Early in the first quarter,
Michael Porter Jr. once again finds himself stationed on the right
Jamal Murray flies off a Nikola
Jokic screen at the free throw line. Porter Jr. misfires the pass
to Murray, the ball practically falling at the feet of Clippers
forward Marcus Morris. Morris pushes the ball and chaos
We get a failed chasedown block,
then a recovery, rotation, and a block from Porter Jr. He rim-runs
after the swat and Aaron Gordon, filling the same right wing that
Porter Jr. did to kick off the action, fires a dart inside to get
the 6-foot-10 forward a dunk.
There’s something fitting about
the exchange, an entertaining blip in the middle of a 101-94
victory. The play begins with Porter Jr. operating as an initiator,
and it fails miserably. It ends with Gordon piecing things
together; not just filling the slot, but sliding an extra couple of
steps to create a wider passing window so Porter Jr. could cap
This is what the Nuggets want
out of Porter Jr: multiple efforts on defense and efficient
bucket-getting on the other end. The transition sequence is a basic
view of what the Nuggets want out of Gordon: fill the space created
from the gravity of their top two, and help branch things together
MICHAEL PORTER JR. IS
REACHING NEW HEIGHTS
Sometimes the box score
does tell the story. Porter Jr. is fresh off a March
where he averaged 20.3 points while shooting 63.6% from two and
53.2% from three. The free throw shooting lagged behind (67.7% on
2.2 attempts), but he was still able to log an absurd 70.8 True
Shooting percentage. Just look at this freaking shot chart from
March, per InStat.
Insane, right? Here’s the shot
chart on the “contested” shots he took.
There isn’t much difference. And
that is terrifying.
The appeal -- and fear -- of
Porter Jr. is that he’s in complete control of his success rate.
be six or seven players on the
planet who have the quickness and the length to slide with him and
affect his shot. A player with his size shouldn’t be able to handle
the way that he does; he surely shouldn’t also have a feathery soft
touch and a sky-high release point.
The inherent difficulties of
defending Porter Jr.’s shot is the work he puts in before it. He’s
an opportunistic mover, able to capitalize against occupied
In other instances, he’s able to
create the window with his prowess. Turning a hammer screen into a
cutting opportunity is a stroke of genius:
There’s been more growth
defensively. Part of that is being able to play the 4 more often.
He’s found himself navigating on-ball screens a little less, and
he’s improved his off-ball feel. The help rotations are a little
more crisp, a little more often.
Denver’s defense has still been
better with Porter Jr. off the floor — replacing him with the
know-how of Paul Millsap or JaMychal Green will do that — but it’s
encouraging that the defense with Porter Jr. has been trending
positively over the past couple of months.
AARON GORDON IS FITTING
Speaking of the defense, Gordon
has already slotted into the “big-wing-defender” role. In his
three-game stint with the Nuggets, Gordon has already spent time
defending Ben Simmons and Kawhi Leonard. He also spent a healthy
amount of time on John Collins in his debut game versus the Atlanta
He’s strong enough to not be
completely dislodged by the Kawhis of the world. That sounds like a
backhanded compliment of sorts, but it’s darn near impossible to
stop superstars with that blend of strength and fluidity. Making
things tough is generally a job well done.
There’s also intrigue in
Gordon’s ability to toggle through multiple assignments in a small
amount of time.
Offensively, Gordon is getting
in where he can fit in. Like Porter Jr., he’s rarely the option
that kickstarts the action, at least in the half-court. His primary
job is to find openings off the ball. The early returns are
That’s some subtle goodness from
Gordon. He reads how the Los Angeles Clippers defend the 1-5
pick-and-roll. A peel switch from Reggie Jackson puts him on the
hip of Jokic. Murray floats around the dunker spot, then jets to
the left corner as Ivica Zubac comes to double Jokic. Kawhi picks
up Murray, and Gordon capitalizes with a timely cut.
It’ll be interesting to track
Gordon’s pick-and-roll usage. He’s already run a few with Jokic.
More intriguing, he’s been the screener for Jokic in ball-screen situations. If we’re
making the Jerami Grant comparison, Gordon should provide more
juice as a vertical spacer.
We’re working with a small
sample right now, but the Nuggets haven’t lost since acquiring
Gordon. The 3-0 record is nice; the
plus-28.7 net rating
in the 77 minutes that Gordon and
Porter Jr. have shared together is an even bigger
We know what Jokic provides. If
he isn’t the MVP frontrunner for you, he’s at least in the top
three because of his blend of three-level scoring and unreal
playmaking. We know what Murray provides, a pull-up dynamo who can
wreck teams for halves at a time when he gets
The Gordon-Porter Jr. tandem
must complement those two for Denver to get to where they want to
go. If the early returns are any indication, they may be well on