Nuggets forward Michael Porter Jr. begins 4th NBA season with max contract, focus on God

In the two seasons forward Michael Porter Jr. has been healthy, the Denver Nuggets have won 64 percent of their regular-season games and made it to at least the conference semifinals. With Porter’s emergence alongside star guard Jamal Murray and reigning league MVP Nikola Jokic, Denver is expected to again be in the mix to win it all this season.

Porter took a massive jump in 2020-21, improving his scoring average from 9.3 to 19.0 points per game while shooting 54.2 percent from the floor and 44.5 percent from 3-point range. He scored 17.4 points per game in the playoffs as Denver defeated the Portland Trail Blazers in six games before getting swept by the Phoenix Suns in the conference semifinals.

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The Nuggets rewarded Porter last month for his breakout season with a five-year maximum contract that could be worth up to $207 million.

As Denver begins the 2021-22 regular season with a rematch against the Suns in Phoenix on Wednesday night, the Nuggets will place even more responsibility on Porter’s shoulders. Murray will be out for the foreseeable future as he recovers from a torn ACL; the team hopes he returns this season but can’t yet be sure he will. So Porter will be expected to carry more of a scoring load.

Porter knows well the toll injuries can take and the importance of not rushing back to the court too soon. Once regarded as the best high school player in the country, Porter missed all but three games in his one season at the University of Missouri because of a back injury. Concerns about his health caused him to fall to 14th in the 2018 draft, where the Nuggets decided his talent was worth the risk.

He underwent another back surgery shortly after being drafted and missed his entire rookie season.

Reflecting on his path to the NBA in the Winter 2018 issue of Sports Spectrum Magazine, Porter explained how he saw that injury as a blessing because it presented an opportunity for him to grow spiritually.

“Honestly, God kind of did humble me Himself with the injury,” he said. “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 finally made his NBA debut in the 2019-20 season, appearing in 55 games and making eight starts. He averaged 11.4 points during Denver’s run to the Western Conference Finals, which wound up being a preview of what was to come last season as his role continued to expand.

As his playing time grew, so did his fame, and with the fame came critics. He felt he wasn’t always portrayed accurately, largely on social media. So over the summer he launched a podcast/show called “Curious Mike.”

“I’ve always been someone who’s had a lot of questions and always felt like I thought differently than a lot of people, and always thought about the deeper things in life,” he said on an episode introducing the show. “And that has gotten me into trouble at times because Twitter or Instagram, they’ll take short clips of what I’d say and the whole world would see it and get a picture of who you are as a person.”

For his podcast, the 23-year-old interviews guests about a variety of topics. Denver Broncos linebacker Von Miller, Atlanta Hawks guard Trae Young, Christian hip-hop artist Lecrae and pastor Judah Smith have all made appearances on the show. With Smith, Porter’s questions ranged from family to faith to judging public figures.

“Because [Jesus] was so unconditionally loving toward [sinners], that’s what changed their hearts a lot of the times,” Porter said about halfway through the interview with Smith. “And I think people get it misconstrued today and they think that you have to earn Jesus’ love.”

Raised by parents who spent many years serving with the sports ministry Athletes in Action, Porter Jr. has long had faith in Christ as a big part of his life. Serving the Lord remains his top priority.

“Even though I’ve had downfalls and struggles, it’s been a dream of mine to influence people for God’s Kingdom, because no matter how down I am, I know in the back of my head — God is what matters,” he told CBN in 2018. “Getting people to Heaven is what matters. It’s been a dream of mine to get as good at basketball as I can. My platform is so big, maybe I can influence a generation. Maybe I can influence thousands, perhaps millions of people. That’s my end dream.”

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