Michael Porter Jr. finally shows his potential in first NBA action for Nuggets

Jack BaerYahoo Sports Contributor
<a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/nba/teams/denver/" data-ylk="slk:Denver Nuggets">Denver Nuggets</a> forward <a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/nba/players/6025/" data-ylk="slk:Michael Porter Jr.">Michael Porter Jr.</a>, right, dribbles toward <a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/nba/teams/portland/" data-ylk="slk:Portland Trail Blazers">Portland Trail Blazers</a> forward <a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/nba/players/5465/" data-ylk="slk:Mario Hezonja">Mario Hezonja</a> during the second half of a preseason NBA basketball game in Portland, Ore., Tuesday, Oct. 8, 2019. (AP Photo/Craig Mitchelldyer)
Denver Nuggets forward Michael Porter Jr., right, dribbles toward Portland Trail Blazers forward Mario Hezonja during the second half of a preseason NBA basketball game in Portland, Ore., Tuesday, Oct. 8, 2019. (AP Photo/Craig Mitchelldyer)

Michael Porter Jr.’s NBA debut was a long time coming, so it was only natural that Denver Nuggets fans had to wait a little more to see him.

The 14th overall pick in the 2018 NBA draft had to wait until the final five minutes of the third quarter to see the floor in the Nuggets’ preseason opener against the Portland Trail Blazers on Tuesday, but once he was in, he looked about what you should have hoped for a former top talent beset with injuries.

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His first points were a thing of beauty, nailing a step-back jumper just in front of the arc.

Considering it had been 23 months since Porter was announced likely out for the season in college, 15 months since he was announced out for his first NBA season and three months since he was announced out for summer league, that basket had to feel good.

Porter finished with a decent nine points on 4-of-7 shooting with three rebounds in 17 minutes of play in a 105-94 win. Going beyond the limits of a box score, Porter looked strong and like someone who very much has a chance at cracking Denver’s rotation.

Michael Porter Jr. could swing the Nuggets’ season

Porter, ranked by Rivals as the No. 1 player in the Class of 2017 and considered a potential top pick, fell to the Nuggets at No. 14 due to concerns about his health after missing nearly the entire college basketball season as a freshman at Missouri because of back surgery. Those concerns were later validated when it was revealed he would miss all of last season after undergoing a second back surgery.

The convenient part about Porter’s situation for the Nuggets is that they aren’t under pressure to force minutes on him. The team returned basically the entirety of a roster that won 54 games and the No. 2 seed in the West last year and has plenty of depth at the small forward position. Torrey Craig, Will Barton and Juan Hernangomez all saw minutes ahead of Porter on Tuesday.

“This is going to be an interesting year for Mike, a lot of expectations,” Nuggets head coach Malone said, per the Denver Post. “Coming to a team that had a really good season, that has a lot of depth. Nothing is going to be given to Mike, he’s going to have to earn everything he gets. We all understand his talent and the potential that he has. I think for him, it’s just go out there and play and as we continue to play, we’re going to help you learn from everything you’re going through, because at the end of the day, these experiences will be his best teacher.”

As important as it is to make sure Porter can ease back, the fact also remains that no player can swing the Nuggets’ season this year quite like Porter if he lives up to the hype. Few players in the NBA can swing the entire NBA season like Porter if he gives the Nuggets another deadly shooter for Nikola Jokic to find or another pick-and-pop threat for Jamal Murray and Gary Harris.

It is way too early to tell if Porter can be that guy this year — and impossible to say if he will stay healthy — but Tuesday was a good first step.

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