On Sept. 27, word broke that the Denver Nuggets had signed sharpshooting forward Michael Porter Jr. to a five-year, $207 million extension, a max rookie deal equal in largesse to those signed by fellow 2018 draftees Luka Doncic and Trae Young.
Two days later, as the contract’s ink was still drying, Porter told The Denver Post he didn’t “feel comfortable” with the COVID-19 vaccine and had no plans to get inoculated.
“I don’t think it’s a coincidence that he waited until after he signed his contract to make that announcement,” John Murray, executive director of sportsbook operations at the Westgate SuperBook, told US Bets.
Nuggets GM realizing he should've signed Michael Porter Jr. to a vaxx deal instead of a max deal pic.twitter.com/PYdyQ715Fq
— NBA Memes (@NBAMemes) October 3, 2021
Porter, who has contracted COVID twice already, also told The Post, “I don’t know what’s going in my body with a shot, so if I already know how I’m going to react to COVID, I just feel like, for me, I don’t want to risk putting something that might affect me negatively in my body.”
There’s a whole lot of “I,” “my,” and “me” in that statement — but what about “we”? Could Porter’s anti-vax stance impact Denver’s odds for success and, in turn, sports bettors’ confidence in backing the Nuggets?
Sitting in San Fran could have playoff implications
The first thing to be aware of is that two NBA cities — New York and San Francisco — currently require players and fans alike to be vaccinated at indoor sporting events. This has thrust most of the preseason focus onto Kyrie Irving and Andrew Wiggins, a pair of vaccine skeptics who faced the threat of not being able to play in home games — half the season, in other words — unless they got vaccinated.
On Sunday, Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr said Wiggins “got vaccinated,” but Irving still stands to lose $380,000 for every game he sits out due to his refusal to get inoculated in a league that boasts a 95% vaccination rate.
The stakes for Porter and, in turn, the Nuggets are considerably lower, as Denver’s laws concerning the presence of unvaccinated individuals at indoor events are not as stringent. But, as the pandemic has proven time and again, stricter requirements are often a spike or mutation away.
As it stands, Porter would have to miss four regular season road games: one apiece against the Knicks and Irving’s Nets, and another pair at Golden State. But with the Warriors and Nuggets both expected to make the playoffs, Porter’s vaccine status could seriously cripple his team’s postseason chances if the two are pitted against each other in a series where up to four games would be played in San Francisco.
“Let’s say [Nikola] Jokic got hurt. To think they would have to miss MPJ for sure for several games, that would definitely affect the point spread,” said the SuperBook’s Murray. “If you assume a healthy Jokic and healthy [Jamal] Murray, Porter would have less of an impact. But if he has an expanded role, it could impact the spread significantly.”
It’s worth noting that Murray’s return this season from a serious knee injury is hardly a foregone conclusion.
The Nuggets are currently the SuperBook’s sixth pick to win the Western Conference at odds of 12/1, with their NBA championship odds at 25/1 and their regular season win total at 49.5. By way of comparison, the Warriors are the second pick to win the conference at 7/2 and the third pick to win the NBA title at 8/1, while their win total over/under lags slightly behind the Nuggets’ at 48.5. The Nuggets’ odds of making the playoffs are 1/6, while pessimists can bet against that happening at 9/2.
‘Me guy’ label seems ripe for a comeback
During a recent podcast with The Denver Post, Nuggets coach Michael Malone remarked that Porter was “a little bit of a me guy” when he came into the league. While Malone was careful to note that Porter had made great strides in shedding this label, the NBA’s lengthy list of restrictions for unvaccinated players will give him ample opportunity to slap it back on.
Couldn't be more excited to share last night's #Nuggets Ink podcast with Michael Malone & Tim Connelly. Over an hour of candid, insightful, honest, emotional and funny conversation with the two guys running the ship in Denver. Hope you enjoy. @denverpost https://t.co/G3r0oHq673
— Mike Singer (@msinger) September 24, 2021
For starters, if he chooses to remain unvaccinated, Porter can’t dine indoors with his teammates and will be assigned a locker that is positioned as far from his vaccinated comrades as possible. He’ll be required to stay six feet apart from vaccinated teammates and won’t be allowed to sit next to them on planes, buses, or anywhere, for that matter. And while his vaccinated peers will be allowed to move freely about the Denver area or whatever city they’re in, Porter will be required to stay home or at the team’s hotel for all but the most essential of errands.
Like Irving, he also won’t be paid for the games he misses due to his refusal to get vaccinated and, as John Murray notes, “it’ll certainly hurt his chances of winning awards” or making the all-star team.
To this end, Porter is still the favorite to win the league’s Most Improved Player award, drawing +1000 odds at PointsBet. That sportsbook puts Porter’s MVP odds at 250/1, as does the SuperBook, where fellow vaccine skeptics Irving and Bradley Beal are at 100/1 for the same honor.
‘Hardest sport to track’ not helped by pandemic
COVID aside, Murray said, “The NBA, more than any other sport, is the hardest one to track in terms of players resting. With Kyrie, there were just times they’d come out and say he wasn’t going to play that night.”
But throw COVID into the mix with load management and mental health days, and things get even tougher from an oddsmaking standpoint, night in and night out.
“It’s gonna be another thing we have to track,” said Murray. “We’ve had to track injuries, COVID, Kyrie Irving — whether he feels like playing or not. Now you’re going to have to keep track of players who aren’t vaccinated and can’t play in certain locations. It’s gonna be another challenge, but we’ve been dealing with issues in the NBA for years in terms of players resting.”