Michael Porter Jr.’s third back surgery puts Nuggets’ bright future at risk

Something seemed out of Michael Porter Jr. from the jump. He was a sniper during his first two seasons, a natural offensive talent whose spring water pure J stood out even among the best in the NBA. Still, he only managed half of his field goal twice in the Nuggets’ first eight games of the 2021-22 season, and was only 10 for 46 on a 3-point field. The 23-year-old savant scorer, who signed a maximum five-year, $ 172.6 million contract extension this summer, just wasn’t right.

It wasn’t clear what was wrong, but about three minutes into a Saturday night game with the Rockets started, it became clear that Something was:

Porter stayed in the game for four more minutes after stopping on the weakened breakaway. Once he left, however, he never returned.

The grim diagnosis fell on Monday: ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported that Porter would undergo back surgery which, according to Shams Charania from athleticism, should rule him out for the remainder of the season.

The term “back surgery” raises concern in any context. It’s especially icy for Porter, however, because of the word before it: “third.”

Porter’s first back surgery was in November 2017, at the start of his only season in Missouri, and that put him on hold for almost 53 minutes of his freshman year. Concerns over the health of his back caused a precipitous drop to the bottom of the NBA draft tables, leading a player many expected him to be in contention for the top pick in the 2018 Draft before to arrive at Mizzou to fall to the Nuggets without. 14. After Denver essentially gave him a medical red shirt for the 2018-19 season, Porter went under the knife again in July 2018, a procedure that left him “pain-free” and eager to continue his season. deferred recruit.

MPJ quickly showed his tantalizing talents, scoring in clusters while struggling to gain Michael Malone’s confidence defensively, and ultimately winning a rotating role in a Nuggets team that finished third in the West during the 2019 season. -2020 shortened by the pandemic. He built on Denver’s conference semifinals trip to the bubble, cementing himself in Malone’s starting lineup and finishing third in the Most Improved Player vote after averaging 19 points and 7.3 rebounds. per game on a real shot of 0.663. Porter stepped up his game when he took office as the second option alongside eventual MVP Nikola Jokic after Jamal Murray’s devastating loss to a ripped ACL, averaging 23.5 points per game on 56/49/85 shooting divisions during the regular season, and scoring 52 points on 32 shots in Games 5 and 6 of the shorthanded Nuggets playoff win over Damian Lillard and the Trail Blazers.

A lower back adjustment limited his effectiveness as the Suns swept Denver out of the second round, but Porter’s performance in a larger role was enough to convince president of basketball operations Tim Connelly to commit to him as the mainstay of what the Nuggets hope to be. a perennial contender in Colorado.

“The scary thing is he’s not even 100%,” Nuggets goaltender Markus Howard told my Alarm colleague Rob Mahoney during the offseason. “That’s the thing that amazes me. He was playing last year and had a historic season, and he was a shell of what he really is.

The creeping and inevitable concern now? That, as surgeries and time wasted in court continue to increase, Porter may not be able to shed the shell – that his once limitless potential may begin to meet cruel physiological limits.

Injury analysis performed by Jeff Stotts from In street clothes revealed that “nearly three in four NBA players scheduled for disc-related surgery report additional back problems at some point in their careers,” with around 25% needing additional procedures down the line. Such surgeries do not necessarily doom a player’s career; when Porter first had to undergo surgery at Mizzou, Stotts identified former Nuggets Danilo Gallinari and Al Harrington as players who have remained productive in the league. You would be forgiven, however, if one glance at the list of players who have various disk-related procedures — names like Rudy Fernández, Quentin Richardson and Martell Webster– left you wondering if what seemed like a sure-fire climb to All-Star competition could now be anything but certain.

Porter’s news continues a brutal series of injuries for the Nuggets. Denver is already operating without any. 2 Murray option — and according to Mike Singer of Denver Post, the “last chatter” predicts a potential return around April, about 12 months after his injury. The team also recently lost Jokic to a sprained right wrist, rookie spark plug Bones Hyland to an ankle injury and all-round swingman PJ Dozier to a season-ending ACL tear.

Injuries decimated Malone’s rotation, sending Denver – who was third in the West just two weeks ago – on a six-game skid in which he was edged out by a monstrous 17.2 points for 100 possessions, according to Cleaning the Glass. As damaging as it has been to play without its top three scorers and playmakers, the Nuggets’ biggest problems have been at the other end of the field: During the losing streak, they sit last in terms of defensive efficiency.

“The way we’re built, without Nikola, without Michael, without Jamal, without PJs and without Bones, we can’t beat teams,” Malone recently told reporters. “If we continue to be the 30th defense, this losing streak could go on for a very long time. “

There is an argument to be made that it might not be the worst thing in the world. With his core 26 and under, all under contract for several seasons, and with Jokic widely expected to sign the supermax contract extension for which he will become eligible this summer, perhaps the Nuggets would be better served by playing slow recoveries. of their injured stars, giving youngsters like Hyland and Zeke Nnaji as many development reps as they can handle, letting the chips drop where they can in the draft lottery, and bringing him back in earnest in the 2022 season. -2023, with Jokic, Murray, MPJ, Aaron Gordon, and possibly another high draft pick in the fold.

(Again, adding a high-priced lottery pick, or another veteran assistant added by hanging that pick in a trade, would come with its own complications: Denver already has nearly $ 11 million on the luxury tax line for next season and is expected to be less than $ 2 million less than the 2023-24 line, with just seven players under contract, once Jokic puts pen to paper on a supermax. said this summer, before expanding Porter and Gordon, that the property had given its front office “no financial constraints to try to further develop a championship-level roster,” but the writing of several heavy tax checks – and the threat of the dreaded repeat tax – has a way to convince bosses to start drawing lines.)

I don’t see the Nuggets deliberately entering the tank, however. Jokic is an MVP who played even better as last season when he sprained his wrist, taking the Nuggets to respectability and a winning record even amid all the other injuries; As long as he’s ambulatory, Denver won’t be bad enough to dive to the bottom of the league. If other injuries do occur, however, and Jokic begins to tire under the weight of an even greater workload than he already is, he could keeping the Nuggets around 10th place, potentially opening the door for a team that struggled in the first quarter of the season – the post-Luke Walton Kings? Are the pelicans re-Zion-ed? Brave young Spurs or Thunder? —To sneak in the pursuit of the game.

Whatever the wave of injuries means for Denver in the near term, however, is pale compared to its ramifications for the future. Through smart scouting, determined player development and carefully thought-out moves, the Nuggets have built a true beast, building a roster around Jokic capable of winning a championship; remember, after capturing Gordon from Orlando at the 2021 trade deadline, Denver snatched eight straight wins, blasting their opponents’ doors by nearly 14 out of 100 points and seeking the whole world as a team that had put his last piece in place.

The Nuggets believed in this build so much that they hired over half a billion dollars in contracts to lock it in place. Now, however, with Murray still coming back and Porter Jr. returning to the operating table, we don’t know when we’ll see this team back in the field, or if it will look the same once we do. Windows, once open, do not always stay open for a long time; controversy can be a cruelly fickle thing. All that remains is to hope for good health and wait and see if a team that seemed built to last really is.

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