In a prior review of Michael Porter Jr.’s rookie season, Nick Faggio wrote that he is a sweet shooter who need to shore up his passing vision, off-ball footwork, and defense. His play in this postseason, however, has only further accentuated these skill sets (or lack thereof.)
In turn, NBA Twitter has gone to war. Porter’s fans and critics battle for scouting supremacy. Should basketball lovers focus on Porter’s potential to drop 30 plus points on ridiculous efficiency? Or, should fans hold their nose at his defense and wonder why Mike Malone hasn’t torn out his hair yet?
This Rookie Review update seeks to bring peace to this fiery debate. Consider it a roundball United Nations, if you please. So, how has MPJ been performing during bubble and postseason play?
Do most rookies struggle on defense when they reach the professional level? You betcha. Yet, Michael Porter Jr is struggling more than most. His fundamentals need serious fine tuning and his poor IQ has surely led to fist-sized holes in some Denver studio apartments.
Porter often jumps out of his defensive stance. Given his history of back issues, this proves particularly concerning. Does he find it physically uncomfortable to stay low to the ground? Or, does MPJ simply lack the defensive discipline to do so? Additionally, his agility is below average. According to Joel Rush of Forbes Sports, Porter’s inability to slide laterally has resulted in Donovan Mitchell regularly taking Porter, “to school when they’ve (Utah) hunted him on PnRs.”
Other Jazz scorers have gotten in on the act, too. Joe Ingles routinely sought out MPJ during the closing moments of this series’ first two games. Justin Phan of The Action Network summed it up nicely in a tweet (put out before Game Five.)
Since resumption, Porter has displayed his defensive shortcomings in other ways as well. Porter’s awareness comes and goes. Being late on rotations or rotating to the wrong player is something that can be fixed in time, but is currently hurting his team.
Even when MPJ knows the correct assignment, he can come up short. For instance, his technique on closeouts is troublesome. Porter closes out on shooters with his hands down, which defeats the purpose of a closeout entirely. Other times he clumsily runs so far past them that he cannot return in time to curtail the ensuing 5-on-4 chance.
Coach Malone (which for some reason I just pictured with face tats singing “ball for me, yeahhh”) has flirted with hiding MPJ on switches. This only gives more credence to the fact that Porter is truly a hindrance on Denver’s defense.
Still, there is room for optimism. Rush and I discussed how MPJ could improve. He lent his thoughts on Porter’s Game Five performance, stating that, “he’s had a couple decent possessions on Clarkson. He’s got the physical tools to improve.” Perhaps an offseason of watching missed assignments and mistakes will help Porter become less of a liability. At the very least, Porter is cognizant of his weaknesses.
Previously, we’ve spent time delineating the inconsistency in Porter’s off-ball footwork before shot attempts. At times he runs smoothly around screens. Yet, there are moments when he is clunky or choppy. Cleaning up footwork takes reps, but MPJ has been displaying some potential in another type of off-ball movement.
Due to his high release, teams try to prevent catch-and-shoot chances even reaching Porter. To do this, players must fight over screens to deny passes. Sensing this, MPJ has started to v-cut into backdoor opportunities. Other times, he will simply cut harder or rub closer around the screen to gain the step on his man. This leads to easy scoring chances and helps Porter keep his field goal percentage noticeably high.
Porter has also demonstrated more versatility off of screens. He is no stranger to running around a pick and then cutting once more if the original play gets blown up. He has quickly evolved from a catch-and-shoot player into someone who can dart to the rim on savvy slashes or take an extra dribble off the catch if the situation calls for it. His propensity for creative off-ball movement is a huge bonus for Denver.
MPJ relies on more than cuts to retain is stellar efficiency, however. He hunts offensive rebounds the way a Q’Anon member searches for nonsensical conspiracies in leaked DNC emails. In fact, Porter is in the 97th percentile for offensive rebounding percentage, according to Cleaning The Glass.
His springiness around the rim helps assuage concerns about potential back issues. Despite having the size of a big, Porter possesses the springiness and athleticism of a forward. He utilizes his physical gifts perfectly to outmaneuver slower, earthbound rebounders.
Offseason To-Do List
Porter must dive head first into the role Denver has designed for him. He already has the perimeter stroke down pat, so Porter must study the game to provide the defensive portion of the three-and-D archetype. Working on his defensive positioning and agility is imperative as well.
Offensively, MPJ will benefit from extended run with his teammates. He has suffered from tunnel vision from time to time but this can be improved by cementing himself in a given role. Nevertheless, Porter has the dangerous albeit currently beneficial irrational confidence of a seasoned All-Star. With a larger sample size should be able to edit that “irrational” qualifier into something more accurate.
Be patient, Nuggets fans. As long as he stays healthy and continues to buy into his role, Porter can become the final piece to Denver’s championship puzzle. Weather the Twitter storm, too. Accept the criticism of his defense, it is justified and should likely progress into something less ugly. For now, Porter’s offensive gifts likely outweigh his areas of improvement. Here’s to watching him grown versus the Los Angeles Clippers!