In 2018, the Denver Nuggets drafted Michael Porter Jr. with the No. 14 overall pick in the NBA Draft. Despite playing just three games in college after suffering a back injury, MPJ’s top-ranked talent out of high school, where he averaged 36/14/5 his senior year, was enough to earn himself a lottery pick.
Entering college, MPJ was locked in as a top-three prospect with the potential to be selected first overall in the upcoming draft, but the injury cut his freshman year short, leading to a drop in his draft stock. Soon after being drafted, MPJ announced he would need a second surgery on his back, meaning he would sit out his entire rookie year.
Five hundred and seventy-one days later, people seem to have forgotten the talent MPJ possesses and just how valuable he might end up being for this Nuggets team, despite similar cases turning out incredibly well for the respective teams just a few years ago. Here’s a quick reminder before we break down MPJ.
Joel Embiid was drafted third overall in 2014 and missed the first two seasons of his career to various injuries, but now looks like one of the best centers in the game for the 76ers. Teammate Ben Simmons was drafted first overall in 2016 despite a lingering foot injury that forced him to miss his rookie season, but proved Philly right, going on to win Rookie of the Year and looking like a perennial All-Star after just two seasons (especially with that beautiful three-point stroke). MPJ should have no trouble adding himself to this list of successes with the skill set he has entering the 2019 season.
MPJ stands at 6-foot-10 with a 7-foot wingspan. Combine that with his impressive off-ball movement and innate ability to create his own shot and you can see why he has drawn comparisons to players like Kevin Durant and Carmelo Anthony. He can perform in all three areas on offense with toughness in the paint and soft touch outside, and with his athleticism he should be able to cover multiple positions well for Denver.
It’s crazy that people have completely overlooked this kid heading into the season, placing him behind players like Darius Garland to win ROTY. The numbers themselves may not show it, but even what MPJ has done in preseason should have opposing teams scared to face this squad. In his first game since March 16, 2018, MPJ put up nine points on 4-7 shooting, including his first basket, which came off a pretty step-back against Zach Collins. He also added three rebounds in just 17 minutes of play en route to the Nuggets beating the Trailblazers 105-94.
In his two other preseason games, both wins, MPJ averaged 11.5 points and five rebounds in just 16 minutes per game while also playing some solid on and off-ball defense. MPJ has the ability to put points on the board quickly while also slowing down the opponent and should fit perfectly into Denver’s system as their sixth man, at least to start the season.
In the team’s current depth chart, MPJ is listed as the backup SF behind Will Barton, but given Barton’s tendency to go through cold stretches and MPJ’s multi-position skillset, the rookie should get plenty of minutes right away and eventually compete for a starting spot. When that time comes, he is sure to thrive around this pass-oriented team led by MVP candidate Nikola Jokic and ever-improving Jamal Murray at the point.
Jokic averaged 7.2 assists per game last season, the most by a center since Wilt Chamberlain averaged 8.6 in the 1967-68 season. His skill as a passer along with point guards Murray (4.8) and Monte Morris (3.6) averaging career highs in assists ranked the Nuggets second in the league in that category with 27.4 per game, and should provide MPJ with plenty of good looks every time he steps on the floor as well as improve his own court vision.
Given that, here’s how I think his rookie season is going to pan out.
Season stats prediction:
15 ppg, 6 rpg, 2 apg and 2 s+bpg
As I said, MPJ will start the season off the bench, but as he gains experience and continues to get back into game-shape, he should immediately take over as the starting SF for the Nuggets. Given his size, athleticism and shooting touch, 15 points per game should not be hard to come by, especially with Jokic leading the team. MPJ should also rack up a fair number of rebounds, given his main competition is 6-foot-8 Paul Millsap and his athleticism should be able to provide at least average numbers on the defensive end.
As the season progresses, I only see MPJ and the young Nuggets improving from last year. With their No. 14 overall pick from 2018 finally on the court, I think this is the year the Nuggets make the NBA Championship for the first time in the team’s history. Hell, MPJ may even pull a Ben Simmons and make a case for ROTY. Keep an eye on this kid.
Thumbnail photo courtesy of @everythingmpj Instagram.
Conner Gilson is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at email@example.com and tweets @connergilson03.