Michael Porter Jr. is finished allowing others to dictate his legacy and the future of his career.
Yes, much of his basketball life has been out of his hands due to injury. Porter was barely able to play in college due to his back issue. After being drafted by the Denver Nuggets, Porter went under the scalpel with Denver hoping the procedure would rectify his ailing back. Porter ended up missing all of his rookie season because of the procedure, but after the first surgery, he played in 116 games over two seasons and thrived which led to him earning his maximum contract extension. After the success Porter enjoyed for those two seasons, his back once again took a turn for the worse and it took nearly an entire year from him in the 2021-22 season.
Now, finally healthy, Porter knows this is his chance to take back control of his career and he is doing everything he can to make that a reality.
“I just know that I have it in me — even through all of the injuries — to be a good player on (the defensive) side of the floor,” Porter said in a nearly empty locker room after helping the Nuggets beat the Oklahoma City Thunder on Saturday night for Denver’s home opener. “It is really just trying to get past that being the kind of thing that people talk about when they talk about me. I don’t want there to be a thing like ‘yeah, he is a good player, but...’ or, ‘he was a really good shooter, but...’. I do not want to hear that my whole career.”
Porter has heard every detractor and their issues with his game. He knows most feel he is a negative defender and question his upside on that end of the floor as well as his commitment to reaching that ceiling. Porter knows that many see him simply as a shooter who lacks skills in most other areas on offense. Porter knows that many are betting against him having a long career due to his injury history.
Regardless of the opinions of others, Porter is not shying away from his opportunity. He has put in a level of effort previously not seen from him and is attacking this season with intent and urgency. Porter knows that the years are flying by since he entered the NBA. It is time to either take control of his legacy or slowly burn out until his career is over.
Porter has emphatically chosen the former option.
“I will tell you man; I am so proud of Michael (Porter Jr.),” Nuggets head coach Michael Malone told the media after Denver’s win at home against the Thunder. “We lost to Utah, but in that second half, I loved how he played. I loved how we played, but I also loved how he played. I am on him a lot about his defense, but I think being a coach and in a leadership position, you also have to reward them when they do things correctly to build their confidence up. He dove on the floor for loose balls, he was flying around contesting shots.
“Will he ever be Scottie Pippen? Probably not. I don’t want him to be Scottie Pippen. I want him to be the best version of Michael Porter Jr. that he can be. Right now, what he is showing me is that he cares and that he is committed to trying. That is all I ever want. I am going to make mistakes and players are going to make mistakes, but if you genuinely care and are committed to trying and making the effort, we are never going to have problems. I think Michael has shown a tremendous amount of growth in that regard and I am proud of him for that.”
So what has Porter focused on in order to elevate his game and take back jurisdiction over his own career? The simple answer is defense.
“The offense is on autopilot — I will have good games or bad games; make shots or miss shots — but defense is where I am trying to win,” Porter said after beating Oklahoma City.
Porter can be portrayed as someone who lacks an awareness of his game, but over the time I have spent interviewing and speaking with Porter throughout the years, it has become clear to me that — at least mentally — he knows his game well. He accepts his faults and, this season, has put effort towards fixing them.
No, Porter does not think he has been an all-world defender simply because he has put more effort forward. He is fully aware of his current limitations, but is working towards pushing past them. Mentally, he appears to be attacking his shortcomings on defense accurately. His focus right now, as he put it, is on “effort and intentionality”.
“The more healthy my body feels, the more I am willing to move on that end of the floor,” Porter explained plainly. “I feel pretty good now and I know I am still getting better (on defense) so it is definitely an area of my game where I want to be very good. I think I have shown flashes that I can do it, but now it is about effort and intentionality on that side of the floor. That will come with time. It is my third game after this recent injury so I am going to keep building from here.”
In order for Porter to seize control of his own future and legacy within basketball, his healthy will be paramount and, according to him, his body is bouncing back well from another back surgery.
“My body has been feeling good. I am feeling like I am back to myself movement-wise and I think it is going to get better as time goes on,” Porter explained. “I spent this whole offseason not really playing a lot because I was trying to get back on the court. As far as being in shape and handling physicality and things like that, it is going to keep getting better I think.”
Now that he is back on the court and playing well, his appetite for growth has not subsided. Porter knows this is the beginning of the rest of his career and, if he slips up or loses focus, his legacy could take a turn for the worse.
But now that he has an opportunity to prove himself, Porter has no intentions of passing it by.
“It has been fun getting back on the court, but now the whole thing is about building from here,” Porter said.