MPJ Now MIP Longshot After Nightmare Start

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A week before the NBA regular season got underway, The Ringer published a laudatory piece titled, “Michael Porter Jr. Will Get His Moment … If He’s Ready For It.”

Nine games into the season, he’s very much not ready.

Not only has Porter — the consensus preseason favorite among Colorado sportsbooks to win this year’s Most Improved Player award — not been better than last season, he’s been a whole lot worse.  With Jamal Murray out for much of last season, Porter stepped up to post impressive figures of 19 points and 7.3 rebounds per game.

But this season? He’s been nothing short of atrocious, averaging 9.9 ppg on 35.9% shooting from the field, 20.8% from three-point land, and 55.6% from the free-throw line — which he gets to for about one shot a game, a pathetic rate for an athlete who stands 6’10”. His career marks in these categories: 51.9 FG%, 42% from three, and nearly 80% from the line.

Something, clearly, is off. Way off. And to add injury to insult, he injured his back after blowing a wide open layup against the Rockets on Saturday.

Do Nuggets already regret extending MPJ?

Factor in the Nuggets’ decision to sign Porter to a five-year, $207 million extension a couple days before he revealed that he would refuse to get the COVID vaccine, and one wonders whether Denver brass might already be feeling a bit of buyer’s remorse.

“Porter is not having the season any of us have expected. It’s been pretty shocking,” said John Murray, the Westgate Superbook’s executive director of sportsbook operations. “If it doesn’t turn around by the end of December, I would say it could be looked at very unfavorably.”

So what, exactly, is wrong with Porter’s game right now? SB Nation’s hilariously titled “Denver Stiffs” blog thinks Porter is taking too many pull-up threes and pressing too hard, an opinion we tend to agree with. Relax, move off the ball, and let the game come to him, and MPJ could get right back on track — or so the optimistic view would dictate.

“I’d be careful ringing too many alarm bells off of an eight-game sample,” Murray told CO Bets on Friday, a day before the Nuggets were to face the Houston Rockets in their ninth game of the season. “We don’t know what’s going on behind the scenes, but I would still expect him to get himself together. I just think he’s too talented for that not to happen. I like Michael Porter. It was shocking how far he fell in the draft and he’s looked so good in the playoffs. I didn’t bat an eye when the Nuggets gave him that contract.”

‘We just don’t like these markets’

Porter’s slow start shows just how volatile the Most Improved Player market can be. To wit, PointsBet had Porter as the preseason favorite to win the award (he finished third in last season’s voting) at 10/1 odds. As of Friday afternoon, they had him at 100/1, as did FanDuel. Other books, like BetMGM and WynnBET, are more optimistic, placing his odds at 30/1. But any way you slice it, he’s still well behind favorites Ja Morant and Miles Bridges, whose MIP odds tend to range from 3/1 to 5/1.

Referring to the MIP award in August, PointsBet’s head of trading, Jay Croucher, told CO Bets, “That award is about who surprises us the most, who makes the leap. And it’s difficult by nature to predict who the surprise is going to be.”

It’s so difficult to predict that Murray’s SuperBook no longer offers it as a market.

“Last year, once Alex Smith took a snap, he was the Comeback Player of the Year in the NFL. Not that he didn’t deserve it, but we just decided we don’t like these markets,” explained Murray. “I wouldn’t think of someone like Michael Porter Jr. being in that market, because he was already an established star in the league. I don’t know why they’d have a guy in there who’s already signed a max contract.”

Photo: Justin Ford/USA TODAY

Mike Seely has written about horse racing for The Daily Racing Form and America’s Best Racing, and has contributed pieces on a multitude of topics to The New York Times and Los Angeles Times, among other publications. He can be reached on Twitter (@mdseely) or via email at mseely@bettercollective.com.

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