(Image by Tomek Kordylewski)
By Nick Faggio
Every rookie entering the league is evaluated on their positives and negatives. Each and every rookie brings a particular level of NBA readiness, or lack thereof. When it comes to Michael Porter Jr., he brings some good, some bad, and a little bit of ugly.
During high school, MPJ was the top ranked prospect in the 2017 class. Bringing a great amount of hype and potential to Missouri, Porter would injure his back within his first two minutes of game time. He would go on to miss over three months of college ball, and play only three games that season. MPJ would slip to 14th in the draft, which many considered a steal for the Denver Nuggets.
The vast amount of college minutes that Porter Jr. missed would allow his poor basketball IQ and many flaws to go unnoticed come draft day. Or perhaps the lack of playing time hid some of those qualities. Regardless, it’s time to discuss what he did well during his first year and where he struggled.
Shooting Touch, High Release & Physical Profile
Michael Porter Jr. is 6-foot-10 with a 7-foot wingspan. His length, to go along with his quick, high-release combines for a hard to guard jump shot. Porter’s jumper can be shot over contesting defenders of any position. Shown in the video below, MPJ has no problems getting shots up and over the lengthiest of NBA defenders. There is little anyone can do to truly alter his release.
You can’t teach height. It leads to a major reason that MPJ is shooting 42% from behind the arc. Porter is accustomed to his high release and when given extra time to ensure pre-shot balance his shot becomes even more potent. Yet, his lower mechanics are not as flawless.
Lower Body Shot Prep & Footwork
When it comes to MPJ’s footwork, he showcases some mixed results. Coming around screens in particular, the Mizzou product is hit or miss when it comes to planting his feet correctly. Watch the video below, it’ll do a better job describing it than I can.
The first half of the clip demonstrates good footwork when coming off of screens. Denver can use MPJ as essentially a guard during these sets, and his 6-foot-10 frame will give him the advantage at getting his shot off. In the second half of the clip, however, MPJ displays poor footwork and tries to compensate by kicking out his legs; a indication that he needs to regain balance. This can be improved upon with repetition and is something that will be revised as MPJ continues his NBA career.
Let’s get back to the positive skills he showed during his rookie year. Michael Porter Jr has a knack for hunting down offensive rebounds. Porter is solid at attacking the glass and gaining extra possessions. Watch this video below to see how MPJ demonstrates good instinct in grabbing offensive boards.
MPJ excels at evading his defender and swooping in for the offensive board. A trait that he has displayed in the college level as well, his 7-foot-wingspan allows him to wrestle for rebounds amongst the most aggressive rebounders the league has to offer. Plus, he has a little bit of youthful bounce to him.
This is a skill that should help earn playing time. Gaining extra possessions is an art form and one that is overlooked. Plus, it suggests a player has instincts or what we call feel for the game. This feel does not show up everywhere on the court, however.
Michael Porter Jr. can flash glimpses of tunnelvisionitis that could make any scout or fan sour on him. He shows an unhealthy amount of symptoms. I only play a doctor on TV but the medical consensus is that it will take many months of film-watching to fully recover.
Sometimes MPJ quite literally dribbles with his head down. Just watch the video below, the proof is in the pudding (and now I’m hungry…)
On the fast break in particular, MPJ often runs the court like he is playing one versus five. Failing to spot the open man in transition and even in the half-court, Porter’s eyes are glued to the rim. The many charges and turnovers Porter causes can be easily avoidable and must be atop his to-do list of changes to his game. Although his instincts for grabbing boards indicative otherwise, these avoidable turnovers show that MPJ may actually lack feel for the game.
Offseason To-Do List
All in all Michael Porter Jr. has weaknesses just like any other rookie. But here at The Playgrounder we value playing style, mentality and feel, which gives us pause about MPJ’s current hype train. We’re still buying a ticket but don’t be surprised if we get off a stop or two early.
To continue his growth, MPJ must take care of his body. It is concerning whenever a teenager has back issues. Get right and stay right, Michael. We want you to succeed and health is a top priority.
But, how do you unlearn tunnel vision. MPJ would do well to watch film on a guy like Kristaps Porzingis. Dallas uses KP like a 7-foot two guard, running him through pin downs, flare screens and pick and pops. Denver has already introduced MPJ to those sets. Practicing his footwork is essential. To develop feel for the game, spending scrimmage time with pass-first players can help yet, I’m not sure there is a true cure for this.
Denver management and coaching has some homework as well. Porter has literally compared himself to a mix of Kevin Durant, Giannis and Tracy McGrady. Seriously, that happened. Nugget brass and MPJ must get on the same page.
Denver may (rightly) want him to develop into a 3&D forward with a ceiling that looks like a more athletic Danilo Gallinari with some defensive potential. Porter could have a different trajectory for his career; one which sees him develop into a shot creating, high usage forward. This is an interesting storyline and one we all should be looking forward to following.
BONUS: What Are The Expert Saying?
We reached out to James Siegle of Hoops Habit to get his opinion on Porter’s rookie season. Siegle provided his breakdown and has a noticeably higher outlook on MPJ than we do. Differing opinions is why we do this, folks! Enjoy.
On Possibly Starting
“Michael Porter Jr. would be starting for many squads right now, and this likely isn’t a question of “if” he’ll be an impact player, but “when”. He’s looked phenomenal offensively when given extended court time, and he possesses a unique, Kevin Durant-like efficiency to his game.”
On His Performance
“We caught a glimpse of the player Porter could be in January, as he averaged 12.3 points per contest (in 21.4 minutes), while shooting an insane 52.2 percent from the field and 48.0 percent from 3-point range. He’s shooting 42.2 percent from deep on the season, which is actually second-best on the team. He’s also better on the boards than advertised (10.7 rebounds per 36 minutes) and cuts well around Jokic, which is a necessity in Denver.”
On His Defense
“Porter struggled to earn playing time due to his defense, and the problem resides particularly in his defensive awareness. Playing on this deep Nuggets team didn’t help matters, although the February trade should have cleared minutes for him. At some point next season, Porter’s offense will be worth any defensive liability.”
On What He Needs To Improve
“We only saw about 700 minutes from him so it’s hard to say what things are most urgent. The reason he didn’t play more minutes this season is because he’s pretty lost on the defensive end. So his steepest learning curve will likely come from film study more than skill development. But as far as skill set, a better handle will really unlock his 1 on 1 game. He’s a phenomenal shooter and can get his shot off against anybody but an improved handle will help keep the defense honest. Lastly, like most rookies, he’ll have to improve his strength in order to hang with the best wings and forwards in the game.”
On His Future Role In Denver
“Despite getting limited run-time this year, one can clearly see the potential is there for Michael Porter. The defense still leaves something to be desired, but one look at his per 36 numbers shows how lethal of an offensive weapon he can be for Denver. The Kevin Durant comparison is still a bit far fetched to me, but one can definitely understand it. His game is as fluid as they come and with more minutes, he very well could be the missing piece the Nuggets need. Porter could become the wing that will help form a big 3 with Jokic and Murray.”