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Player Grades: Michael Porter Jr. is on his way to becoming Denver’s third star

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MPJ had one heck of a season

NBA: Brooklyn Nets at Denver Nuggets Troy Babbitt-USA TODAY Sports

It’s understandable that 12 teams passed on Michael Porter Jr. in the 2018 NBA Draft. His injury concerns were real back then, but now, after just his second year there have to be several teams that wish they would’ve taken him.

MPJ has evolved from an injury risk, defensive liability to a guy who you think will hit every single shot he takes (and more often than not he does). There probably isn’t a more naturally gifted or talented player at his age in the NBA, nor one with as high of a ceiling. He’s not perfect by any means but the potential is there, and his 19 points per game and 44.5% shooting from three are more than enough to convince Nuggets fans of his long-term potential.

In 2020-21, MPJ took his game to the next level. The result was a third place finish in Most Improved Player award voting and another two rounds of playoff experience. Let’s take a look at his season.

Michael Porter Jr. 2020-21 per game stats

Games Minutes Points Rebounds Assists Turnovers 2-point % 3-point %
61 31.3 19.0 7.3/td> 1.1 1.3 54.2 44.5

What Happened

The big question heading into this season was how would Porter mesh with Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokic, especially once he was named starting small forward over will Barton. That “controversy” lasted four games, since MPJ entered protocols and missed the next 10 games. From there, things looked up. He got his starting spot back, and then once Aaron Gordon came we were treated to how elite MPJ could be when surrounded by so much talent.

When Murray went down, all eyes turned to Porter to step up, and step up he did. Prior to Murray’s injury, MPJ averaged 17.4 points per game but stepped up to 23.5 after, making a strong case for Most Improved Player. In the playoffs, the offensive evolution continued, but so did the exposure to weaknesses. Overall, MPJ had a positive season which should serve as the foundation for many more elite seasons to come.

Best Moment — Dagger 3-pointer in Game 5 against Portland

This may be recency bias, but MPJ’s shot in 2OT to put Denver up for good in Game 5 was amazing. Porter looked like he would be played off the court after a pitiful performance in Game 4 in which he only took three shots, yielding him just three points. Instead, he bounced back and hit the dagger, three of his 26 points on the night, thanks to a perfect skip pass from Jokic. In Game 6, he would torch Portland for 26 in the first half alone to help Denver close out the series.

Player Grade — A-

This was such an interesting season for MPJ. He didn’t get off to a great start once he missed most of January due to the Covid protocols, but the resilience he showed to bounce back from that and then to step up once Murray went down was admirable. His 19 points per game, 7.3 rebounds and 1.1 assists were all career highs, as was his 54.2% shooting from the field and 44.5% from deep. He scored over 20 points in 30 of his 61 games and was an elite member of an elite offense once Aaron Gordon came and before Murray went down.

In the regular season Porter was a star but in the playoffs his weaknesses were exposed once again. Still, he put up more than respectable numbers for a player in his sophomore season. There’s no question the innate talent is there, but once Porter shores up a few of the other items he (and the Nuggets) will be unstoppable.

Offseason Outlook

The big question for MPJ is whether or not he will get a max extension now that he is eligible. The answer should be a resounding “yes” and it seems like the front office feels the same way. In his end of season interview, when talking about MPJ, Tim Connelly said, “We’ll sit down with Michael’s representation. Our M.O. is when we can, we try to lock guys up and reward them for what they’ve done.”

From a basketball perspective there is still quite a bit that MPJ can do to improve his game. His shot is obviously there and he’s been elite at scoring within the offense, but it was obvious how much he struggles to put the ball on the floor and create his own shot. That development would be huge and frankly it’s amazing he averaged 19.0 ppg with that being such a weakness. Defensively, MPJ improved quite a bit but in the postseason was the prime target of Damian Lillard and Chris Paul. He still has to get better there. Finally, he could hang on to the ball just a bit better - many of his 1.3 turnovers came from passes or rebounds slipping through his hands.

The good news is that MPJ is a gym rat and there’s no way he’s satisfied with his career thus far. He will continue to get better and better, which is a scary proposition.