After the Denver Nuggets fell into a 3-1 deficit in their Western Conference semifinal matchup against the Los Angeles Clippers on Wednesday, rookie Michael Porter Jr. aired his frustrations with the team’s offense, saying they need to be less predictable against the Clippers’ stout defense. Porter scored 15 points on just six field goal attempts in Game 4, and didn’t score in the second half.

When asked what the Clippers did to stop him after halftime he said, “I just didn’t touch the ball. They didn’t do anything different.” He expanded on that sentiment in his postgame press conference.

“I mean, that’s really up to the play calls, that’s really up to the coaches, who they want to put the ball in whose hands,” Porter said. “We kept going to [Nikola] Jokic and [Jamal Murray], and they’re two amazing players, you can never get mad at that. But I just think to beat that team, we gotta get more players involved, we gotta move the ball a little bit better. We can’t be predictable against that team.”

Porter Jr. received some mixed responses for his comments, with some praising the rookie for what they deemed appropriate criticism, and others blasting a player in his first playoff run for publicly calling out head coach Michael Malone and the staff and asking for more touches.

On matters like this it’s always best to defer to people who have actually played in the NBA, and it turns out one of the league’s best players, Damian Lillard, had plenty to say about Porter’s comments. Lillard quote tweeted a video of Porter’s comments with the caption, “Smdh …” (for those of you who are not acronym-savvy, that means “shaking my damn head.”). When someone responded that Porter wasn’t “technically wrong,” Lillard fired back hard, expressly saying that Porter was wrong for his comments.

Thankfully Lillard didn’t “leave it at that,” expanding on his criticism by indirectly calling Porter “selfish” for his comments.

Lillard finished up his series of tweets on the subject by saying that his stance has nothing to do with numbers, and that Porter should have chosen a different way to air his frustrations.

Though he never directly says it, Lillard seems to believe that Porter should have kept his frustrations within the locker room and not gone public with them with his team one game away from elimination, which is a reasonable stance. For what it’s worth, players like Nikola Vucevic, Jordan McRae and former NBA player turned commentator Kendrick Perkins all voiced their displeasure with Porter’s approach.

Before Friday’s Game 5, Malone clearly agreed that this was a matter better kept in house.

“Obviously during the playoffs the last thing you want is any type of a distraction,” Malone said. “And if those frustrations are there for Michael or for anybody, it is much better to keep those conversations internal, in the locker room, and amongst ourselves.”

But also keep in mind that we never know what’s going on inside a locker room. Porter Jr., once considered the best player in his draft class, slipped to the Nuggets with the last pick in the 2018 lottery after suffering a significant back injury in his only season at Missouri. After sitting out the entire 2018-19 season, Porter struggled to earn Malone’s trust to start the season, largely due to defensive struggles, and his minutes varied from the 20s to single digits to DNP-CDs.

In mid-January Porter seemed to be hitting his stride, with Malone declaring that Porter would be the team’s “first sub in the game every night,” but that quickly came to an end due to another injury. With the Nuggets roster absolutely gutted to begin seeding games in the bubble at the end of July, Porter excelled, averaging 22 points and 8.6 rebounds on 42 percent 3-point shooting en route to making the All-Seeding Games Second Team.

In the playoffs, the Nuggets have been 20.7 points per 100 possessions better with Porter on the court than when he’s on the bench, according to NBA.com, yet he’s averaged just over 25 minutes per game.

All this to say that Porter clearly feels he has been patient, but has now earned the right to have more opportunity thrown his way. Perhaps he’s already declared his feelings to the coaching staff without any changes, so he felt the only recourse he had was to go public. We may never know.

“I mean yeah it’s tough, but you’ve just gotta stay patient,” Porter said in January. “We’ve got guys that should be playing … but everybody, we’re for each other. And me personally, I just try to keep getting better, because I know my turn will come.”

Clearly Porter thinks his turn has come, and that he’s being stifled. We’ll see whether he gets more touches during Friday’s Game 5, and how Denver chooses to deploy him moving forward in his blossoming career.

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