Michael Porter Jr. has become for Nuggets what people thought Drew Lock would be for Broncos. But isn’t.
NFL 

Drew Lock lost Courtland Sutton in Year 2. Michael Porter Jr. lost Jamal Bleeping Murray. Cry us a river, Buzz Lightyear.

It’s funny, isn’t it? How no one makes excuses for MPJ, the Nuggets’ young forward, anymore. How he’s become everything half this town thinks Lock can be at quarterback for the Broncos … but isn’t. Or hasn’t been.

Denver needed Porter to step up. Badly. Immediately. So he did. Period. No divided camps here. No caveats. No yeah-buts.

From April 12, the night Murray tore an ACL, through Monday morning, MPJ had scored 25.6 points per night. He dropped fewer than 21 points just once over that span.

The Nuggets, left for dead three weeks ago by the coastal windbags who’d prefer them to just go the heck away already, went 9-1. On Saturday night, Joker and The Miracles leapfrogged the Clippers for the No. 3 slot in the NBA’s ruthless Western Conference playoff bracket.

In MPJ’s second season (he sat out all of 2018-19 recovering from back surgery), no one calls the talk shows to groan about how the young man needs more time. Or better protection. Or more coaching continuity. Or about how much he’s suffered from the injuries to other dudes that were out of his control.

Again: Jamal. Bleeping. Murray. Gone.

When the basketball gods and coach Michael Malone dared Porter to get better, to raise his game to meet the circumstances, MPJ didn’t dance. He didn’t boogie. He didn’t press. He didn’t panic.

He just … answered.

Porter woke up Monday as the only NBA player who ranks among the top 20 in 2-point field goal percentage (62.6%, 14th) and 3-point field goal percentage (44.3%, eighth). In a league that cares mostly about scoring from two levels, MPJ is a dagger machine from all three, the sweetest of throwbacks.

“The area I think Michael has really grown in is, and maybe it’s helped now because he knows without Jamal, without Will (Barton III), the ball is going to find him.” Malone noted after MPJ’s 31-point performance against Memphis late last month. “He’s not rushing shots. He’s not forcing shots like how he was doing earlier this season. He’s passing. He’s cutting. If he doesn’t have the shot, he’s going to hit Nikola (Jokic) and cut and get easy baskets that way as well.”

He’s learning. He’s growing. He’s blossoming. In the last 10 games, MPJ has been credited with a defensive rating better than league average — roughly 112 points allowed per 100 opponent possessions — on six different occasions, or 60% of his appearances. In his previous 44 contests, Porter had posted that level of defensive rating just 18 times, or once every two-and-a-half games.

“I got scored on a couple times in the beginning of the game and I kind of took it personally,” MPJ told reporters after a sluggish start against Toronto last week. “(I said), ‘Nah they’re not about to go at me.’ It’s something that I’m starting to take pride in. Night-in, night-out, I’m capable of playing defense like that. I’ve just got to keep getting better.”

They’re not about to go at me.

I kind of took it personally.

No alibis. No apologies.

The Nuggets, through thick and thin, might be the most fun team in town to watch right now — when we can watch them, anyway. Jokic’s MVP case gets stronger with each passing week, especially with Barton and Monte Morris on the mend. Facu Campazzo went from the winter’s odd fit to the spring’s hero. P.J. Dozier can’t stop elevating.

From Paul Millsap and JaMychal Green to Aaron Gordon and Austin Rivers, so many dudes have picked up the flag and helped carry it. But you shudder to think where the Nuggets would be, right now, without MPJ taking that next step.

Heading into Monday night, Porter was averaging 22.8 points, eight rebounds and 2.96 3-pointers per game since the All-Star break. Over 16 contests during an April that ran the emotional gamut, Porter became a steadying force, averaging 23.9 points, 7.7 rebounds and three treys.

He’s become someone we trust — and opponents fear — with the game on the line. When Lock finds that, if he’s still in the picture, the Broncos will be in a far different, far better place. The Nuggets? They’re already there. And for that, we know exactly who to thank.

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