Maybe the pandemic has distorted time, but it feels like only yesterday that Denver ripped off an eight-activity get streak immediately after buying Aaron Gordon final March. At that time, the Nuggets were shaping up to be a darkish horse championship contender.
Nikola Jokic was putting collectively a historic MVP caliber season as stage middle. Jamal Murray was blossoming into a more economical scorer and distributor. With the addition of Aaron Gordon, the Nuggets could now match up with dynamic wings and iso-weighty offenses. Lastly, young Michael Porter Jr. was coming into his personal, hunting like he could be a legitimate 3rd musketeer for a Denver “Big 3”.
But unfortunately, it was not to be then, and it’s unclear when Denver will be at full energy yet again. Denver’s title hopes final year were dashed by a Jamal Murray ACL tear from the Warriors on April 12. Equally, this season’s title hopes are on the rocks soon after a Michael Porter Jr. year-ending back personal injury.
Even though Jamal Murray hopes to return this period, this core feels like ships passing in the evening. Though the talent is there, the group has struggled to stay healthy at the same time. It’s commencing to truly feel like injuries could be threatening Denver’s title window.
What to make of MPJ?
In advance of the playoffs very last yr, Michael Porter Jr. flashed the upside that when designed him the top higher faculty recruit in the nation. In 61 video games past period, Porter Jr. averaged 19 factors and 7.2 rebounds on 54% from the field and 44% from deep. At 6’10”, Porter Jr. has the useless-eye marksmanship and shot-creating ability that invoke views of Kevin Durant. Even though it was evident that Porter Jr. even now required to increase as a shot creator and passer, the baseline tools to be a supernova on offense were being there.
Immediately after Jamal Murray’s damage, Porter Jr. averaged around 20 details for each game from March right until the playoffs. Even in spite of the Murray injuries, there was a sense that Denver could make some thing happen with Jokic and Porter Jr. as a driving drive. At the time, I assumed a star was about to increase. While the title drive was unrealistic, the playoffs would give Porter Jr. the large-stakes reps he required to evolve as a player.
Porter Jr. experienced a combined playoff. When he concluded the 2021 postseason averaging 17 points on 47% from the field and 39% from deep, he never ever seemed entirely at ease. There were being periods the place he struggled to produce his shot, and his inexperience was apparent. Versus the Phoenix Suns, several of these flaws arrived to bear. Porter Jr. saw his shooting percentages drop off a cliff immediately after a hard Suns protection. Versus Phoenix, MPJ averaged 15.3 details on 38% capturing from the discipline and 37% from a few.
Postseason expanding pains
Phoenix followed a blueprint laid by Portland in the sequence prior. When Porter Jr. did have excellent game titles versus Portland, he also uncovered his offensive flaws. While he does make difficult pictures, Portland confirmed that if you stick to Porter Jr. off-ball and hound him on-ball, he has a hard time making superior appears to be like for himself. Porter Jr. struggled to independent from defenders like Robert Covington, Mikail Bridges, and Norman Powell.
In addition, what now looks like an ominous precursor to this year, MPJ “tweaked” his back again in Sport 1 of the Phoenix collection. As a end result, Porter Jr. looked rigid and less cell for the remainder of that sequence. Though he played in each individual match of the Suns’ sweep of the Nuggets, he appeared not comfortable. Whether or not it was the tension from the protection, personal injury, or a blend of the two, Porter Jr. wasn’t wanting like himself. Nonetheless, it did not seem like a cause for problem Porter Jr. would have all offseason to recuperate.
When MPJ’s playoff struggles didn’t translate to wins for the Nuggets, the classes he took absent were being critical. Heading into the off-season, MPJ was centered on growing his repertoire. A great deal of Porter Jr’s off-time was devoted to growing his deal with and submit moves. With seemingly limitless possible and more expertise, Denver rewarded Porter Jr. with a 5-yr contract extension really worth $173 million. Porter Jr. and Denver signed the deal just ahead of the season, and disaster struck.
A rocky begin and a crushing conclusion
Even prior to Michael Porter Jr’s personal injury finished his period, he did not glimpse like the very same man. In the nine video games that Porter Jr. played for the Nuggets this season, he averaged 9.9 points on a putrid 35% from the area and a measly 20% from 3. The concerns that plagued him in the playoffs appeared magnified, and he was not relocating with the fluidity he had last time.
Ultimately, Denver’s nightmare turned a truth, and Porter Jr. exited a November game towards the Rockets with a again personal injury. The engage in that led to his exit was a dunk endeavor on a quickly crack the place it was distinct that a little something had absent incorrect.
Soon immediately after the activity, the Nuggets declared that Porter Jr. would undertake time-ending again surgical procedures on a pinched nerve. With Michael Porter Jr. in the lineup this season, the Nuggets ended up 5-4. Though they may well have been just previously mentioned .500 with MPJ in the lineup, it by no means appeared like Denver acquired the ideal edition of him this period. Devoid of Porter Jr., the Nuggets are 13-12. With Nikola Jokic having his game up one more amount, the Nuggets have been equipped to tread drinking water despite their injuries.
When will Denver be in a position to contend?
For Denver, it’s difficult to explain to when they will be ready to make a authentic run at a title. The duo of Jokic and Murray is the foundation of Denver’s team. If both equally of them are healthful, Denver is nearly guaranteed to be an elite offense. Nevertheless, it is challenging to visualize that with out Porter Jr. and Denver’s comprehensive complement of gamers (like PJ Dozier), that they will have the juice to compete with other Western powerhouses.
The injury to Michael Porter Jr. has robbed Denver of the option for a “Big 3” for the foreseeable upcoming. With luck, Denver ought to return their entire roster for next period. The Nuggets have locked down their star gamers, but the issue will be regardless of whether they can continue to be personal injury-cost-free.
As a Nuggets lover, the potential might be bright, but it seems unattainable to forecast. In March of previous 12 months, it appeared that the sky was the restrict. Now, the injury bug has struck, and it does not seem practical for the Nuggets to have a likelihood right until Murray and Michael Porter Jr. return. Let’s hope for a speedy restoration for Denver’s injured. The Nuggets have absent all in to try out and open a title window, and it would be a shame for the injuries to slam it shut.