Three Things to Know: Has Michael Porter Jr. arrived in Denver?

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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

1) Has Micahel Porter Jr. arrived in Denver? If so, he may be stretch four the team needs. Just a few weeks back, during the G-League showcase event in Las Vegas, executives from a lot of teams expected the Nuggets to be buyers at the trade deadline. At the top of Denver’s list of needs was a stretch four to put next to Nikola Jokic. The kind of player who could score an efficient 25 points, getting buckets in the paint on bunny hooks or stepping out to the arc and nailing threes…

Exactly like the game Michael Porter Jr. had for the Nuggets Thursday night against a good Pacers team.

Going into the season, there was a lot of “Michael Porter Jr. will be the difference” talk coming out of Denver, a team largely banking on continuity this season. Porter had looked like a steal at No. 14 in the 2018 draft, but back surgery and some reports of a “diva” attitude had him sliding down the draft board. The big question with Porter was, what would he look like healthy? The man has battled two back surgeries, nerve issues in his foot, and a knee sprain. However, after sitting out last season, he was ready to go this season and… nothing. His jump shot was a mess, his defense was that of a rookie, and coach Michael Malone was stingy with the minutes. Porter made little impact on the Nuggets through the first third of the season, other than to have them taking a hard look at Danilo Gallinari and Kevin Love in the trade market.

Then Porter dropped 19 on Sacramento a few nights ago, which caught people’s attention. His corner threes, then the rest of his jumpers, started falling. On Thursday night in Indiana, Porter Jr. was the player Nuggets fans had hoped for and the team has needed — a difference-maker and versatile player at the four.

If Porter can continue with and build off that kind of performance it changes the calculous for Denver. The Nuggets are 24-10 and the two seed in the West, but despite the early wins their play was not striking fear in the hearts of opponents. Lately, however, Nikola Jokic looks like himself again (he played his way into shape?), the defense is improved this season, and with Porter is playing like the missing piece they need things feel different in Denver (they have won 10-of-12).

It’s too early to say Porter Jr. has arrived in Denver, we’re just talking two good games. But if he has, if this is going to be the new norm and not a fluke career night form Porter, the Nuggets start to look a lot more dangerous.

2) Something to watch: Paul George left Clippers win with a hamstring injury. The Clippers had little trouble with a shorthanded Detroit team Thursday night in a game that followed form and was not particularly worth noting except for one thing:

Paul George left the game in the second quarter not to return due to “hamstring tightness.”

The Clippers were up by six at the half and about to get serious and take over the game, there was no reason to risk anything and play George in the second half. So they didn’t. After the game, George was not showing a limp, reports Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN. That’s a good sign.

Maybe it’s nothing. Hopefully, for the sake of fans of the game, it’s nothing. But hamstrings are the kind of things that linger if not treated, so this just becomes something to watch with the Clippers and one of their two stars.

3) The first round of NBA All-Star fan voting is in, so who will the starters be? As they should, NBA fans get the largest say in who should start the NBA All-Star Game. It’s an exhibition game to promote the league, so give the fans who they want… unless it’s Zaza Pachulia. After a coordinated effort to make him the starting center in the NBA showcase game a few years ago (a lot of that out of his native Georgia), the league added a media and player vote components to make sure nothing like that happens again. Which means it’s cute that this year fans cast a lot of ballots for Alex Caruso and Tacko Fall, but they will not start.

So who will start? Let’s break down the early returns from fan voting a little and project forward with what the media and players likely do.

Here are the Western Conference starters as voted by the fans: Luka Doncic (Dallas), James Harden (Houston), LeBron James (LA Lakers), Anthony Davis (LA Lakers), Kawhi Leonard (LA Clippers).

I doubt that five changes. In the backcourt, Doncic is the leading vote getter in the West and second-place Harden is more than 500,000 votes ahead of third-place Damian Lillard. That’s not changing with the media/player votes. It’s basically the same in the frontcourt, where Leonard has a massive lead over teammate Paul George for the third starting spot. The media and players likely vote in the same five. This group is pretty much a lock.

The East is another story. The Eastern Conference starters as voted by the fans: Trae Young (Atlanta), Kyrie Irving (Brooklyn), Giannis Antetokounmpo (Milwaukee), Joel Embiid (Philadelphia), Pascal Siakam (Toronto).

I could argue that, as entertaining as Young is as a player, he’s the leader of a 7-win team and doesn’t deserve to start the All-Star Game. Except, who is going to replace him? Second-leading vote getter Kyrie Irving has missed too much time to do well in the media and player votes, so if Boston fans don’t push Kemba Walker into a starting role (he’s nearly tied with Irving already), the press will put Kemba in as a stater again. After that, could the media/player votes push Ben Simmons or Bradley Beal far enough up the ladder to start in front of Young? Maybe, but most likely the Hawks guard holds down his spot.

In the East frontcourt, Antetokounmpo and Embiid are locks. Will the media/player vote push Jimmy Butler past Siakam? Maybe. It will be close. While one could make a case Jayson Tatum and Bam Adebayo should play in the game, neither are starters.

Still, expect some shifts in the starters in the East by the time the players get announced for the game at the end of the month.