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Pretty sure Michael Porter Jr. got taken too low, to the benefit of the Denver Nuggets

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Since I previewed 12 teams as possible MPJ destinations, and Denver was the 13th team to pick, let’s see what kind of fit we might have here.

NBA: NBA Draft Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

As the NBA draft unfolded and Michael Porter Jr. sat waiting to hear his name called, all of the worst case scenarios you envisioned in your head were unfolding. NBA teams frightened away by a medical report on MPJ’s questionable back were letting one of the top three talents available fall all the way to the Denver Nuggets at 14.

It surprised me to see him fall as far as he did because I’d prepped and planned two posts to talk about the lottery teams and their fit with MPJ. I clearly omitted the 14th pick from those posts to my own chagrin. Obviously I expected him to go lower than he would if he were healthy but I didn’t think he would slip past the 8-10 area before somebody would take a chance.

When it comes to an injury, particularly to the back, it’s something which can linger on if not properly treated. Even if properly treated it can still have long term effects you can’t predict. So with a clean bill of health and clean medicals there are still going to be red flags.

But at some point you’re risking passing on a potential All Star basketball player to take a guy who’ll probably be a role player for most of his career.

Most 1st round draft picks end up being good players for a period, few turn into All Stars and even fewer become elite stars. I randomly picked the 2012 NBA draft (because by this point most of those players will have either panned out or not) and here’s what I found:

2012 NBA Draft VORP

Pick Player Team VORP
Pick Player Team VORP
1 Anthony Davis New Orleans 22.6
2 Michael Kidd-Gilchrist Charlotte 2.2
3 Bradley Beal Washington 8.9
4 Dion Waiters Cleveland -1.6
5 Thomas Robinson Sacremento -1.3
6 Damian Lilliard Portland 24.5
7 Harrison Barnes Golden State 2.9
8 Terrence Ross Toronto 2.6
9 Andre Drummond Detroit 12.7
10 Austin Rivers New Orleans -1.6
11 Meyers Leonard Portland 0.1
12 Jeremy Lamb Houston 2.2
13 Kendall Marshall Phoenix -2.8
14 John Henson Milwaukee 5
15 Maurice Harkless St. John's 4.7
16 Royce White Iowa State 0
17 Tyler Zeller Dallas 0.8
18 Terrence Jones Houston 3
19 Andrew Nicholson Orlando -3.4
20 Evan Fournier Denver 2.7
21 Jared Sullinger Boston 4.1
22 Fab Melo Boston 0
23 John Jenkins Atlanta -0.7
24 Jared Cunningham Cleveland -0.6
25 Tony Wroten Memphis -1.6
26 Miles Plumlee Indiana 0.4
27 Arnett Moultrie Miami -0.2
28 Perry Jones Oklahoma City -1.1
29 Marquis Teague Chicago -1.4
30 Festus Ezeli Golden State 0.6

Only 16 of the 30 picks are still in the NBA today, six seasons later. That’s 53%, or for those numbers challenged a little over half. So your odds of picking someone who will still be in the league aren’t great and only seven of the 30 picks are still with their original team.

What I’m basically getting at is there is always going to be risk when you pick in the NBA draft because some guys just don’t work out. It’s the nature of all professional sports drafts.

Now when you look at who is picking at the 10 spot in the draft, about where I think MPJ should have gone you get even more mixed results. For the purpose of this exercise I went back to 2000, because well... there’s a familiar name to get us started:

10th Pick in the NBA Draft Results

Year Player VORP
Year Player VORP
2000 Keyon Dooling -3.6
2001 Joe Johnson 26.4
2002 Caron Butler 15.9
2003 Jarvis Hayes -2.2
2004 Luke Jackson -0.4
2005 Andrew Bynum 9
2006 Mouhamed Sene -0.5
2007 Spencer Hawes 5
2008 Brook Lopez 14.3
2009 Brandon Jennings 10.4
2010 Paul George 24.6
2011 Jimmer Fredette -1.6
2012 Austin Rivers -1.6
2013 C.J. McCollum 5.7
2014 Elfrid Payton 3.9
2015 Justise Winslow 1.1
2016 Thon Maker -0.1
2017 Zach Collins -0.3
2018 Mikal Bridges ???

So when you draft at the ten spot, you basically have a 27% chance of drafting an All Star as Caron Butler, Joe Johnson, Brook Lopez, and Paul George all turned into one. Brandon Jennings and C.J. McCollum have become fine players and Andrew Bynum had a nice run. Some of the more recent guys still have time.

My point here is you can have the best scouts in the world but the numbers bear out what we already kind of know. The draft is mostly a crap shoot.

So at what point do you push the potential reward past the risk?

The teams picking from 8-13 all could have either used a elite talent like Michael Porter Jr. or probably could have packaged their pick in a trade.

NBA: NBA Draft Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
  • Cleveland could be losing LeBron James in a matter of a few days and they drafted Collin Sexton. Most projections for Sexton are that he’ll be a mostly solid point guard in time. But if the Cavs retain James, Porter could serve him well with his shooting ability. If they don’t keep James, MPJ could be their next star. A risk? Sure, but no more than anyone else.
  • The Knicks have been trash for a long time but have a budding superstar in Kristaps Porzingis, coupling Porzingis with Porter could give the Knicks the kind of offensive duo who could excite fans at Madison Square Garden.
  • Philadephia had the 10th pick and made a pick that made sense in Mikal Bridges. Then they traded him for Zaire Smith, a guy with a ton of athletic ability but one who is a work in progress as a player. But with the team Philly has put together, a floor spacing forward could compliment Ben Simmons playmaking and Joel Embiid around the basket.
  • Then Charlotte and the Clippers both passed as well.

Taking a player with a back issue is a risk, I don’t want to pretend it isn’t. But the hit rate for these picks makes taking a guy with talent like Michael Porter Jr. worth it.

I said multiple times in my posts before the draft I would want Porter on a team with some solid veterans and a good culture with a steady head coach. Cleveland, Philadelphia, and the Clippers all would have been excellent spots but passed and now the game of waiting to see how it all turns out begins.

With that said...

I’m personally no big fan of Stan Kroenke, but Josh is a Mizzou alum and has been head in Denver for a while now. If Michael Porter Jr. was looking for the right situation to be in, Denver might be pretty damn close to perfect.

NBA: Denver Nuggets at Minnesota Timberwolves Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

The Nuggets don’t need Porter to pan out. So they can afford the risk. They’re close to the playoffs with a nice young back court and a budding potential All Star in Nicola Jokic in the middle. With Gary Harris and Jamal Murray on the outside, and Jokic and Paul Millsap at the forward position the Nuggets are pretty solid in their first five, which also includes Will Barton. Trey Lyles is coming along as a backup role guy, the Nuggets are mostly just looking for depth and time to let the pieces fall into place.

How Porter fits in is just as the potential heir to Millsap at the four spot. Harris and Murray are exciting shooters (39.6% & 37.8% respectively from deep) and with Porter the Nuggets are going to run out three guys who can be deadly from behind the 3point line.

Mike Malone is the head coach going into his fourth season and he’s overseen the Nuggets going from 30-52 the year before his arrival to a 46-36 record this past season and just missing the playoffs on the last day. Malone is likely treading on thin ice this season if the Nuggets miss the playoffs again, but they’ve gotten steadily better and should be able to break through next season.

With Millsap the veteran leadership is there. With Harris, Barton, and Murray the pressure for Porter to play early is off, and the pressure on the Nuggets for the pick to pan out is off as well. This is as close to the perfect fit as Porter could ask for.