Denver Nuggets forward Michael Porter Jr. is shooting lights out since recovering his form following … [+]
In a tough loss two weeks ago at the Boston Celtics which marked one of the lower basketball points of Michael Porter Jr.’s season so far, the Denver Nuggets sophomore forward wound up with a goose egg in the points column of the box score, finishing the night on zero of eight shooting including zero of five on three-pointers and no trips to the free throw line.
But while that disappointing outing may have been the rock bottom of Porter’s recent shooting slump on the stat sheet, what appeared to potentially be an even more ominous sign was head coach Michael Malone’s decision to sit him out the entire fourth quarter in another frustrating road loss against the Atlanta Hawks a week later, despite Porter’s shooting showing signs of bouncing back in the two games prior.
The response by Nuggets fans on Twitter and elsewhere on social media could be described as mostly ranging from bewildered to outraged at Porter’s fourth-quarter benching, and concerns were raised about what might become of his role if Malone grew to not trust him in those high-leverage game moments.
But as if to nip that narrative in the bud before it took root, Malone then played Porter the most combined minutes over the two subsequent games of any Nuggets player, perhaps wanting to drive home his assertion following the Atlanta loss that his decision to close with other players was more situational than due to anything Porter had done wrong.
And in recent games the Nuggets have indeed appeared rededicated to more fully integrating Porter, one of the main challenges this season for a Nuggets offense which has long been most predominantly centered around the two-man game of Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray.
A steep hill to climb to begin with, that integration process met further complications after just four games into the season, as it was derailed and delayed by Porter’s extended absence on the league’s coronavirus health and safety protocols.
With Michael Porter now having officially broken his slump with six straight above-average shooting performances since his scoreless outing, those efforts are now paying off both for him individually and for the Nuggets as a whole.
Michael Porter Jr., Single Game effective field goal percentage (eFG%), 2020-21 Season. eFG% … [+]
After a seven-game stretch of averaging an effective field goal percentage (eFG%, which accounts for the higher value of three-point shots) of a lowly .410 over seven games, Porter’s shooting has been on the rise, as shown by both the individual game numbers and the three-game moving average trend line, at an eFG% of .642 which soars above the league average for forwards (per Cleaning the Glass) of .543. This is more in line with his .592 eFG% on the season which puts him in the 87th percentile among all NBA forwards.
It is not only the fact, however, that Porter has gotten his shooting right again, but that it has come from a more fully-meshed offensive flow with both Jokic and Murray making deliberate efforts to get him involved, that may be the most encouraging sign for his development and the fate of the Nuggets as a whole.
One important aspect of these efforts, one that’s especially critical for a player of Porter’s youth and limited NBA experience who’s still adjusting to the game, is that they have opened up a more organic and free-flowing style of what he described as “chemistry plays” following Denver’s latest win over the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Asked about one particular play in which Porter got out on the fast break and delivered the ball to Jokic, who in turn set a screen for him to open up three-pointer, he explained, “That play where I just hit Joker, he knew immediately that I was gonna come back off for that shot, and he screened in for me.”
“Plays like that, that’s just chemistry plays that happen with time but they’re not play calls.”
This should be one effective key to unlocking Porter’s full potential, as he has tended to struggle to internalize the team’s playbook and concepts on both ends of the court and – as perhaps best exemplified by his early bubble breakout – has at times benefitted (as many younger players do) from a more simplified form of basketball.
Incorporating Porter more completely into the offense by running fewer set plays and allowing the players to run more freely (something they seem to enjoy more anyhow) is a viable pathway to continuing to increase his role in a way that allows for the optimal accommodation of his offensive strengths.
But more than his shooting, it’s his effort on defense and rebounding, his energy and hustle, and his engagement and focus on doing the little things right and minimizing mistakes that for Michael Malone will really pave the way forward for Porter, and perhaps even succeed in making Denver’s “big two” a “big three.”
Although Porter shot lights out against OKC in a display of his sky-high ceiling as both an explosive and highly efficient scorer, going seven of 11 from the field including five of eight (62.5%) on three-pointers, the other aspects of his game were what drew Malone’s greater praise.
“He was shooting into a big basket, but what I love about Michael is that he’s becoming a complete basketball player,” Malone said postgame. “A young man that can stretch the floor, it’s great to see him make five threes, his teammates are finding him, but also I think he’s really grown in playing without the ball – cutting, moving, making himself available.”
“I thought the rebounding and the defense by Michael Porter was on point tonight as well,” Malone added.
For his part, Porter found a silver lining in his shooting slump in the form of being forced to focus on those elements of his game other than shooting.
“I really tried to focus on other parts of my game,” Porter said regarding his slump after the Nuggets’ win over the Thunder. “Even when my shot wasn’t falling, I really tried to find my energy from making shots because it was tough for those few games.”
“I really got to get better at some of those other aspects, because if I can just continue to put all those together night in and night out, not take nights off and not take plays off, I think that shooting slump is gonna be a blessing in disguise cause I just got to work on other parts of my game.”
I’ve covered the Nuggets since 2005, writing for Forbes, BSN Denver, Roundball Mining Company, and more. Follow me on Twitter at @JoelRushNBA, where my views are my own.