Is Denver Nuggets forward Michael Porter Jr. molded in a similar fashion to Kevin Durant, or is he poised to create his own archetype?
What can be made of Denver Nuggets forward Michael Porter Jr. after his breakout postseason? As a top-ranked high school prospect with size and shooting ability, he was often compared to Kevin Durant. Injuries and the passage of time mostly took that talking point out of the conversation but it’s likely to resurface as stardom again seems attainable. But is Durant really the right comparison for Porter Jr.? Or his he a player all his own?
Porter’s talent appears to be genuine. He broke out in his seven Orlando bubble appearances, averaging 22.0 points and 8.6 rebounds per contest while shooting 55.1 percent from the field and 42.2 percent from deep. He topped 30 points twice, accumulated four double-doubles, and established strong chemistry with All-Star Nikola Jokic throughout this stretch.
Following Denver’s Conference Finals run, multiple reports claimed Porter to be untouchable in trade talks, which speaks volumes considering Denver has been tied to Jrue Holiday and Bradley Beal rumors. Yet, despite Porter’s aptitude, Durant is a top-five player who possesses a very distinct guard-like skillset while standing nearly 7-feet tall. Even if Porter has a superb offensive pallet, is this the right comparison?
Let’s examine Porter’s game in a detailed fashion and determine whether the Durant comparison holds water:
What are the similarities between Michael Porter Jr. and Kevin Durant?
It’s easy to see how the Porter/Durant comparisons initially formed as Porter entered the league. Both have the fluidity and skills to play on the wing despite standing 6-foot-11, and each possesses impressive agility and athleticism for his size.
Like Durant, Porter is a three-level scorer, proving himself a potent threat at the rim, in the mid-range, and shooting the deep ball. Even with last year’s limited integration into the offense, Porter shot 50.9 percent from the field and 42.2 percent from 3-point range. Similar to Durant, Porter clearly has a natural propensity for efficiency.
Although Durant has one of the smoothest, most versatile mid-range games in the NBA, Porter’s pull-up jumper shows promise. Like Durant, Porter has the height and stroke to rise up and hit over nearly any defender, which cancels much of the jamming techniques and physicality that elite defenders employ.
This form of attack helped Durant average 26.0 points per contest on 52.1 percent shooting in 2018-19 (he missed last season due to injury), despite being guarded by the opposing teams’ best defenders nightly. Per Basketball-Reference, Durant shot a torrid 53.2 percent from between 16-feet and the 3-point arc, an absolutely stellar clip for these often-heavily contested jumpers.
While Porter’s mid-range game appears smooth and he’s able to launch against heavy defense, he connected on a more modest 44.4 percent from this range. Expect this to increase as Porter develops his trade and better learns the NBA mid-range art, but he has mountains to climb before reaching Durant’s level.
At the rim, however, Porter converted an impressive 73.8 percent of his attempts, which was higher than any Nuggets starter. Like Durant (76.8 percent at the rim), Porter is a strong finisher who demands defensive attention near the basket, whether by way of dribble-attack or basket cut.
This movement-and-finishing aspect of Porter’s game came as a pleasant surprise, as pre-draft scouting downplayed these abilities compared to his feathery shooting.
What are the differences between Michael Porter Jr. and Kevin Durant?
Although similar in many ways, there are also stark differences between Porter and Durant. One of the most notable contrasts lies in the areas to which each player gravitates. Durant is an assassin off-the-dribble, utilizing a polished handle to unleash a variety of moves and counter-moves. He has the knack for taking his defender off the bounce and executing a couple of swift crossovers before draining a mid-range pull-up.
While Porter’s jumper is solid, rarely does he score by way of tight-handle moves — his dribbling is currently not a strength. He’s more likely to score off a low number of bounces, or even simply a jab-fake and shot, while Durant is better able to break down defenders with a series of moves.
Yet, while Durant’s guard-skills are better, Porter possesses spectacular big-man tendencies in his game that Durant does not. Both players can slide to power forward, but Porter already does this more naturally. There are two specific aspects to this:
First off, Porter is exceptional on the boards, especially the offensive glass. Porter averaged 2.6 offensive rebounds per 36 minutes last year, while Durant averaged just 0.4 in his most recent season. Porter has already commanded defensive attention in the playoffs for his putbacks — this was something the Utah Jazz scouted and prioritized.
This expands to total rebounding, as Porter snagged an astounding 10.3 total boards per 36 minutes last season, while Durant grabbed a mediocre 6.6 in his most recent campaign. If classifying Porter as a small forward (which he usually is) Porter actually led NBA small forwards with his per-36-minute rebounding as a rookie.
Secondly, while Porter lacks Durant’s handle and natural playmaking, he’s already more dangerous as a cutter/rim-runner. This is a great fit for Denver’s offense, which runs through the generational playmaking of Jokic. While another ball-heavy playmaker next to Jokic and Murray may create scarcity, Porter’s off-ball prowess should prove a great fit in Denver’s offense.
This skillset was exemplified in Denver’s 121-113 overtime win against the Oklahoma City Thunder, a regular-season bubble contest in which Porter scored 37 points. Despite Porter’s big game, the offense primarily ran through Jokic, who had 30 points and 10 assists himself. It was Porter who converted five of Jokic’s 10 dimes, as the big man put Porter in prime scoring position constantly throughout the game. This shows the degree to which Porter bought into “Jokic-ball” as the season progressed.
Defensively, although he isn’t exactly fearsome, Durant has an above-average level of impact. He’s just two seasons removed from averaging 1.8 blocks per contest, which actually tied for 3rd-best in the NBA. Even though this rim protection didn’t continue into his most recent season, Durant is strong enough to be considered a defensive asset.
Meanwhile, a low level of defensive awareness kept Porter off the court for parts of last season, as poor reads and lack of playbook familiarity drove defensive-minded head coach Mike Malone bonkers. Although most rookies struggle on this end, Porter had an especially hard time pulling his weight. However, there are signs of a future as rim-protector, as Porter averaged 1.0 blocks per 36 minutes last season.
Although Porter and Durant share many commonalties, the duo is actually different in more ways than they are similar. Sure, each is a jumbo-sized, graceful, athletic wing, with a sweet stroke and effective slashing game. But this is where the congruencies end.
The differences are more visible, as Durant rides a set of guard-like skills — including his tight-handle dribble moves, versatile mid-range game, unlimited range and efficient finishing at the rim. Additionally, he is a plus-defender. Meanwhile, Porter mixes stellar cutting/finishing at the hoop, smooth shooting from mid-range and deep alike (with less dribble proficiency utilized), and offensive boards leading to putbacks near the basket. To date, his defense has been a liability.
Porter is not of the Durant mold. But this isn’t to suggest he can’t be great. In fact, Porter has a legitimate opportunity to become a generational player and actually create his own archetype – eventually becoming a top-10 shooter, rebounder, and cutting/finishing threat simultaneously.
Look for Porter to approach 20 points per game next season and enter stardom from there as he strives to create his own archetype.