Michael Porter Jr. is a natural scorer with a nose for the basket. He can shoot the three and finishes smooth at the rim. Long stride. Athletic. Good vision.
It’s easy to see why he’s been such a coveted prospect, and why Nuggets fans have been encouraged by his last few weeks of basketball. But the playoffs start next week, and if I’m Michael Malone, I’d have some serious reservations about making MPJ a starter.
I’ll be honest, the enthusiasm with which Zach Bye has talked about Porter Jr. over the last several weeks has gotten me excited, too. But two nights ago against the Clippers, who are a playoff-ready squad, I watched every step Porter Jr. took on the court. My conclusion after the Nuggets loss: Yes, MPJ is a good scorer. This can’t be disputed. But the rest of his game needs work — like, a lot of work. And the playoffs may not be the right time to get it.
Look, he’s a rookie. It takes time to become a complete player. Time to add pounds to your frame. Time to become a man. But attitude and effort are non-negotiable, as one of my Broncos coaches used to say, and with MPJ, both need improvement.
I’m not saying he’s a jerk or a bad teammate. I’m saying that, to my eyes, he doesn’t hustle for loose balls or rebounds, and defensively, he’s actually quite bad compared to those around him. He plays on his heels, falls for cross-overs and pump fakes, doesn’t switch on pick-and-rolls and gets pushed around down low.
The problem for me — and if I’m Malone, this concerns me as well — is that he doesn’t seem to be fighting on defense. There’s nothing on his face that tells me he wants the challenge. That he wants that rebound. That he wants to do anything other than shoot the basketball.
Porter Jr. is 6-foot-10, and the last two games against the Lakers and the Clippers, he has had a total of nine rebounds. That’s not good enough. Attack the ball in the air, MPJ! Don’t wait for it to fall into your arms. He seems content to let someone else get the ball, no matter what color their jersey is.
In the bubble during seeding action, this may get a pass — nay, it has gotten a pass. But in the playoffs, this will cost his team. Veterans with postseason experience will go after Porter Jr. on defense, just like the Clippers did the other night.
Unless MPJ drops his butt and starts sipping gasoline, Michael Malone will have to start someone else — someone who is hungry for the entire court, and not just the basket.
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