Reviewing the 2021-22 season of Nuggets forward Michael Porter Jr, such as it was
The story of the regular season
After the Denver Nuggets gave him a 5 year, $172 million extension in the offseason, Michael Porter Jr. had his season dismantled before it ever really began. Sometime in training camp or the preseason he had another issue with his back crop up, as evidenced by the cliff his numbers fell off from before the Nuggets pulled the plug just 9 games into the year. He was clearly hurting, as shown by the below clip, and then a few weeks later he got an opinion that another surgery was definitely required.
He just never looked like the player he was in 2020-21 when he put up one of the most efficient high-scoring seasons in NBA history to earn that max deal. His efficiency went in the trash as he obviously tried to play around his compromised body and it just didn’t work. Porter has now missed two full seasons in his career, and despite a valiant attempt to make it back before Denver’s playoff run he will have to go into next year without the extra experience and growth he would have had as Nikola Jokic’s main running mate the whole season. The expectations were high for him this year, and he didn’t fail them – he didn’t get a chance to succeed. Now the Nuggets are left hoping this surgery is the last one he needs and they can get the healthy version of MPJ as the max contract kicks in next year.
Best Moment – Post-season press conference
Sadly the best thing Nuggets fans got from Porter might have been his post-season interview. He seemed very positive and cognizant of what he needs to do: be healthy, be a contributor, work on staying locked in during off-games – all the things players learn as they become real pros. Porter wants to be great, and wants to bring a championship to Denver. Making those things happen is not the product developed for this year, but hopefully it will eventually be the outcome as both Murray and Porter return to full health for the future.
— Michael Spencer (@MichaelCBS4) April 29, 2022
I asked MPJ about the Warriors and what he learned. He immediately went to the mental side of things and how even if they don’t make shots, they stay locked in defensively. Used Klay as an example. Said that was something he’s struggled with and wants to get better at.
— Ryan Blackburn (@NBABlackburn) April 29, 2022
Season Grade – Incomplete
There’s simply no way to evaluate Porter based on this season. He looked like a shadow of himself in the few games he did play, and with good reason. He can’t be evaluated on the court, and off the court he did the right things to rehab from injury and was a good and positive teammate despite those health concerns.
Wednesday vibes. Also, someone just give me MPJ back will ya? He’s RIGHT there and if you can celebrate, you can play right? pic.twitter.com/YHsOz11OuY
— Gordon Gross (@GMoneyNuggs) February 17, 2022
MPJ’s heart is in the right place as a teammate. His offensive skills are absolutely unquestionable. But these are not gradable things when he’s in street clothes. Until he gets back on the court, no grade for Porter.
What does the future hold for Michael Porter Jr?
As he said in the press conference, Porter wants address the core of the issues he’s faced and not the symptoms. He (and coach Michael Malone) will have to prioritize his health to make sure he’s there to provide that deadly shooting and aggressive rebounding approach in the playoffs for years to come. Whether that means “load management” and not playing on back-to-backs this first year back, or setting minutes restrictions, some things will have to be settled on for his health – and Denver’s success. Nikola Jokic keeps playing every game he’s available, and Denver can’t run its Big 3 into the ground like that going forward, especially not with both Jamal Murray and MPJ coming back from these kinds of serious injury.
After his last back surgery he was healthy for 2 full years, and showed all the promise that had him slated for an early selection in a draft that had Luka Doncic, Trae Young and Deandre Ayton in the the top-5. MPJ’s talent is not in question, it’s simply a matter of whether his body will allow him to do the amazing things he is capable of, or whether his career will go the way of Brandon Roy and other talented players betrayed by injury. With what we know about his injuries and surgeries, there’s still no guarantee of future health or injury. He looked fine 3 years ago after his surgery, and from all accounts he looks good now. Denver needs to maximize not just Jokic’s seasons with Denver but also MPJ’s healthy ones. A championship is always long odds on a roulette table, but the Nuggets still have the chips to win the ultimate reward.
Porter has said he wants to work on the mental aspect of the game, to focus on being a better defender. Those things are easier when you can trust your body and your offensive game is back to being the finely-honed weapon it has been your entire life. There’s a lot of growth for Porter still to get to, but none of that happens without health. Without a crystal ball there’s no way to see if he’ll be granted that in the future, but if he is I can safely predict this: the rest will work itself out. Porter’s problem has never been with his talent, and that talent can still help Denver climb the mountains that have stalled them to this point.