The NBA bubble has come with a few revelations. T.J. Warren stands out as the biggest after he spent the last four months apparently channeling Michael Jordan or something and dropped 50 in the first seeding game. The Portland Trail Blazers are making a hard push for the eight seed in the West, along with three other teams. It's been a lot of fun.
One entirely unexpected development, however, has come out of the Denver Nuggets' camp down in Orlando. And it's not Bol Bol, as awesome as he is. No, the big surprise has come from Michael Porter Jr., fully healthy for the first time in who knows how long and playing like a man on fire. He's dropped 67 points in the last two games as a sweet-shooting wing playing off Nikola Jokic, and if this is a sign of things to come, everything changes for the Nuggets.
Porter has looked like the prospect everyone though he was upon entering the 2018 NBA Draft. But a severe back injury suffered after only a few games at Missouri raised legitimate questions about his ability to reach a level anywhere near his potential. He missed all of his rookie season and played in two-thirds of the Nuggets' games this season, but Mike Malone loves defense. Porter, ah, does not. It was tough for the young forward to stay on the floor because of his inexperience playing in the Nuggets' system and his lack of ability to stay in front of his man. That really hasn't changed all too much. Porter is still a below-average man-to-man defender, but he's comfortable enough in the system that Malone won't yank him at the smallest error.
When he's on the floor, Denver's offense is a whole different beast. He's a big guy with long arms, a massive target for Jokic's quarterbacking from the top of the key. Porter has definitely found his range from deep, shooting over 50 percent from beyond the arc in his last two games on 17 tries. He looks comfortable out there inside the arc too, shooting 12-of-16 in one contest and 11-of-19 the next.
This is a huge deal for Denver. Jokic is a transcendent superstar, but it's difficult to build around centers in today's wing-centric game. He's one of the best passers in the league, hard stop, and is primed to put up a triple-double in a moment's notice. But he isn't a pure scorer. When the defense's attention is fully turned to him, Jokic can struggle to put the ball in the basket. But with a pure and dangerous scorer alongside him, it becomes a pick-your-poison decision for defenses instead of just being able to lock onto Jokic and hope guys like Jerami Grant miss shots.
Jokic has something like that in Jamal Murray, who hasn't played yet in the bubble. But Murray can be inconsistent and is a little too small to make an impact if his shot isn't falling. Porter doesn't have that issue. He can get into the lane whenever he likes and hit his free throws. A quality scoring wing is one of the most valuable assets a team can have in today's NBA. Murray is a great scorer but can't get his shot off over anybody. Porter can.
Denver has their superstar. The next steps were finding the right complementary pieces. They have Murray there to take some of the playmaking load and make shots when Jokic's jumper isn't falling. Now they have a taller version who, if he fully realizes his talents, could be better than Murray in short order. That one additional piece could be the difference between a perennial playoff contender and a perennial title contender.