Denver Nuggets’ forward Michael Porter Jr. is going under the knife… again. His agent told ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski that Porter will have to undergo surgery on his lower back and will miss an “indefinite” period of time — the same time frame the Nuggets gave when they announced he was out of the lineup with a back injury on Nov. 8. Porter and his representatives had hoped to avoid surgery, but received multiple medical opinions that this was the best option.
This was the gamble that the Nuggets took when they made Porter a late lottery pick in the 2018 NBA Draft. They were a team on the rise, finishing with a record over .500 (46-36) for the first time in four seasons, and they missed the playoff on the final day of the regular season in 2018. Former second-round pick, Center Nikola Jokić was rapidly improving and 2017 Top-10 pick, Jamal Murrary, saw his scoring average rise from 9.9 points per game to 16.7 in 2018.
This is the team that Porter, a 6-foot-10 silky-smooth, jumping, shooting, top-2 2017 basketball recruit, fell to in the 2018 lottery. Why? Because he missed most of his one season at Missouri with a lower back injury that required surgery. Porter said in September on J.J. Redick’s Old Man and the Three podcast that he re-injured his back during pre-draft workouts in Chicago. His agent had set up a Pro Day trying to get him to become the No. 1 overall pick, and two days before he couldn’t perform. The teams were on the way, so the doctors checked him out, and Porter told Redick that the Los Angeles Clippers doctor said that he may never play again.
Porter then became the 14th overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft and had another back surgery prior to the start of the 2018-19 season that, according to his representatives, was a breakthrough, which would allow them to have a better understanding of his injury.
The Nuggets brought Porter along slowly. He didn’t play in any games his rookie season but was impressive in workouts as they won 54 games and took the Portland Trail Blazers to seven games in a second-round playoff series. Porter made his debut and had an erratic 2019-20 season with production and minutes, until the Orlando Bubble in 2020. Murray missed some time at the start and Porter began to show his potential. He even hit a crucial shot in Game 5 of their second-round series against the Clippers that helped the Nuggets overcome a 3-1 series deficit, and advance to the Western Conference finals.
In 2020-21, he played in 61 of the Nuggets’ 72 games in a truncated season. Porter averaged 19 points per game on 54.2 percent shooting from the field, and 44.5 percent from the 3-point line. This was it. The gamble had paid off, and the Nuggets had scooped another gem in the draft and were going to be a serious contender for years to come. They signed Porter to a five-year max contract extension just two months ago.
Porter has played in only nine of the Nuggets’ 19 games this season, averaging just 9.9 points per game, and his shooting percentages cratered.
The Nuggets’ draft-day bet on Porter would’ve been worth it at the time for other teams. The Clippers passed on him twice in preceding picks, and some other teams could’ve waited to see if he would heal, or at least used him in a trade after he killed it at practice.
However, he played a little too well, too fast. The talent was so intoxicating that as Jokić turned into an MVP, it was time to push in all the chips. Now, their best guard is still recovering from ACL surgery and this special forward’s back injury has returned like a zombie. This is the third back surgery in four years on a 23-year-old and his agent put a name on a report to Wojnarowski, stating that a full recovery is expected. The Nuggets have signed all three players (Jokić, Murray, and Porter) to max contracts.
For the players, especially Porter, thank goodness they got their money. For the Nuggets, they better hope Porter’s agent is right.