Kiszla: Nuggets should start Bruce Brown and let Michael Porter Jr. be big dog off bench – The Denver Post
Why would the Nuggets waste the best years of Nikola Jokic’s career on wishes and prayers that Michael Porter Jr. will grow up to be an all-star?
Championships aren’t won with wishful thinking.
I want the Nuggets to achieve what many naysayers in this dusty old cowtown think is impossible.
It won’t be easy to win the first NBA title in franchise history. It will require innovative thinking.
The first hard step in fulfilling this championship dream is for coach Michael Malone to sit down MPJ and convince him there’s nothing wrong with being the best sixth man on the planet, especially when you’re getting paid a $30.9 million salary.
If Malone wants Denver to play the shutdown defense he feels is essential to be a serious championship contender, the coach needs to find a way to replace MPJ in the starting lineup with selfless and versatile Bruce Brown, whose addition to the team in the offseason was a savvy move by new general manager Calvin Booth.
“I love not only his toughness,” Malone said Saturday, praising Brown prior to Denver’s game against San Antonio, “but the versatility he brings in today’s game, to be able to play offensively 1 through 4 and defensively 1 through 4.”
Brown can be a point guard or a power forward and everything in between, the Swiss Army knife that can fill any role for the starting unit as the shape of a game changes.
Brown has developed instant synergy with Jokic, who rewards teammates who exploit open space with heavenly passes that are gifts from the basketball gods. That has allowed Brown, who can nail an open jumper from beyond the three-point arc, to fashion an effective shooting percentage during the early stages of this season that rivals the marksmanship of Steph Curry.
By rules of the playground, elevating Brown to the starting lineup will be regarded as a demotion of Porter. But I’m here to help MPJ, not bash him.
We all know Porter’s history of back ailments that have required three surgeries. If the Nuggets want to keep the championship window for Jokic pried open for as long as possible, they need to keep MPJ healthy, developing a long-term load management program that keeps this 24-year-old forward operating at peak efficiency from now through 2027, when his salary will exceed $40 million.
Porter tries on defense. He stayed late after shootaround Saturday morning and studied video of how the Spurs would try to attack him. When MPJ dives on the floor for a loose ball, appreciative teammates on the bench get up and shake booty like Lizzo.
But defense is about more than desire, despite what your prep coach yelled so many times you grew up to mistakenly believe Carmelo Anthony was too selfish to care.
Mention defense to Porter during an interview and he makes a face like a kid told for the umpteenth time to eat his brussels sprouts. Just as he was blessed by the basketball gods with one of the sweetest shooting strokes on Earth, Porter was cursed by holes in his skill set that will never allow him to consistently make defensive stops with a playoff series on the line.
According to Pro Basketball Reference, MPJ’s current defensive rating, which estimates he allows 115 points per 100 possessions, is the worst of any four seasons in his NBA career. But on this Denver team, which doesn’t guard anybody on the road, bad is good, as Porter’s defensive ranking trails only Jokic, who is nobody’s idea of a rim-protector.
So here’s the twist: This modest proposal to bring Porter off the bench is not meant to serve as punishment for defensive shortcomings. My idea is to make MPJ the cornerstone of the second unit and reduce the stress on Malone, whose rotations can be the source of head-scratching befuddlement.
There is no shame in being the big dog off the bench. The list of players who have been named the NBA’s best sixth man include Kevin McHale, Manu Ginobili and James Harden. Tyler Herro, who won the award last season, did so by averaging more than 20 points and 30 minutes per game for the Miami Heat.
As a third wheel in the beautiful relationship between Jokic and Jamal Murray, it sometimes seems as if Porter stands and waits for the basketball to find him. As he puts it: “A more simple game.”
The dynamic, however, changes during his frequent runs we’ve witnessed with Denver’s second unit. In that role, Porter said he’s “definitely” more comfortable letting his awesome offensive creativity flow, “being more aggressive, shooting different types of shots.”
OK, why not let a new big dog on the Denver bench eat?
Porter will never be Kawhi Leonard or Jayson Tatum.
But MPJ could be an unstoppable force of nature as the best sixth man on the planet.
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