Michael Porter Junior’s Zoomer Ennui

Abe Beame studies the game of the Denver Nuggets third-year standout.
By    August 20, 2020

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Abe Beame only goes mile high when listening to jazz reissues.

On November 10th, 2017, Missouri forward Michael Porter Jr. had the first, and only, negative experience of his entire life. He began his college career against Iowa State, scored two points, got a rebound, then had to leave the game. MPJ had a herniated disc in his spinal column that required surgery. He spent most of his Freshman season on the shelf, came back in March to play the two largely ineffective games the Tigers lost, then needed another back surgery. In the subsequent NBA Draft, the once presumptive number one pick fell to number 14, where the Denver Nuggets got him as a stash.

Up until that point, he had lived an incredibly charmed life. With his sloped brow and face composed entirely of jaw, Porter has the bearing of a Starship Trooper infantry grunt, or a jock in an 80s high school movie who lives to beat on nerds. He looks like the product of one of those Greek myths when gods came to earth to mate with us. He spent most of high school in Missouri, racking up accolades and state championships. His senior year, he moved to Seattle, where Michael Porter Sr. was hired as an assistant coach by Nathan Hale High School. MPJ averaged 36-13, the school went 29-0, and won another championship.

MPJ spent his entire rookie year out, recovering from his injury. Through most of this season, head coach Mike Malone used him sparingly, often around 10 minutes a game, to the confusion of many Nuggets fans. I was somewhat confused as well. The Nuggets have this very efficient offense they run through their brilliant center Nikola Jokic, relying on an arsenal of role playing shooters around him, but they have been mired on the treadmill of second-tier NBA competency. With Michael Porter Jr, they took a big swing. An elite athlete who could elevate them to the next level of actual contention, so why not see what you have in him?

Then circumstances intervened. The entirety of the Nuggets backcourt core, Jamal Murray, Gary Harris and Will Barton all missed the first two games in Orlando with varying ailments. It was as if God themself filled the role of Billy Bean in Moneyball, trading the entire team to force Art Howe into playing Hatteberg. Enter MPJ, who ran up some huge stats in a few big games and ended up making the All Bubble Second Team. 

In obsessive NBA circles, we are always looking for who’s next. The fresh, young, emergent talent is our morphine. It’s the embodiment of the Missouri kid breathing life into the perennial also ran Nuggets, one of the most interesting developments that has come out of the bubble. So I should love Michael Porter Jr, but I don’t.

Michael Porter Jr plays like a guy with a huge dick, and I mean that in the worst possible way. He plays with the unencumbered aloof entitlement of a man who doesn’t have to respond to text messages unless he feels like it. Here’s some footage of MPJ playing defense against the Thunder, after some action; he settles in the bottom right corner of the screen (0:52).

He is utterly disinterested in basketball unless he is all but assured to get the ball. And what’s bizarre is this instinct he has for when to move. He doesn’t cut frivolously. When he moves, he gets the ball. He’s either hanging on the fringe of the play, or at the center of it. On offense, obviously. 

Here’s a possession from the Nuggets bubble game against the Blazers that didn’t involve MPJ. It’s Joker handing off to Jerami Grant, who finds a lane and nails a floater. You can see Michael Porter Junior just kind of dicking around in the corner, completely tuned out.

And yet. He’s huge. He doesn’t create mismatches. He creates positional disasters. His joints are fused with silken tofu. Michael Porter Jr. once went to space with his wife, her brother and their grumpy but benevolent friend where they were exposed to cosmic Gamma rays. He can stand at mid court and touch both sidelines without bending. Michael Porter Jr has never missed a shot. His field goal percentage is literally 100%. He has never passed a basketball in his entire life. He is pure being, and by being I mean scoring. As I mentioned, Mike Malone spent most of this season refusing to play him, an act I simultaneously completely sympathize with and find utterly reprehensible. Even now, with a near 40-point game in his bag, Malone plays him begrudgingly, and I watch him begrudgingly, but I can’t take my eyes off him. 

Something magic happens when he gets the ball. All the listlessness falls away and he’s animated by the Holy Spirit, or like a drugstore children’s ride after you insert a quarter. He’s not elusive or forceful; he doesn’t do anything particularly well, he’s just fucking unstoppable. He moves with certainty and above all other things, supreme confidence. It’s all fluid motion. He plays calm, emotionless basketball. He’s Dr. Manhattan. He’s a brain dead moron, and also potentially a genius.

While watching him play, you may wonder if there’s a “there” there. You may wonder what Michael Porter Jr actually thinks about, or cares about. Let’s talk politics. On December 4th, 2016, Michael Porter Jr walked into Comet Ping Pong, a pizzeria in Washington DC, and sprayed three shots from an AR-15 into a door and a wall because he suspected it harbored a child sex ring. In 1969, as the district attorney in New Orleans, Michael Porter Jr brought criminal charges against local businessman Clay Shaw for his involvement in a conspiracy to assassinate John F. Kennedy. In 2012, Michael Porter Jr speared a disinformation campaign claiming Barack Obama’s presidency was illegitimate because he was actually born in Kenya.

MPJ wasn’t born on third base. He was born with a Jackie Robinson lead between third and home. This manifested itself yet again when you consider the circumstances of how he was drafted. If it wasn’t for his injury, he could be languishing in New Orleans, or Charlotte, or on my beloved Knicks (In which case I’d be writing this wearing a Michael Porter Jr. jersey and gushing about how much I love him). Instead, he’s playing with the best passer in the league, who has spent far too many years making the likes of Torrey Craig, Will Barton, Gary Harris, and Malik Beasley appear to be actual options in a functioning pro offense. But now Jokic has a Ferrari. They are a perfect match. The least selfish and most gregarious, inventive playmaker in the NBA paired with a sociopath megalomaniac piece of shit who is only interested in one thing.

The Nuggets face long odds at winning a championship this year, but it’s not out of the question. If they manage to pull it off, the Nuggets will shock the world, and most likely shock themselves, but there is one person on earth who is completely assured of Denver’s inevitable victory and will be entirely nonplussed as Adam Silver hands over his birthright, the Finals MVP.

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