top of the key with MPJ. Jokic sets a very effective screen freeing MPJ with multiple options to score. He can either drive to the basket, pull up for a jumper, or give back to Jokic. Since Poeltl does not give a hard hedge on the screen, it frees up space for an open jumper. It looks like an off-balance shot at first, but he centers himself to the basket perfectly and maintains great lift and balance.
Passing up good looks for great looks
Through Porter’s first NBA stints there were many “WHY WOULD YOU SHOO… never mind” moments. He seemed to force up very contested shots, did not really know his niche in the offense, but his talent was obvious.
Many raised comparisons to Kevin Durant when Porter got into the league. You could tell he heard those comparisons because he tried to take guys off the dribble and raise up like Durant but that is not his game yet. Now he plays within the offense in a Klay Thompson type of role. Many of his looks are catch and shoots, one dribble shots, and cuts to the rim.
This clip is a great example of his offensive maturity. Last year, there were several instances where MPJ would force this step-back jumper and you would yell at your TV screen. His patience is a welcome sight. He knows that this jumper is not open, so he passes back to Jokic. He sees Ariza is not in good defensive position anymore with his eyes on Jokic, so MPJ immediately cuts after the pass for an easy slam.
Many defenders are going to give a hard contest for Porter Jr. because he is such a great shooter. When that happens, defenders are likely to overplay him. So when the defender closes out, MPJ can run a give and go with anybody and have open looks and the rim.
Here we have MPJ wide open for a three as Derrick White is in the paint as Porter Jr. catches this ball. This is another case where MPJ displays his instincts and intelligence on the court. Everybody in the league and watching on TV thinks this is a jumper for MPJ, and that’s why this is such a smart play. He knows White is on a dead sprint to the three-point line making it difficult for White to defend the drive because all his momentum is moving forward. MPJ gives a quick jab step absolutely dropping White and rises for the finger roll.
MPJ is coming into his own because he is playing his brand of basketball within Denver’s scheme. He is not trying to be Kevin Durant. He is understanding his strengths and utilizing them to the best of his ability. He seems very comfortable with his looks, and when he plays like that, he can be the best scorer on this team.
Porter might not be known for being an energetic spark plug, but there have been several occasions this season where Denver seems very lethargic, and MPJ saves them with a great chase-down block or multiple offensive rebounds.
Jamal Murray’s absence is an incredible misfortune, but if there are any positives it is the development of MPJ. It seems his mentality has changed a bit to where he is now leading by example with great effort and competitiveness. His talent alone might give him 20 points a night, but it is the mentality that will separate him as an elite player in this league.