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Hochman: Once-injured, forever-intriguing, Michael Porter Jr. now actually playing in NBA

Hochman: Once-injured, forever-intriguing, Michael Porter Jr. now actually playing in NBA

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Denver Nuggets' Michael Porter Jr. reacts during the second half of the team's NBA basketball game against the Indiana Pacers, Thursday, Jan. 2, 2020, in Indianapolis. Denver won 124-116. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

Across Missouri, Michael Porter Jr. still elicits emotions, which is pretty incredible for a guy who played about as many career Mizzou minutes (53) as Adam Wolf (62) and Ryan Kiernan (55).

Even two seasons since Porter's lone season, Mizzou people still are intrigued (or irked or, simply, interested) in the injury-plagued Porter, who understandably had the NBA on his mind all along. He was the highest-rated recruit to ever sign with the Missouri basketball team. And now, after more injuries, the fragile but agile Porter is logging minutes for the NBA's Nuggets.

And Porter really is fun to watch.

He's a sinewy sniper. MP has a "J" — check out this quick GIF of his step-back 3. He's unafraid to shoot, as if he's making up for lost time. And he's effortlessly efficient. In his first-career start on Dec. 29, he scored 19 points in 26 minutes — and did so on 8-for-10 shooting.

The 21-year-old is in his second NBA season, but first as a healthy, active player. He didn't even play much earlier this season, but his recent dedication to defense has given his coach confidence to play the guy.

“I took my mindset away from just scoring, because that isn’t going to get me more minutes,” Porter told Christopher Dempsey of “I’ve got to get in there, try to be locked in defensively, know my rotations, know personnel.”

Small sample size, sure, but in the past six games, Porter averaged 12.2 points in 18.4 minutes, while shooting an absurd 72.1 percent from the field. His explosion in the Jan. 2 game reverberated from Denver to the Columbia Denny's. Porter scored 25 points … in 22 minutes. And the Pacers (23-14) have played well this season. That night, Porter shot 11-for-12 from the field, with five rebounds, too.

In Monday's game at Atlanta, however, Porter didn't score much. But his impact was visible defensively in the first half (he finished the half plus-14). There were moments where the rookie looked like a rookie. He was out-crafted for a loose ball by Vince Carter (the 42-year-old whose rookie season was the first season played in Porter's lifetime). But the Nuggets won again with Porter in the rotation – Denver is now 25-11, second in the Western Conference, trailing only the LeBron Lakers (29-7).

In Monday's win at Atlanta, two other cool things happened. One was that Nikola Jokic, the bedazzling 7-footer, scored a career-high 47 points. The other was this particular dribbling sequence from the eye-popping Trae Young.

Young and Porter were AAU teammates and close friends. But their career trajectories took different paths — Young was a college sensation and averaged 19 points as a rookie. But there they were Monday, NBA opponents, like the plan was all along.

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