Luka Doncic was the No. 3 overall pick in the 2018 NBA draft, which is rapidly gaining a reputation as one of the best talent hauls in the league’s history.
It might never rival the 1984 draft, which yielded Michael Jordan, Hakeem Olajuwon, Charles Barkley, John Stockton and a host of other all-stars.
And in terms of great guard classes, the 1996 draft of Allen Iverson, Steve Nash, Stephon Marbury and some guy named Kobe Bryant might never be surpassed.
But the 2018 draft already has produced two legitimate superstars just two years into their careers – Doncic and Atlanta’s Trae Young.
In addition, Jaren Jackson Jr., Collin Sexton, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Deandre Ayton and Marvin Bagley have all shown they have high potential.
Another, less-renowned member of that draft class was at American Airlines Center Wednesday night and the Denver Nuggets believe Michael Porter Jr. has a chance to be one of the best long-term players to come from the 2018 draft.
Porter was the No. 14 pick out of Missouri after playing just one game for the Tigers in 2017-18. He was viewed as the No. 1 high school recruit as a senior, but a serious back injury made him a risky play when it came draft time in 2018.
The Nuggets, already blessed with a deep roster, took their chance on the 6-10 Porter, let him recover for a full season, and now feel like they are ready to reap the benefits.
“Rookie years in the NBA for 99.9 percent of rookies not named LeBron (James) are growing pains,” Denver coach Michael Malone said Wednesday as his Nuggets faced off with Doncic and the Mavericks. “And that’s what we’ve seen with Michael. But he’s shown all of us in Denver the potential he has to be a special, special player. And I have no doubt that he’s going to get there.”
His numbers aren’t going to blow anybody away. While Doncic and Young both are averaging close to 30 points per game and Ayton, Gilgeous-Alexander and Sexton also among the league leaders, Porter is averaging just 7.6 points and 4.2 rebounds.
However, a closer look shows just how good Porter was – and can be – before he had an ankle injury just before the All-Star break.
In five games before the injury, he had averaged 13.4 points, 9.2 rebounds and shot 50 percent from 3-point range in 24.1 minutes per game.
“The real unfortunate thing for Michael Porter is that going into our game in Milwaukee, he was playing at a very high level for us – 20-something minutes a night, scoring very efficiently and more importantly rebounding at a very high level,” Malone said. “He hurt his ankle in that game and coming out of the break has been a little bit slow to get back to that level he was playing at.”
The Mavericks obviously are thrilled with the way the 2018 draft went for them. But the Nuggets may also have a future impact player in Porter.
Health concerns: The Mavericks continue to be dogged by health issues and none of them involve the coronavirus.
The Mavericks sat Kristaps Porzingis against the Nuggets because of injury recovery with his left knee. Porzingis has not played the second night of any back-to-back since his knee problem in early January.
The Mavericks have just one more back-to-back set – next Monday and Tuesday at the Clippers and Kings.
Also against the Nuggets, they were without Dorian Finney-Smith, who had played 38 minutes on Tuesday in San Antonio after missing two games with a hip flexor.
“He got through last night OK,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “He did have some soreness. (We) just felt that with the schedule being what it is the next four days that it’d be best to sit him to get treatment the next two or three days and try to have him ready for Saturday (vs. Phoenix).”
With Porzingis and Finney-Smith out, the Mavericks were missing their two best defensive players. Yet they limited Denver to 50 first-half points.
Also out were Jalen Brunson (shoulder), Seth Curry (ankle) and Dwight Powell (Achilles).
Willie Cauley-Stein returned from an illness and had one of the highlight plays of the game when he took a pass from Luka Doncic and rammed it home in the second quarter.
Doncic playing through it: Luka Doncic is fighting a sore right wrist, a sprained left thumb, ankle sprains and who knows what else.
But the Mavericks to this point have not believed that he needs a rest to let things heal up in advance of next month’s playoffs.
“He did well last night,” Carlisle said. “My understanding was that, talking to (the medical staff), he felt good after the game last night. We’ll watch all that stuff very closely. We have held him out a few times this year. We’re looking at all that stuff really closely.”