Nuggets’ Michael Porter Jr. thriving with tough love from Michael Malone: “We’ve really grown in our communication” – The Denver Post

Michael Malone benched Michael Porter Jr. late in the first half against the Toronto Raptors in a bout of frustration Thursday night.

What happened next revealed significant growth in their relationship.

The Nuggets coach and his rising star player exchanged heated words as Porter took his seat with about 1 minute left in the second quarter. Malone, animated and yelling inside Ball Arena, aggressively made his point.

Raptors forward OG Anunoby dropped 19 points in the first half — including 3-of-4 from deep — with Porter as the primary defender. His closeouts lacked effort. He got bulled in the paint. But Porter, rather than sulking, took Malone’s strong verbal critique in stride.

“I got scored on a couple of times in the beginning of the game and I kind of took it personal,” Porter said. “Like, nah, they’re not about to go at me.”

He backed it up.

Anunoby became a relative non-factor in the second half — scoring 6 points on 2-of-9 shooting — as the Nuggets rolled to a 121-111 victory. Porter’s defensive intensity improved with three blocks and he finished the night scoring a team-high 23 points. Further evidence that Malone’s tough love is working.

Porter wouldn’t have it any other way.

“You play AAU and you play for certain coaches that literally let you do whatever. Then you develop bad habits,” Porter said. “But I was lucky enough to have some coaches (growing up) that didn’t do that. They knew my potential, so they were super hard on me. Coach Malone is no different.

“When he’s getting on me, it’s just constructive criticism, because he knows the player that he wants me to be, and the player I want to be myself. It’s definitely a good thing.”

Porter’s newfound consistency is a big reason why the Nuggets finished the month of April with a 13-3 record despite the absence of starting point guard Jamal Murray (torn ACL). Porter, in nine games without Murray in the lineup, has averaged 25.6 points on 56% shooting with 6.4 rebounds and 1.5 blocks.

“Michael Porter has proven himself to be as valuable as we all hoped when we drafted him three years ago,” Malone said.

But there’s still plenty of room for growth.

“I’m trying to be a star player. So, guarding the opposite team’s best player, that’s part of it,” Porter said. “I don’t want to be like one of those star players that hide from the other team’s best players. As I grow and keep getting better, I definitely welcome that challenge. Especially because that’s the side of the ball that I need the most work on.”

Porter, 22, has developed a vocal maturity. Teammates say it is mirrored by his actions.

Newcomer Austin Rivers, now signed through the end of the season, has been in Denver only a few short weeks. Yet he already has a keen sense for why Porter might be misunderstood by many NBA fans.

“It’s a funny league, because one moment, or one interaction with somebody, and they’ll write you off in terms of who you are as a person,” Rivers said. “Michael says one thing in an interview last year after a playoff game (about wanting more touches) and it seems like everybody figured out who he was. That’s the world we live in. It’s not fair, but that’s what it is. … You hear this stuff about him. Then I come here and he’s one of the best guys on the team. He’s just a great guy. He’s a kid, man. This dude is innocent. He wants to learn.

“He has greatness in him. Everybody sees that. He’s 6-10 with one of the best jump shots in the league, and he’s a genuinely good guy. … I look forward to him just continuing to build and show people who he is as a person and as a player. Because he’s great at both.”

Porter’s ability to self-correct mistakes amid tough coaching is certainly a positive development with nine games left in the regular season. The respect is mutual. Malone notched his 300th career victory Thursday as an NBA head coach with Porter joining in the milestone celebration.

“Me and Coach Malone have got a great relationship,” Porter said. “We’ve really grown in our communication and just our trust in each other. We’re always talking outside of games and outside of practices, how we can be better as a team when he sees what I see. We’ve definitely grown in our relationship. He’s a great coach, so I’m happy for him.

“We poured water on him after the game. It was a fun moment.”

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