The Denver Nuggets made it to the 2020 Western Conference Finals, yet the emergence of Michael Porter Jr. raises their ceiling even more.
Denver, of course, already has an MVP frontrunner and all-world contributor in Nikola Jokic. Their backcourt is in a good position under Jamal Murray, a developing young scorer who has averaged at least 16.7 points per game in each of his professional seasons since becoming a full-time starter.
Porter, however, is the one who made headlines on Monday after defeating the Dallas Mavericks. Despite coming off the bench, he scored 30 points in just 27 minutes of action. While he has appeared in only seven games so far this season, that marks the second time he had reached the 30-point mark in 2020-21.
Even though it is still a limited sample size, Porter has averaged 1.32 points per possession so far this season. That ranks as the best mark (minimum: 45 possessions) among all players in the Western Conference.
Michael Porter Jr. is rolling right now
Kid is finding his groove🔥pic.twitter.com/DalhyVRKT9
— Hoop Central (@TheHoopCentral) January 16, 2020
One encouraging takeaway is that his turnover percentage is down from his rookie season (11.5 percent) to now (7.2 percent).
But the main reason why he is so successful is that Porter has a dynamic tool kit of ways he can beat his defender. Approximately half of his field-goal attempts are three-pointers, 30 percent have at the rim and 21 percent are from midrange. That makes him a triple-threat as a scorer, which is one of the most coveted traits for an emerging star.
The 22-year-old forward is shooting 47.7 percent on his three-pointers (94th percentile among players at his position) and 55.5 percent (93rd percentile) from midrange, via Cleaning the Glass. His jumper looks effortless and also sustainable as he continues his career.
Michael Porter Jr. drills a dagger corner 3. He has 30 points on 10-18 FG in 27 minutes off the Denver bench. Such a quick release and smooth stroke.
— Tim MacMahon (@espn_macmahon) January 26, 2021
One of the more noticeable differences is that he is hitting his shots from the corners more often. He connected on 0.7 corner three-pointers per 36 minutes last season, shooting 43.6 percent from that area of the floor. But this season, that has increased to 1.3 three-pointers from the corner per 36 while shooting 58.3 percent on these attempts.
Considering how closely defenders have to guard Jokic and Murray, there will be a lot of opportunities for Porter if he waits in the corner. Jokic does not have to worry about whether or not Porter will sink these jumpers.
Jokic, who currently leads the league in assists, is averaging 8.5 assists per 36 during the 461 minutes he has played without Porter. But during the time that he has had with Porter alongside him, he is averaging 12.2 assists per 36.
The Nuggets have won four in a row and eight of their last 11. Michael Porter Jr. is back. Heck of a night.
“My teammates just made it easy for me tonight. I was just shooting wide open shots,” Porter tells @katywinge postgame.
— Harrison Wind (@HarrisonWind) January 26, 2021
The more often that Porter makes these looks after passes from Jokic, the more often opponents will have to close out on him. If they have to play him closer and collapse onto him, Jokic and Murray could possibly come away with more open looks.
Easy buckets are few and far between in the NBA but the Nuggets have a very unique offense. When they have their best five players on the court, everyone on the floor can shoot. This creates better spacing than rival teams.
For example, Utah needs Rudy Gobert to live in the dunker spot to complete for lobs and easy putbacks. While the opposing big waits next to Gobert, they can switch on to someone who is driving to the rack. But if the other five has to stay attached to Jokic on the perimeter, there may be a more open driving lane for a nimble, 6-foot-10 force like Porter.
I know I have tweeted this multiple times, but when Michael Porter Jr. told me that Nikola Jokic told him that he could be the best cutter on the team, I took notice.
Jokic was absolutley right. His size and quickness is devestating cutting off-ball.
— T.J. McBride (@TJMcBrideNBA) January 13, 2020
As such, it is no surprise that Porter has gotten better when he is attacking the basket, improving his field goal percentage at the rim from 66.9 percent last season to 72.0 percent so far this year. Porter, who has a 7-foot wingspan, is currently 9-for-11 (81.2 percent) when cutting to the basket, per Synergy.
Put it all together and you can see hints of what could be when these three players are all playing their top-tier basketball.