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The Denver Post
The Denver Post
Mike Singer

Nuggets’ Michael Malone validates Michael Porter Jr.’s growing maturity: 'He’s disciplined'

What might qualify as homework to some is just another night in the Michael Porter Jr. household.

An avid fan, Porter said he’s constantly keeping tabs on the rest of the NBA when the Nuggets aren’t playing. That includes Suns and Jazz games since his good friends (and former teammates) Torrey Craig and Jarred Vanderbilt have each carved out significant roles on two of the best teams in the West. On Tuesday night, Utah hosts New York, which will then travel to Denver for Wednesday’s back-to-back. At altitude, it’s one of the most feared two-game sets in the league.

The Nuggets will finally have a rest advantage, and head coach Michael Malone implored his team to watch.

Maybe he doesn’t get credit because it was already on Porter’s agenda, but it’s another example of how seriously he’s taken what’s now his fourth season in the NBA.

“I’ll definitely watch,” said Porter, who noted he was trying to study his opponents more as part of his defensive preparation.

Following practice on Tuesday, Malone approached Porter and reiterated what made Sunday’s game at Chicago perhaps the best all-around game he’s ever played. From his shooting, to his spacing, to his unselfishness, to his defense, Porter was as engaged as he’s ever been.

Malone never has had a problem policing his team.

“It’s also just as important, if not more important, for positive reinforcement,” he said.

Beyond Porter’s sparkling numbers – 18 points per game on 48% from the 3-point line and 6.4 rebounds per game – Malone beamed at the fact that his star forward was playing the right way.

“More important to me, deeper than the numbers, are the fact that offensively, like, I can count on one hand how many shots that he’s taken where you can say, ‘Probably not a great shot,’” Malone said.

With seven minutes left in the second quarter vs. the Bulls, Porter hopped into a step-back 3 that he typically would’ve launched. Instead, sensing a defender draped on him, he dropped a pass to Nikola Jokic, who immediately lofted it over the top when Porter cut toward the hoop for and-one. It’s that unselfishness – with the understanding that the ball will get back to you, particularly orbiting around Jokic – that Malone wanted to reiterate.

And defensively, Malone underscored what film had validated about Porter’s engagement.

“He’s disciplined, he’s giving forth effort,” Malone said.

When Porter struck an early rhythm, Malone rewarded him by staggering Jamal Murray with the second unit rather than yanking Porter out. He said moving forward, Bruce Brown would enter the game around the 6-minute mark, but the game would dictate who he’d replace. Coincidentally, Porter intended to talk to Malone about the substitution pattern before it happened, naturally, in Chicago.

n staggering Murray, not only did it allow Porter to maintain his flow, it gave Murray a chance to play off the ball alongside Brown. In that role, his responsibilities turn to more of a scorer than a facilitator. And it allowed the Nuggets to ride the hot hand.

Porter said he appreciated Malone’s flexibility and the positive reinforcement he received on Tuesday.

It was a worthy reward for a player whose maturity has grown leaps and bounds. From body language to professionalism, Porter is more self-aware than he’s ever been.

“There’s so many games, there’s so many ups and downs, you can’t just get caught on a roller coaster of emotion,” Porter said. “You gotta stay pretty baseline, pretty stoic.”

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