Michael Porter Jr. understands he’s going to walk before he can run with the Nuggets.
Most importantly, the versatile, 6-foot-10 forward who watched all of last season knows he has to keep moving.
Nikola Jokic, Denver’s star center, recalled a previous workout when Porter Jr. wasn’t on the same page as the rest of a more experienced unit and shared the advice for the newcomer after Wednesday’s training camp session at the Olympic & Paralympic Training Center in Colorado Springs.
“We told him, ‘When you’re standing, you’re wrong. Whatever you do, just move,’” Jokic said.
The whole idea of playing off the ball is a big part of Porter’s transition to the NBA. As a senior in high school at Nathan Hale in Seattle, the last time he played more than a few games in a season, he was the man not only on his team but in the nation as he won MVP of the McDonald’s All-American Game
“Sometimes I have trouble getting involved without having the ball in my hands,” he admitted. “I’m learning when to cut, when to come get the ball. It’s just learning how to not disappear.”
Porter was assumed to be the top pick in the 2018 NBA draft before injuries in his lone year at Missouri allowed the Nuggets to grab him at No. 14, eventually stashing him last season to get him back to full health. He reported no pain at Monday’s media day.
In Denver, he joins a team with no shortage of proven scorers with Jokic and Jamal Murray leading the offense and Gary Harris and Paul Millsap established as complementary pieces. He’s in a battle with Will Barton, Juancho Hernangomez and Torrey Craig for minutes to start his career.
“I think it’s just going to take me being mature just because we have such a great team already, and I’m a first-year player ... don’t know everything that’s going on,” Porter said. “I probably won’t get the huge role that I want with that, but every player started slow. Look at Kawhi (Leonard) when he was first in San Antonio. So for me, it’s just be mature, accepting my role and excelling in that and then growing it from there.”
The first part of that adjustment is learning how to play with Jokic, one of the best passers in the league who has a knack of looking off defenders before firing cross-court passes to open shooters.
“It’s crazy,” Porter said. “You won’t even think he’s looking at you but then he’ll throw a perfect pass to you.”
Once Porter has the ball, and a better understanding of what’s going on, there’s little doubting his ability.
“He’s going to do some things this year that are going to make my beard and hair get a little grayer, but that’s part of it. He’s a talented, talented young player, and I’m going to help him become the best player he can be, but he’s bought in,” coach Michael Malone said. “He understands that ‘OK, I have to learn to play without the ball. When I have the ball, I have to learn to make plays for other people and on defense, I have to be locked in.’ We’re a team that’s going to pride ourselves on defense.”
Porter flashed his potential in a clip that got shared around NBA social media Monday. The forward can be seen dishing a bounce pass to Tyler Zeller on the wing before getting the ball back around the free-throw line. He takes one dribble and gets his defender in the air with a slight head fake. Then, he steps through and finishes with a powerful one-handed slam as Jokic watched. It wasn’t exactly anything new for Porter or those who have watched earlier highlights.
“It was cool. I didn’t think it was that crazy,” Porter said. “People kept sending it to me, but it was a regular thing.”
The Nuggets’ star seems to think that can be a common occurrence.
“He’s a really big threat, you know. He’s a really good shooter. He can post,” Jokic said.
“He can go by guys. He’s a really talented player.”
Porter has just got to keep going.
“They keep telling me I can be the best cutter on the team just because I can finish above the rim and Nikola has such good vision,” Porter said. “I just gotta keep moving.”