Denver Nuggets: Michael Porter Jr. will make or break Denver’s season

Denver Nuggets Michael Porter Jr. (Troy Babbitt-USA TODAY Sports)
Denver Nuggets Michael Porter Jr. (Troy Babbitt-USA TODAY Sports) /

The Denver Nuggets will need Michael Porter Jr. to step up in a big way in 2021-22. 

The Denver Nuggets have the eighth-best odds to win the 2022 NBA championship on WynnBet Sportsbook. I’m here to tell you that’s just way way too high for a team I believe to be second-best in the Western Conference, behind only the Los Angeles Lakers.

The main reason for the skepticism around Denver heading into the 2021-22 season is due to Jamal Murray. If you don’t remember, Murray tore his ACL back in a regular-season game against the Golden State Warriors on April 12nd. This sidelined him for the remainder of the 2021 season and will probably force him to miss the start of this season.

His absence has fans and NBA media members alike believing Murray’s absence will cause the Nuggets to get off to a bad start and will ultimately prove to be not a real championship contender. That along with the fact that the West is set to be even better than it was last season, with the Warriors getting back Klay Thompson, and the Utah Jazz, Phoenix Suns, Portland Trail Blazers, and LA Clippers returning most of their key players, and teams like the Dallas Mavericks and Memphis Grizzlies looking to take the next step.

What’s being forgotten in all of this is how well the Nuggets were playing before and after Murray’s injury. The Nuggets went 13-5 from the time after the all-star break until Murray’s injury. Then, when Murray went out and everyone expected the Nuggets to fall off, they didn’t at all; going 13-5 in their remaining games.

Murrays’ injury is obviously gut-wrenching for Nuggets fans but what people are forgetting is just how deep a team Denver is. They have solid, veteran players like Will Barton, Aaron Gordon, Jeff Green, Monte Morris, Austin Rivers, JaMychal Green, and Facundo Campazzo that are all more than capable of not just surviving, but playing very well basketball without Murray.

Plus, they still have the reigning MVP in Nikola Jokic who, at just 26 years old, is just getting into the prime of his career.

With all that being said, the biggest reason I’m so bullish on the Nuggets 2021-22 prospects is due in large part to Michael Porter Jr.

The big question for the Denver Nuggets in 2021-22

Through his two years playing in the NBA, MPJ has shown flashes of superstardom. If you catch him on the right night, you’ll get to see his crazy athleticism on display, reminiscent of hall-of-famer Tracey McGrady. Then maybe the next time down the floor, he’ll nail a deep three in someone’s face with that beautiful jump shot he has that nobody can block, looking a lot like Kevin Durant.

Now, in no way am I saying Porter is as good or even will be as good as McGrady and Durant. I want to make that clear. What I am saying is there is no denying the former Missouri Tigers’ potential.

At just 23 years old, MPJ is still in the early stages of his career, so his inconsistent play isn’t too much of a concern for me. Every young player struggles with producing night in and night out in the NBA. Consistency is just a matter of experience and learning the NBA game. Another area where every young star struggles are getting to the free-throw line and MPJ is no exception.

Through his two years playing in the league, Porter Jr. has averaged just 1.8 free throw attempts per game. Yikes! That’s rough. Porter Jr also needs to become a better playmaker. He averaged just 0.8 assists per game in his rookie season and 1.1 last season. Double Yikes!

I bring all this up to say that in order for the Nuggets to take the next step into championship contention, they need Porter Jr to develop into that guy most people thought he could be coming out of high school. And the thing is, right now is the best time for him to develop into that player.

With Murray sidelined presumably for a good chunk of the season, head coach Mike Malone and his staff should be doing all that they can to grow MPJ’s game. The time MPJ spent without Murray on the floor last season and is going to spend early on this season will prove to be vital later on this season when Murray returns.

If Michael Porter Jr. can improve in those areas I mentioned before: getting to the foul line, becoming a more well-rounded offensive threat, and becoming a creator for his teammates, the Denver Nuggets could prove to have three legitimate all-stars in MPJ, Murray, and Jokic. The only question then remains, when Murray comes back will he be able to get back to the level he was at before the injury, and will the Nuggets coaching staff be able to incorporate a system that benefits all three stars.

That’s a lot to ask of a team, but with how the Western Conference is shaping up with a Kawai Leonard-less Clippers team and a Jazz and Suns teams that some predict to regress this season, the Nuggets could be right up there with the Lakers, Nets, and Bucks at the end of the season.

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Let me be the first to tell you to not let Murray’s injury scare you away from liking the Nuggets this year. In fact, Murray’s injury may prove to be the best thing to happen for this Nuggets squad as it may allow faster growth for the promise of the franchise: Michael Porter Jr.