Denver Nuggets forward Michael Porter Jr. became only the third rookie since 2000 to post consecutive 30-point double-doubles but it was Nikola Jokic who left Gregg Popovich feeling like he had just faced a Hall of Famer.
“Porter is a fine young talent,” the San Antonio Spurs coach said. “And Jokic, he’s like a reincarnation of Larry Bird. He does everything. He’s amazing. They were great.”
After exploding for a career-high 37 points and 12 rebounds on Monday, Porter Jr. remained red hot with 30 points and a career-high 15 rebounds to lift Denver to a 132-126 win over the Spurs.
Meanwhile, Jokic wowed Popovich after the All-Star center had 25 points, 11 assists and four rebounds — three coming on the offensive glass. He also buried all three of his 3-pointers in the third quarter to help the Nuggets (45-23) move to within half a game behind the LA Clippers for the second seed in the West despite playing without starters Jamal Murray, Gary Harris and Will Barton.
“They’ve never seen anything like that,” Popovich said of his younger players trying to defend Jokic. “He’s stepping out and making 3’s. He’s rebounding the ball, there should be an NBA rule, you can’t tap it to yourself. He’s Moses Malone. You know, he’s down there and he jumps about a quarter of an inch, then he taps it two or three times and then he gets it and he lays it back in.
“It’s not just luck. He does it all the time. He is great on the board, he’s obviously maybe the best big man passer in the league. If not, then close to it. He’s a pretty special player.”
This week, Porter Jr. has displayed the promise of a prospect that was once hyped as a potential No. 1 overall pick had he been healthy. The No. 14 overall pick in the 2018 draft sat out all of last season to recover from back surgery. But in two consecutive games with three starters out, Porter Jr. has shown what he can do with a bigger role.
Porter Jr. drilled his first three triples and had 10 points in his first 10 minutes. Providing the pass-first Jokic with a big athletic target, the 6-10 Porter Jr. finished strong, hitting four-of-five shots, including two 3-pointers, to score 12 points in the final 10:47.
After having 11 points and one rebound in the Nuggets’ lackluster 125-105 loss to the Miami Heat last Saturday, Porter Jr. texted Denver coach Michael Malone three times telling him that he will play better and asking the coach to stick by him.
“I think the greatest challenge for any young, talented player like Michael Porter is consistency,” Malone said. “Can I bring that level of play every single night? Michael Porter, along with everybody else on our roster and coaching staff did not do a good job in the Miami game… People are reporting that I singled Michael Porter out. I didn’t single anybody out. I singled us out.”
Porter Jr. said he is just trying to bring consistent energy every game and learn how to get into a consistent routine.
“For me, it is all about energy,” Porter Jr. said. “So I knew even if tonight, I am not going to shoot the ball amazing every night. But every night I can get on the glass, I can be active, I can be back on defense. That is something I got to bring every single game. And when I do that, it just opens up the rest of my game.”
“Obviously not every game is going to be a 30-point, 15-rebound game,” Porter Jr. later added. “Especially with all the talent that we have on this team.”
After the game, Malone talked for several minutes before suddenly ending his session with reporters after raving about Porter Jr.’s potential and ability to shoot, rebound and defend.
“The funny thing is, I thought about this today thinking about Michael Porter,” Malone said. “Michael Porter was not selected to play in the Rising Stars game this year.
“Are you kidding me?” Malone asked before walking away.