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Michael Porter Jr. and his journey to max contract player

From career uncertainty to max contract money, the Nuggets are placing their faith in MPJ.

New Orleans Pelicans v Denver Nuggets Photo by Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images

It seemed all but impossible that Michael Porter Jr. would end the night a member of the Denver Nuggets back on June 21, 2018. Denver held the draft’s final lottery selection at 14th overall as Nuggets nation had their eyes on guys like Zhaire Smith, Troy Brown Jr., and were hoping a player like Miles Bridges would fall into their lap.

Well, Bridges went two selections prior while Smith and Brown Jr. were both on the board when Denver was finally on the clock. The one name no one expected to be on the board was Porter Jr., the Nuggets didn't bat an eye and took a chance on a talented prospect who appeared in just three collegiate games due to injury. That risk has become one of the best decisions this franchise has made in recent years.

All the uncertainty surrounding his health — specifically with his back — is why Porter fell to the Nuggets at 14th overall. If he was 100 percent healthy, Porter could have easily been a top-3 pick and selected over players like Deandre Ayton, Marvin Bagley, Luka Doncic, and Trae Young. The latter two players have turned out to be all-world talents, and the same could be said with another consistent, star caliber year from Porter.

Denver Nuggets v Atlanta Hawks Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images

Porter is well on his way to stardom, but it certainly wasn't easy. The Nuggets had to take their time with the talented prospect. After sitting out his entire first season with the Nuggets to recover from multiple back surgeries, Porter was finally slated to make his much anticipated Nuggets debut at summer league back in 2019.

That excitement was quickly halted as Porter suffered a knee sprain just days before the Nuggets made the trip to Vegas. Now, Denver fans and NBA fans alike had to wait even longer to see Porter make his professional debut, which finally occurred on October 9th, 2019 in Portland. In Denver’s first preseason game for the 2019-20 season, Porter entered the game with 4:30 left in the third quarter and quickly made an impact, nailing a step-back jumper just 40 seconds upon subbing in.

Denver Nuggets v Portland Trail Blazers Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images

Porter played the remainder of the game scoring nine points on 4-of-7 shooting from the field and providing Nuggets fans a glimpse of just how special he could be. Fast forward two years later, and Porter has earned himself a max contract after becoming one of the best, most efficient three-point shooters in the entire league.

In 116 games in the NBA, Porter has shot 43.9 percent from beyond the arc and has made 239 of the 529 threes he’s attempted. Last season, Porter made his mark in the postseason stepping up in Jamal Murray’s absence. In 10 playoff games, Porter averaged 17.4 points, 6.2 rebounds, and shot 39.7% percent from three-point range to help lead Denver to a second round appearance without Jamal Murray.

As great as his play is offensively, defensively is where Porter must continue and grow. Porter was a well below average defender in his rookie season. Last season, he impacted the game more positively on that end of the floor. Whether it was affecting shots at the rim or getting into passing lanes, Porter continued to get better as an off-ball defender. Where Porter could still improve is with his on-ball defense as he still blown by consistently and gave up a ton of easy baskets at times last season.

The other potential issue with Porter is his availability as he still missed a fair amount a games the last few seasons whether due to injury or illness. Last season, Porter missed the first three weeks in January — 10 games — because he got COVID, which is an issue that could arise again this season.

Phoenix Suns v Denver Nuggets - Game Four Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images

Mike Singer of The Denver Post reported yesterday that Porter “doesn’t feel comfortable” taking the vaccine, even after getting COVID twice. This could be an issue if the state of Colorado — Denver specifically — passes similar laws to that of San Francisco and New York City, which require at least one vaccine dose for people over the age of 12 to attend indoor events. The NBA has said these rules don't apply to visiting players, but they only apply to the players who play on teams in those states.

The NBA is allowing both vaccinated and unvaccinated players to play this season, but if you have the vaccine, the process to play is much easier. Unvaccinated players are subjected to testing multiple times on game days and even practice days while also having to quarantine if they are deemed a close contact to a person who tests positive for COVID.

Vaccinated players on the other hand don't have to do regular testing, are allowed to sit in the locker room and enjoy meals with other vaccinated players. They also won’t have to quarantine if a close contact tests positive unless the fully vaccinated player begins showing COVID symptoms. This could have an effect on Porter if he tests positive again and misses extended time or if he is deemed a close contact with anyone that does test positive. He will have to quarantine and miss games.

The vaccine status is unfortunately part of the story, but the hope is Porter can stay healthy and be Denver’s second star like he was last season when Murray was out. There is no telling when Murray will be able to return this season, so the role of Robin to Nikola Jokic’s Batman is solely on Porter to deliver at this stage.

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If the final months of last season were any indication, Porter is ready to step-up and take on that extra responsibility. The Nuggets obviously believe the same after giving him this contract, of which Porter earned every penny.

It wasn't always easy and the process was slow at times, but the Nuggets have a player in Porter who could go down as one of the best shooters in NBA history if he continues on this trajectory. One thing is for certain: Porter is not going to stop shooting. Hopefully for his sake (and that of the Nuggets) the shots continue to go in at an elite rate.

Denver’s “core four” is set in stone now, featuring Jokic, Murray, Porter Jr., and the recently extended Aaron Gordon. When those four were on the court together last season —albeit a really small sample size — it didn't look like there was a team in the world that could stop the Denver Nuggets from winning their first championship. The Nuggets have locked in three of the four to long term contracts, with Jokić set to receive a super max contract next offseason.

Now, it’s on those players, particularly Porter, to meet Denver’s high expectations. Nuggets fans must hope that Porter is up to the challenge.