The Denver Nuggets will enter next season without the services of Jamal Murray at least to start the year. The team has not given a timeline but players who suffer a torn ACL need almost an entire year to fully recover and his injury occurred in April. This is obviously a blow to the Nuggets’ title hopes. Murray has been deemed the second-best player behind league MVP Nikola Jokic. However, looking at the bright side of things, the 2021-22 NBA season may be the final step to Michael Porter Jr.’s evolution to becoming a legitimate superstar.
Here are two reasons why Michael Porter Jr. is entering his final season before superstardom.
Quickly found his role in a playoff team
It’s astounding to realize that Michael Porter Jr. is just about to enter his third season in the league. Especially since there were tons of concerns about his health ahead of the 2018 NBA Draft which made his draft stock plummet from a top three selection to being the 14th overall pick.
Aside from that, there were also concerns on how he would fit with the Nuggets who already had their identity when he came along. It was crystal clear to everyone then that Nikola Jokic would be the face of the franchise. Of course, other players are always welcomed with open arms but, rookies like MPJ usually have a hard time breaking into a team with an established identity.
Three years in, MPJ is one of the hottest young stars in the league. What’s impressive is the fact that MPJ quickly became a key part of the Nuggets’ rotation almost in a blink of an eye. Remember Darko Milicic who was picked second overall by the Detroit Pistons and how he turned out on an already established postseason team? Porter Jr. accomplished an immensely difficult task under similar circumstances. This speaks volumes to his skills and maturity as a player. In the next season or two, it’s not foolish to expect Porter Jr. to become a bonafide superstar.
Steps up when given the chance, steps up when needed
In MPJ’s rookie season, Nuggets head coach Mike Malone employed an interesting strategy with his minutes. Malone would field MPJ in the first and last minutes of the quarter so as to slowly give him a feel for the game. From a coaching standpoint, Malone was observing how Porter Jr. would mesh well into his system. Porter Jr. averaged just 16.4 minutes per game in the 2019-20 regular season. This seemingly odd strategy seemed to have paid off come playoff time.
To refresh the memory, the Nuggets mounted consecutive 3-1 deficit comebacks before ultimately succumbing to the Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference Finals that year. During this run, MPJ was raising eyebrows for his shooting, especially in clutch situations. This might have created a precedent as Malone fielded him for 23.7 minutes per game. In his first playoff experience, Porter Jr. averaged 11.4 points per game on a ridiculous 47.6 percent shooting clip. He also snagged 6.7 rebounds per game for the Nuggets.
It only made sense that Malone inserted Porter Jr. into the starting lineup in the 2020-21 NBA season. From averaging 9.3 points and 4.7 rebounds in his rookie season, MPJ boosted his numbers to 19.0 points and 7.3 rebounds per contest. He then finished third in the Most Improved Player award voting.
MPJ ticks all the boxes in the “Rising to superstar status,” category. He trusted the process from the Nuggets and remained professional throughout all of it. When he was finally given the chance, he stepped up big time. Now, Mike Malone and MPJ’s teammates have full confidence in him. It’s unfortunate that the Nuggets will miss Murray’s services for awhile but, we may see the birth of another star in his absence.