The Denver Nuggets entered the NBA bubble in Florida as one of the best teams in the West, due to a strong season up until the league was put on pause (43-22). But they stumbled in their first game back last week, a 20-point loss to Miami.
One such disappointment in that game was rookie Michael Porter Jr., who started only the second game of his career and saw extended minutes due to three starters being out with injuries. He responded with 11 points and only one rebound.
The 22-year-old knew he missed an opportunity. So he made sure to let head coach Michael Malone know he would be better. Before the Nuggets’ next game, Porter sent three texts to Malone to say just that: “I have to be better, I can do better, stick with me.”
The coach did, and Porter responded this time in a historic way. On Monday, he poured in a career-high 37 points, along with 12 rebounds in a win over Oklahoma City. On Wednesday, he dropped 30 points with a career-high 15 rebounds in a win over San Antonio.
30 points & 15 boards.
— Denver Nuggets (@nuggets) August 6, 2020
That puts Porter with Trae Young and Blake Griffin as the only rookies since 2000 with consecutive 30-point double-doubles. And according to the Elias Sports Bureau, via NBA.com’s Sekou Smith, Porter became the first rookie to score more than 65 points on 65-percent shooting and grab 25-plus rebounds over a two-game span since Shaquille O’Neal in 1993.
Even Will Barton, one of the Nuggets’ regular starters whose injury absence is allowing Porter more playing time, praised “MPJ” after his impressive back-to-back showing.
MPJ is special! Ready right now! 6’10 small forward with a ratchet & a handle! Stop playing with him! Can’t be on a leash with that type ability! It’s time! Gotta let him be him! Shorty different!
— Will Barton (@WillTheThrillB5) August 5, 2020
These performances are what Denver hoped to see when it drafted him 14th overall in the 2018 NBA Draft. Once a projected top-three pick, he slid in the draft due to back injuries that forced him to miss most of his one and only college season at Missouri, and sit out the entire 2018-19 NBA season.
Porter, who says “God first always” on Twitter, made his NBA debut on Oct. 31, 2019, and thanked God afterward, despite the Nuggets losing the game.
“At the end of the day, it’s amazing to make my NBA debut, I thank the Lord for the opportunity, but I was trying to get a [win],” he said.
Porter, who was raised in a strong Christian home as one of eight children, saw all his time away from the game as a blessing.
“Honestly, God kind of did humble me Himself with the injury,” he said in the Winter 2018 issue of Sports Spectrum Magazine. “Just being honest, I kind of feel like it was a God-thing that I got hurt, because I feel like going into college [as the] No. 1 recruit, and then if I was to go to the League, [possibly a] No. 1 pick, I just feel like I wasn’t ready spiritually to handle it. So it’s like He almost did that for my blessing.
“That’s how I view it now. I used to not view it like this, but I view it now like He did it for a blessing for me so I would have this time and try to mature myself — [go] through a struggle and mature — so when I get back healthy, I’m on top of things.”
Porter later added, “He cares more about my soul than He does about my success in this world. So that’s how I view that right now. I could be the No. 1 recruit, I could be the best player in the NBA, but if I’m not [connected to Him], what’s the point of it all?”
Porter’s recent play has certainly earned him more playing time in the future, especially with key starters still out. The Nuggets continue their season Thursday against Portland as they aim to keep a hold of the West’s No. 3 seed, if not improve before the playoffs.
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