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Q&A: Michael Porter Jr. on Dragons, LeBron, and Life in the NBA

A talk with the Denver Nuggets rookie ahead of his first pro season

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Michael Porter Jr. will start the NBA season in a familiar place: on the sideline. Porter was considered a top-five talent coming out of high school, but a back injury limited him to only three games of his lone season at Missouri and he slid to the Denver Nuggets at 14th overall in this year’s draft. Porter had a second back surgery in July, less than a month after the draft. It’s unknown if or when the 20-year-old will return to the court this season, and he said he’s still aiming to be back before his rookie year is over.

The Ringer caught up with Porter for a (lightly edited) Q&A about this upcoming season, the one-and-done rule, who he thinks will win Rookie of the Year, why he’s no longer a strict vegetarian, and what car he bought with his NBA paycheck.

What’s been the biggest change in your life since you got drafted?

This is my dream, and to be able to be in the NBA is a dream come true. I would say the process for me is kind of the same—just trying to get healthy and get back on the floor and play the game I love, but just being on the road with the team, that pro lifestyle has been crazy.

Is there something you’ve found that’s different or interesting about being on the road with an NBA team?

You get a lot more free time. It’s a lot more free time than expected. You get your work in the morning and then you have the rest of the day. A lot of guys, like me, I go back and shoot at night a few times. But it’s a lot of free time, which is different than before.

What do you do with your free time?

Man, play Fortnite. [Laughs.] I do a lot of things, I like to read, but I play my video games, too.

What are you reading right now, and are you reading on paper or on an iPad?

If I’m reading, I like to read on paper just to detach from my devices. If you read on a phone or an iPad, you’re definitely going to get on Instagram and get distracted, so I like to be focused. I’m reading a book called Eragon. It’s about dragons. It’s cool.

Is fantasy and fiction your genre?

I like both fiction and nonfiction. I like to read stuff that will help me grow as a person, but I do enjoy reading for entertainment.

Is there a timeline of when you’d like to be playing again?

In my mind, I’d love to play now. But as far as what the expectations are, it’s just day-to-day. I’m gonna feel like I’m ready to play sooner than I’ll actually be ready to play. There’s a gap between when you feel good and when you’re actually ready to go, which is where a lot of guys get reinjured. They think as soon as they feel good, they are ready to play. So it’s just being patient, getting all the way strong, and the cool thing is we’re already a pretty good team so the pressure for me to play right away is not really there, so that’s kind of cool.

Ben Simmons didn’t play the first year after being drafted, and Harry Giles is going into his first season after taking a year off to fully rehab and get fully healthy. Is that something you’ve thought about? Taking a “redshirt year” to get fully healthy, really learn the system before getting on the court?

That’s been talked about, but if I’m able to play this year, I still would love to play this year. I don’t want to wait any longer than I have to, but like I said, it’s not really up to me. The franchise has put a lot of money into me so I gotta leave it up to them, give them feedback on how I feel. But at the same time I gotta do what they think is best for me.

If you had to pick from this rookie class, who would be your choice to win Rookie of the Year?

Besides me?

Yeah. I know you would pick yourself. But for now, aside from you?

[Laughs.] Yeah, yeah, besides me. I’m gonna have to say—I’m gonna go with my guy Trae Young. I think he’s in the perfect situation to, if he plays well and catches fire, he’s in the perfect situation to put up big numbers and help out that program a lot. So, I’m gonna go with him.

What did you think when you found out LeBron was going to L.A.?

I was definitely shocked, but I don’t think it’s a weak move or anything. There’s a lot of things that play into moving franchises. Same thing with KD; I think it’s a lot more to do with basketball. The reaction from the outside is “Oh, he’s being a snake, he’s this, he’s that. That’s Kobe’s franchise.” But the dude has a life, too. He has a family, kids, and you have to enjoy where you’re playing. At the end of the day, it’s about being happy. So I think it was a good move for him, if he’s happy.

Basketball is changing in terms of position with small ball, and playing smaller guys at the 5. What do you see your role in today’s game being?

I want to be one of the best players to ever play, and if you look at all those players, they often do a lot of different things on the floor. So, for me, I want to do everything. I want to be able to help a team by opening up the floor, and either be a mismatch for different positions and defend different positions. At the end of the day, I’m a winner and I want to help my team win.

Is there a player whether with the Nuggets or outside the Nuggets that you’ve gravitated toward since you got drafted?

Probably Isaiah Thomas. We’re kind of in the same boat, injury-wise, not really knowing when we’re going to play again. So it’s cool to talk to him and pick his brain. We both have down days and we get to talk to each other those days.

What do those conversations look like? What has he told you?

That it’s about being patient and taking it slow. We both kind of had the same story too because we both had an injury before and we rushed back, me in college and him when he was in Cleveland. So the second time around, we both understand being patient and taking our time.

How do you like Denver so far?

The weather is amazing. Well, it hasn’t been winter yet, but it’s been amazing so far. I really like the vibe. It’s a city so you can get that if you want to, but it’s very open and you can get around town without much traffic. And with me being mostly a vegetarian, it’s cool that they have a lot of vegetarian spots to eat at. They’re pretty healthy out here.

Was it hard to find those places?

I’ve been vegetarian my whole life, that’s how I was raised so it’s never really been an adjustment. I’ve just always learned how to pick the right restaurants. But actually, this is kind of a new thing for me, I’ve been trying to incorporate a little fish here and there, eggs, which is not something I was doing before. So my diet is changing a little bit. But for the most part, it’s still what it was before.

What’s the purpose of including more fish and protein now? Is that just to build more muscle, or for balancing it out?

It’s really about getting a balanced diet because when you are vegetarian, it is hard to get a lot of protein. And with me healing right now, I got to make sure I’m getting enough protein with everything. That’s the thought process, so I’m just trying new things and seeing how my body reacts to it.

Your brother [Jontay Porter] went back to Missouri, but you obviously left for the NBA after one season. If the option would have been there for you to go to the NBA straight from high school, is that something you would have thought about doing?

Oh, I definitely would have thought about doing that for sure. I think if you’re ready to play, they should let you at least consider it. I’m not saying I would have done it for sure, but I definitely would have at least considered it as an option.

You’re obviously still trying to get back from an injury, but what have been the effects or benefits of basketball now being your full-time job?

Honestly, that was the main reason I didn’t go back to school for my sophomore year. I just feel like, in the NBA, they’re investing so much money in you. Their job is not to get you back on the court right away, it’s for the long term, so my decision to go to the league, I was conflicted, but I’m a pro now, so I can get massages whenever I want, I can eat the best food, so many things I couldn’t do in college. I don’t have to worry about sitting in class every day, stuff like that, which helps me get better quicker.

What car did you end up buying as your first car?

So far, I’ve only bought my mom a car. I’m a cheap guy, so I bought my mom a car instead. I haven’t found the perfect car for me yet, though. That’s part of why I partnered with Autotrader, to help me find the right car for me. They make the process easier. I haven’t found it yet, though.

What car did you get you get your mom?

First of all, my parents, they have done so much for me. So for me to be able to make it into the league, and have the money to be able to bless my mom like that, it’s amazing for me. I got her the newest version of the Ford Flex. She had that car before, but it was dinged, my brother wrecked it into a mailbox. It has a lot of leg room and she likes it.

You say you’re a cheap guy, what does that look like on a day-to-day basis? Are you saving money?

If I go to the mall, I’m not really going into the Gucci store buying. I mean, I might stop in there, you know, get a shirt or something, but I’m not going in there and spending all my money. I just like to be as cheap as possible.