Denver Nuggets: Why Michael Porter Jr. Will Be A Bust

The NBA community grossly overuses the term “bust.” Traditionally speaking, a bust is a player who fails to live up to often lofty expectations. Prime examples of busts are players like Kwame Brown, Anthony Bennett, and Darko Milicic.

I fear that Michael Porter Jr. will fall into the arbitrary bust category too soon. Busts cannot exist without expectations. Expectations are the basis for all letdowns in life, not just with NBA prospects. Expectations can ruin a players career and NBA fans are no strangers to meteoric expectations. Many Lakers fans, for example, have already touted Lonzo Ball as a bust when he had an objectively good rookie season. Most NBA fans will call Markelle Fultz a bust, even though he is still a ripe 20 years old and supremely talented.

Among the NBA community, expectations for Michael Porter are as high as any player in the last decade or two. Coming out of high school, most saw Porter as the top prospect in the 2018 draft and an easy top three selection. However, nagging back and hip injuries sent his stock plummeting. When the Denver Nuggets drafted Porter with the 14th pick, the NBA world erupted. Countless articles emerged about how Porter was the biggest draft steal of all time.

A Troubling Injury

I am no doctor and I’m assuming most of you aren’t either. However, thanks to the power of Google, I have been able to conclude that the general public has seriously underestimated the severity of Porter’s injury. Michael Porter’s back problems emerged out of nowhere in high school; no traumatic event sparked his problems. Porter underwent an L3-L4 microdiscectomy in November to repair his herniated discs, which allow for fluid motion.

Porter missed almost all of the college season and didn’t look like the same player that he was during his short tenure as a college freshman. During the pre-draft process, Porter didn’t release his medical information to many teams and had to cancel workouts due to back spasms that kept him trapped in bed. Recently, Porter underwent a second back surgery, leaving without a timetable to make his NBA debut.

NBA players such as Larry Bird have had their careers derailed by back injuries. Porter is much younger and technology is far superior to Bird’s time but Porter’s injury is nothing to sneeze at. He has a high risk for re-injury, increasing the risk that the Nuggets took.

NOT The Perfect Prospect

Michael Porter’s injury and lack of game tape have forced a narrative among the general public that he is a near perfect prospect. However, that simply isn’t the case. Standing at a slim 6’11”, Porter has a silky smooth jumper with a high, quick release. He can get his shot off anywhere, in any way, over anyone. He has NBA range and can pull up off of the bounce. Porter has a rare knack for getting his shot off no matter what, even without dribbling, that most elite bucket-getters like Kevin Durant have. Porter is a natural born scorer. He is coordinated, a fluid athlete, and is explosive enough to finish well around the rim. NBA teams need that guy who they can feed the ball to and have them get a bucket, no matter the circumstance. Porter is this guy and that makes him incredibly valuable.

However, Porter is prone to questionable shot selection, has bad situational awareness, and always believes that him shooting is the best option. Porter doesn’t really have much creative scoring ability besides jump shots and straight-line drives. His footwork is nothing special, his back to the basket game is almost non-existent, and his handle his poor. Contrary to the people who say that Porter “handles the ball like a guard,” his handle is high and out of control. In traffic, his handle isn’t crisp enough to avoid turnovers. Porter does something often that Marvin Bagley does as well: he starts on a wing, drives straight line to the opposite block, and throws up a bad shot. Developing a counter move, like a spin or a euro step, will do him wonders in the scoring department.

Porter’s posture on the defensive end is very worrisome for me. A skinny 6’11” forward who loves the perimeter game, physicality isn’t a specialty of Porter. He doesn’t have the frame to contend with NBA bigs. To go along with this, he doesn’t possess the lateral quickness to defend NBA wings. Porter plays the game in an upright stance nearly 100 percent of the time. Not only does this not allow him to get low in a defensive stance or tighten his handle but this could increase the risk for injury. All in all, Porter’s natural scoring ability, coordination, and frame gives him a chance to be a perennial All-NBA type player. However, his injury history and flaws in his game make his floor quite low.

Denver’s Dicey Decision

Picking at 14, the Nuggets actually had quite a bit of high profile talent on the board. Along with Porter, Lonnie Walker IV and Zhaire Smith sat on the board. Contrary to popular belief, I had both of those prospects rated above Porter on my draft board. Walker is an explosive scoring guard with high defensive upside. Smith is an uber-athletic wing with immense 3-D potential, which would have been an excellent fit for Denver. The Nuggets are a dismal defensive team and Smith would have greatly benefitted them. Porter may be forced to play the four spot early, adding to the logjam at that position.

In a perfect world, Porter returns to full health and stays that way. If that were to happen, we can disregard this article because Porter will be a star. However, the skeptic (maybe the realist) in me, believes that this scenario is unlikely. This lottery pick could be the deciding factor that takes Denver from a pretender to a contender. Because of this, so much pressure will lean on the shoulders of Michael Porter. Porter is undeniably talented and has the upside of a superstar. But if he can’t live up to the astronomical hype, NBA fans will be in for a rude awakening.

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