Torrey Craig continues to lift the Denver Nuggets, despite the talented Michael Porter Jr. lurking in the background waiting to become a star.

While it appeared the Denver Nuggets were set to drop their home opener in embarrassing fashion to the Phoenix Suns Friday night, Torrey Craig apparently had other plans.

As the clock ticked down in overtime, Devin Booker isolated the savvy but undersized Gary Harris near the top. As Booker made his move, Torrey Craig suddenly leaped out of nowhere and sealed things with this incredible game-saving block.

Forgetting momentarily that Denver should’ve beat the lackluster Suns by 30 … how great is it for the Nuggets to have a defense worth its salt these days? What a difference from three years ago when Denver finished 18th in the league with a putrid 111.7 defensive rating.

The Nuggets have taken incredible strides defensively over Malone’s stint and Torrey Craig is a significant part of this. His hustle, grit and razor-sharp stopping skills have helped the Nuggets rise to the top of the conference.

That’s one side of the coin.

On the flip side, Nuggets fans want to see Michael Porter Jr. play … writers want to see Michael Porter Jr. play …. and casual NBA observers tune in specifically so they can see Michael Porter Jr. play … and everyone walks away disappointed.

Porter looked stellar in the preseason, showcasing smooth skills and surprisingly keen instincts. His game blended perfectly with the starters, as he demonstrated intelligent off-ball play, effective isolation scoring, and a strong defensive presence.

Who’d have thought his game would be as swell as advertised, yet he’d still wind up pine-ridden behind the likes of Craig and Will Barton?

It’s hard as fans to watch talent go unutilized. Especially when Friday’s horrid offense left Denver down double-digits early, stuck at a laughable 15 points as the first quarter expired.

Did anyone else think Porter’s smooth shooting could’ve helped here?

But as frustrating as his lack of playing time has been, it’s part of the process, a long, winding road map of checks and balances designed to unwrap Porter’s best self while keeping the uncanny team-first attitude that makes the Nuggets’ chemistry so remarkable.

Remember Emmanuel Mudiay? For anyone who’s lost track, he is now a lesser-known reserve for the Utah Jazz. Yes, that’s a far cry from the stud All-Star guard he was projected to be coming into the league.

Unlike Porter, he didn’t have to wait to play. The keys were handed to Mudiay at the ripe age of 19 and thus ensued a wildly unpleasant experience for everyone.

As hard as it is, we must exercise patience with Porter’s path, especially considering the Nuggets are delicately balancing his development with legitimate title hopes.

Right now, Craig is the backup 3 while Porter’s out of the rotation.

With Craig, the team knows what to expect. His offense generally isn’t spectacular, but he’s a sturdy, tough-nosed defender, the type vital to playoff basketball. After all, Denver was outplayed by San Antonio for the first three games of the quarterfinals, only becoming the better squad once Craig started from Game 4 on.

But must it be an all-or-nothing affair? Is it really best to keep Porter off the court entirely?

Here’s one solution: Leave the rotation as is, except for one small tweak. While the 10-man format has generally been effective, Porter is enough to justify making this somewhat of a 10.5-player affair.

Don’t hand Porter anything, as everyone learned from Mudiay’s situation, but give him five minutes per game in the second quarter. If he proves effective in his prescribed growth areas, leave him on the hardwood longer.

It’s easy to see why Malone doesn’t over-gift Porter and risk chemistry issues down the road. And honestly, Malone has an amazing pulse on these situations.

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However, Porter’s potential combined with Denver’s need for a talented small forward warrants the tiniest of exceptions. Give him a try, Coach, let’s add him to our championship run.



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