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Denver Nuggets Film Friday: Why isn’t he extended yet?

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NBA: Playoffs-Phoenix Suns at Denver Nuggets Isaiah J. Downing-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.

Earlier this week, it was reported by Mike Singer of The Denver Post that there was mutual optimism between Aaron Gordon and the Denver Nuggets on the two sides reaching an extension that would keep him in Denver for the foreseeable future. After giving up multiple assets to acquire him at the trade deadline, that is a near-must, unless the team wanted to risk losing him for nothing next offseason. While it’s great they’re working to bring back Gordon, it’s interesting that the team has yet to work out an extension with the team’s another young forward in Michael Porter Jr. After two seasons of play, Porter looks like the team’s clear third star alongside Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray, but we haven’t seen rumors of an extension being imminent.

This isn’t meant to be a shot at Gordon getting his extension, but it is worth taking a look at the front office’s priorities. Through three seasons, Porter has exceeded a lot of expectations after being the 14th overall pick out of Missouri after playing just 53 minutes in college. Porter dealt with a back injury that cost him all of his rookie season, but, since then, he’s only gotten better with every passing month.

After starting just eight games in 2019-20, he started 54 of the 61 contests he suited up for in the 2020-21 season, along with all 10 of the team’s playoff games. He finished the 2019-20 season by shooting 50.9 percent from the field and 42.2 percent from 3-point range while averaging 9.3 points per game. In the 2020-21 season, he averaged 19.0 points per game while shooting 54.2 percent from the field and 44.5 percent from downtown. The only other player to hit those averages while attempting more than two 3-point shots for the year was Chris Webber back in the 1995-96 season. Porter is accomplishing special levels of shooting, and that doesn’t even bring into account his work on the glass, as he’s averaging 9.0 rebounds per 36 minutes for his career. So, all of this begs the question, what’s taking the extension so long?

The Defense is Coming

In Year 1, Porter was a defensive sieve. Opponents knew they could take him off of the dribble because he lacked lateral mobility, and they could drive through him because he didn’t have the size to withstand them. Take a look at this play where he’s guarding LeBron James in the playoffs. James gets a simple screen to get the switch onto Porter, and it’s over from there. He could rise up for a jumper, as Porter is leaving him plenty of room to do so. Instead, he drives right at Porter who fails to slide over and gets to the rim for the easy layup. He still needs to work on moving laterally, but he showed flashes this year of progress on that end of the floor.

Here, Porter demonstrates two different forms of improvement. For one, after sliding towards the corner away from the ball, he is able to get back and contest the drive by Damian Lillard. When Lillard rises up, he sees he won’t be able to get a shot off, and he elects to dump the ball off to a cutting C.J. McCollum. Porter sees this, and he uses his impressive second jump to rise back up and contest McCollum vertically without fouling him. Porter’s length can become a great defensive asset if he learns to use the principle of verticality more effectively.

Shot Selection is Improving

Before we go any further, I understand that Porter can still be overzealous at times when it comes to rising up for his own shot. However, this is the type of play that he worked to cut out during his second season of play. He has the matchup advantage in terms of height, but he never looks comfortable on this play. With plenty of time on the shot clock, he allows his man to move him away from the rim before firing off a fadeaway jumper from mid-range. He got stronger in his second season which allowed him to stay on his spots better, but he actively worked to avoid plays such as this one.

The key to this play is paying attention to the defense of Kyle Lowry. Porter does a great job of getting the block on O.G. Anunoby, and he starts running the floor. He’s still a fair bit away from the 3-point line with Lowry guarding him when he picks up his dribble. Knowing his tendency as a gunner, Lowry tries to close out on the shot attempt. Porter sees this and makes the decision to hit JaMychal Green with a pass and then generates easy separation to get the ball back and knock down an open shot from mid-range. That’s the difference. Rather than rising up for the long contested shot after getting the big block, he passes the ball to someone else and is rewarded when the ball finds him again. Porter is always going to be a shoot-first guy, and, when you shoot as well as he does, that’s going to happen. However, he’s learning that sometimes the best shot is the one he doesn’t take.

Board Man Gets Paid

Every player makes this mistake during their career. It doesn’t matter if you’re in a pickup game, college or the NBA. You charge towards the rim for the offensive rebound and putback, and the ball bounces backwards over your head because you jumped before you knew where the ball was going. Porter sees Mason Plumlee put up a shot, and he’s heading in for the putback dunk. The ball promptly bounces right over his outstretched hands, and he’s now behind the play in transition.

Meanwhile, here’s the adjustment he made from Year 1 to Year 2. Porter got much better at waiting until he had a better judgement of where the ball was going before jumping for the rebound. Porter slices towards the cup to give Gordon an opportunity to pass the ball, but, when Gordon elects to go for the shot attempt, Porter gets in position for the rebound. He’s got a center on his back, and Robert Covington to his left. Thanks to his height, Porter can get those rebounds that usually centers can just tip to themselves. Once he comes down with the board, he uses that second jump to go back up for the easy layup. Porter gets extra possessions for the offense, and he ends possessions on defense. His extension should come sooner rather than later, but, with the growth we’ve already seen from him, it’s weird that the talks don’t seem to be any hotter thus far.

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.