Nuggets Murray Porter Basketball

Nuggets' Jamal Murray, left, and Michael Porter Jr. watch from the bench during the first half of a preseason NBA basketball game against the Golden State Warriors Oct. 6, 2021. The Nuggets sorely missed point guard Murray (ACL recovery) and sharpshooter Porter (back) this season. The talented tandem are on the mend and will be counted on heavily next season. 

DENVER – There was a good reason to take injury rehabilitation seriously sitting next to Jamal Murray on the Nuggets’ bench for most of the season.

“Back in college, I had got hurt. Then, I had tried to come back for the NCAA Tournament at like 40, 50 percent of myself," Michael Porter Jr. said Friday at Ball Arena. "I don’t think that was the smartest thing looking back. So, I’m trying to learn from that experience and play the long-term game.”

Murray’s injury history is different from Porter’s. The latter has been through three back operations before his 24th birthday, but the Nuggets’ lead guard seemed to use his teammate’s experiences to his benefit. After tearing his anterior cruciate ligament in April of last year, Murray said he was cleared to return to five-on-five action earlier this month. That didn’t mean he felt ready to return for the most intense part of the season.

“I have to feel good to play. I don’t know how else I can say it," Murray said. "I have some really great days where there’s no soreness and I feel like I can go. Then, you have the days right after that where it’s like kind of put things in perspective. I’m just not there yet. Those are really tough, because on those good days, I’m on my high horse, and I’m really looking forward to the future, but then, those slow days are … it’s tough to see the future after that, you know. It’s tough to plan and tell you how good I am. The uncertainty is tough when you’re not sure how your body is going to react and there’s so much detail in the rehab.”

Porter said he was close to returning to the court earlier this season before a small setback served as a reminder to proceed with caution. He was feeling good and playing pick-up daily before pushing a little bit too hard.

“I was aiming on coming back way prior to the playoffs,” he said. “Then I kind of had a little setback, which then kind of just made me feel like ‘Ok, I don’t want what happened at Missouri to happen here,’ where I come back too early, and something bigger happens again.”

Attempting to avoid another back injury, Porter said he’s revamped his biomechanics. Slight tweaks to the way he jumps and shoots could reduce the impact on his back, he believes. The hope is that addressing the source of the issue brings the end of operations and anti-inflammatory pills.

“A lot of those treatments are treating a symptom, you know, and if you don’t get to the core of what it is, you’re at risk for it happening again," Porter said. "I didn’t really realize that … until this same kind of trend happened with me, but everything is fixable if you have the right people in your corner. I got really goods dude around me that are helping me figure it out.”

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Denver’s president of basketball operations, Tim Connelly, seemed encouraged by Porter’s newfound approach.

“We’re pretty confident and extremely optimistic that, fingers crossed, he can finally address some of these issues on a long-term basis and we won’t be in this situation once again,” Connelly said. “What he brings is pretty unique – elite shooter, elite rebounder.”

For Murray, the potential return was always going to come late in the regular season, but he’s still not to the point where he can play without thinking about how to handle certain scenarios. He said he’s comfortable offensively, because he’s in control of his movements, but never got there defensively.

Once the playoffs started, Connelly didn’t see any sense in a return, though the team never ruled either out for the rest of the season.

“Things change from day to day. It’s such a fluid environment. The whole time, it was a collective decision,” Connelly said.

Porter and Murray each said they felt they were on the same page as the front office throughout the season. They both also said they used their time together on the bench to build a stronger relationship.

“We attended church together, hung out off the court,” Murray said. “It was cool to share that bond.”

“We actually developed a bond, and we became a lot better friends on and off the court just because we were going through the same thing. We had more stuff to talk about,” Porter added. “We really got to know each other more. Going forward, I think that will only benefit us on the court when we get back out there together.”