NUGGETS

Michael Malone gives staunchest defense yet of Michael Porter Jr.

May 23, 2024, 3:54 PM

DENVER—Michael Malone and Michael Porter Jr. have not always seen eye to eye and in some ways that was true of the way that the Denver Nuggets season ended—but Malone backed MPJ stronger than he ever had before on Thursday.

During the team’s season-closing press conference, Malone unprompted took time to back his sweet-shooting forward. He praised his mentality and credited the former Missouri Tiger for the team’s round-one win. The ninth-year coach of the Nuggets also disagreed with MPJ’s assessment that the team is out of the playoffs because of him.

“I saw Michael Porter’s comments, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t say that I couldn’t disagree with Michael more,” Malone said Thursday. “I don’t want Michael Porter putting a series loss on him. We win together, we lose together. Michael is a huge part of our team.”

MPJ said just after Denver’s season-ending loss that he felt like the series loss to the Timberwolves was on him and he apologized to his teammates for his play. Porter averaged 10.7 points, 5.7 rebounds and 1 assist per game in the seven with Minny, shooting just 33% from deep.

“We do not beat the L.A. Lakers without Michael Porter’s stellar play, efficient play. And then we as a team had a tough series,” Malone said. “We as a team did not shoot the ball well, and I love the fact that Michael is kind of taking ownership of that but it’s never placed on any individual. I just wanted to make sure everyone was aware of how I felt. I respect Michael for saying that but we all lost it wasn’t just on one person.”

In the five games against the Lakers, Porter averaged 22.8 points, 8.4 rebounds and 1.2 assists per game in the seven with Minny, shooting just 49% from deep. The Wolves saw this too and adjusted their defense going into the second round. On top of that, Porter was dealing with serious family issues. On the eve of the postseason, his brother Coban was sentenced to six years in prison for a fatal drunken car crash. That happened days after another of MPJ’s brothers, Jontay, was barred from the NBA for life for gambling on games he participated in this season.

“The first thing that popped into my mind is 81 games player this year, dealing with all the family issues that were in the public eye, and for him to be able to compartmentalize all of that and go out there and do his job at a high level, it’s just astonishing,” Malone said. “I’m just proud of and inspired by his ability to handle all of that and do his job. When people think about the Lakers series they’re going to talk about Jamal’s two game winners. Michael Porter was incredible in the Laker series… the Minnesota series was a tough series for him. I told him maybe after game one. Jaden McDaniels had always guarded Jamal (Murray) when we played them. Game one they had McDaniels on Mike. So Michael it’s a sign of respect. They know for them to beat us they have to shut you down.”

Porter playing as often as he did this year is an achievement in itself. Once-failing several medicals when coming out of college, Porter’s career has always been a question of if given his back injuries. He’s essentially missed two full NBA seasons because of his back, but he’s played in 175 of Denver’s 196 games the last two years. Surprisingly, MPJ has turned into an Iron Man of sorts.

“For Michael Porter to max out his talent on top of health, he showed tremendous growth from year one to this year,” Malone said. “Understanding he hates coming out of games, hates it and he doesn’t want to be the guy that keeps getting targeted. He wants to be the guy that I can trust out there defensively. So can he defensively continue to grow and mature team defense as well as individual defense? He is an elite shooter. He’s a very good rebounder, one of the best rebounders on our team, have the playmaking ability. He’s drawn such a crowd can you make a play for somebody else?”

Porter turns 26 this summer and just finished his fifth season playing in the pros after being taken in the first round of the 2018 NBA Draft. His rare combination of 6-foot-10 size and career 41% shooting from deep is part of what powered the Nuggets to their first title in 2023.

“Michael has been a huge part of winning a championship and everything we accomplished this year, and I love the arc that he’s on because there are no plateaus, he’s getting better,” Malone said. “Offensive discipline, defensive awareness. And as a coach, that’s all I can ever ask for. You’re willing to buy into and commit to everything I’m asking you to do.”

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Michael Malone gives staunchest defense yet of Michael Porter Jr.