MPJ injury could sink Nuggets title aspirations in 2021-‘22
The NBA season is barely a month old, and it’s already looking like the 2021-’22 campaign may be a lost one for the Denver Nuggets
Already missing superstar Jamal Murray, who is recovering from an ACL tear suffered this past April, and reigning MVP Nikola Jokic, who has been out since Nov. 19 with an injured wrist, the Nuggets received some devastating injury news Monday morning.
Denver’s budding young star Michael Porter Jr. will undergo a surgical procedure on his back Wednesday that will sideline him for the foreseeable future, per ESPN NBA Insider Adrian Wojnarowski.
Porter’s agent, Mark Bartelstein of Priority Sports, tells Wojnarowski his client is expected to make a full recovery and a timetable will reveal itself once the procedure is done.
But having lost the past six games and facing a daunting seven-game road trip, the news is a body blow for a Nuggets team with championship aspirations.
Currently sitting in 10th in the Western Conference standings, Denver will now be without two max players (Porter and Murray) for much of this season.
“He’ll come back when he’s ready,” Nuggets President of Basketball Operations Tim Connelly said earlier this season about Murray’s timetable to return. “Not when we tell him, not a date on the calendar. Only he will know when he’s ready. And we’re at zero rush.”
Perhaps more concerning, however, is this will be the third back procedure Porter has undergone since his freshman season at Missouri in 2017-’18.
At one time a possible first-overall pick, Porter fell to the Nuggets at No. 14 in the first round of the 2018 NBA Draft due to concerns over his back. Later that summer, the team announced Porter had undergone a second back surgery and would miss his entire rookie season.
Porter would make his NBA debut on Oct. 31, 2019, and helped Denver to a Western Conference Finals appearance in the NBA bubble in Orlando during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Then the up-and-coming NBA star made the leap the Nuggets organization had hoped he’d make last season, playing in 61 games (54 starts) and averaging 19.0 points and 7.3 rebounds in 31.3 minutes per game.
Following that impressive breakout season, Porter was rewarded with a five-year, $172 million extension that could become $207 million if he is selected to an All-NBA team.
However, with an ailing back, Porter struggled in his nine appearances this season, averaging just 9.9 points and 6.6 rebounds per game while shooting just 35.9 percent from the field.
Earlier this month, Porter’s teammate Austin Rivers revealed that the 23-year-old has been playing hurt the entire season.
“He’s 23 years old. He’s got to take care of himself and get himself right physically and that way mentally he can come to the court playing the way that we know he can play,” Rivers said. “He’s playing hurt this whole season. It’s hard to do that. Hopefully, he comes back soon because he’s a huge part of our team.”
Last week, 104.3 The Fan’s Chad Andrus wrote that with Porter’s injury history, the Nuggets should turn to forward Aaron Gordon as insurance.
“In addition to being the elite defender the Nuggets were missing, Gordon has shown he can be a reliable offensive option as he was for most of his seven years in Orlando,” Andrus said.
In 19 games (all starts) this season, Gordon has averaged 13.6 points and 6.2 rebounds in 31.5 minutes per game.
Other candidates to help fill the void left by Porter could include Will Barton, whose 16.3 points per game is second on the roster, and Bones Hyland, who has galvanized Nuggets fans with his play early in his rookie campaign.