One look at Michael Porter Jr. and you might think what my girlfriend thinks…
But dig a little deeper and MPJ becomes the antithesis of that.
When Michael Porter Jr. fell all the way to the Nuggets in the 2018 draft (mostly because a Clippers doctor said he’d never play again), Nuggets fans were ecstatic. Denver just added a guy to an already ascending team that, before his first back surgery, was the #1 player in his class. For good reason too…
He was arguably the closest thing we’ve seen to Kevin Durant. He was a near 7 foot sniper who was crazy athletic. A rare breed. Someone who had the potential to be the best player on a championship level team. Suffice it to say, these kinds of guys don’t just grow on trees…
But then the injuries…
If one back surgery wasn’t enough before the age of 20, MPJ had another one his rookie year in Denver. And then a 3rd back surgery last year, absolutely neutralizing any chance the Nuggets had of making any noise in the playoffs in 2022 – An improbability without Jamal Murray, but a wasted year of growth for MPJ nonetheless.
So what does MPJ do? Does he sulk and feel bad for himself like the rest of Nuggets nation? I’m sure there was some of that. Does he throw in the towel and say “Hey, I’ve already cashed in my max contract, I’ve had 3 back surgeries before the age of 23 and I can’t do this anymore.”?
Michael Porter Jr. comes back.
He comes back despite the understandable regret the organization had giving him a max contract right before he gets hurt again. He comes back despite not having the same amount of fanfare Jamal Murray received upon returning after being out. Hell, MPJ comes back even though his own coach has shown time and again his lack of trust in his ability to contribute to a winning team.
But this article isn’t just about Michael Porter Jr. coming back from injury. It’s about the absolute, 100% buy in of his place and role on this team.
Because lets make one thing clear: MPJ is talented enough to be a 25 point scorer for half the teams in the NBA. Just look at his offensive arsenal from just the other night.
And non-NBA fans might say something like: “Well why wouldn’t he buy in? He’s coming back from an injury and on one of the best teams in the NBA…getting the opportunity to play alongside the reigning back to back MVP.”
It’s a sad reality, but that’s not normally how guys in the NBA think.
Bones Hyland is a great example.
What an opportunity that kid was given. The Nuggets trade a great backup point guard in Monte Morris (in a package deal with Will Barton to land KCP, a perfect fit for this team), in part because of the belief the organization had in Bones to fill that role. A player fans loved was given the keys to the second unit of a team with championship aspirations, and what does he do? He blows it by playing an incredibly selfish brand of basketball all year, followed by an unforgivable lack of professionalism, and all of a sudden Bones got what he wanted – An opportunity to be “the man” on a different team. (How’s that working out by the way Bones?)
What I’m trying to say is that MPJs complete buy in, on both ends of the court, despite not seeing as many looks to score the ball as he feels he probably deserves, is an outlier in todays prima donna era of the NBA.
But I worry.
Not about Michael Porter Jr. He’s proven all year he’ll do what it takes to help this team win. I worry about what I still believe could be the one thing that prevents the Nuggets from winning a championship:
I worry about the stubbornness of head coach Michael Malone.
Forget the head scratching lineup decisions for a minute. Forget his inability to use challenges at the right time. Even forget his bazaar over-use of veterans, purely because they’re veterans *cough* Jeff Green *cough*.
What I’m talking about is coach Malone’s absolute ignorance in treating Michael Porter Jr. like he’s not one of the most talented guys on the team.
Malone has raved all year about Jamal Murrays toughness, despite Murray uncharacteristically making terrible decisions with the basketball at points throughout the year. He can’t speak highly enough about Jeff Green, who despite being the most athletic 36 year old I’ve ever seen, can’t seem to grab a rebound to save his life. Malone LOVES Bruce Browns defense. The list goes on and on…
But ya know who Malone never mentions in his press conferences in a positive light?
Michael Porter Jr.
And that’s bullshit. MPJ has done everything to fit in this year. He’s busted his ass to get to this point in his career. He’s improved TREMENDOUSLY on defense. And what does Malone do? He STILL uses MPJ as a scapegoat every chance he gets.
On March 12th against the Nets, MPJ had 23 points in 23 minutes. He sat THE WHOLE 4th quarter because Malone said he just trusted the group that was already out there to close out the game.
This was MPJ’s response after the game:
Good. MPJ was right. That was an asinine decision to make by Malone. After MPJ had been sacrificing all year to the detriment of his own personal stats, he’s once again the scapegoat in Malones mind. Unbelievable.
I’m not saying Malone needs to pour praise on MPJ every chance he gets, but just to throw the kid a bone once in a while. Ignite his already high confidence. He deserves it.
Maybe I’m asking too much. Malone is who he is, for better or worse. I just hope it isn’t to the detriment of this Nuggets team.
Meanwhile I’m going to sit back and watch. Watch to see what this 23 year old is still capable of. Because at this point in the season, Michael Porter Jr. is the unsung hero of the 2022-23 Nuggets.