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Michael Porter Jr. 'learned a lot' in first year, ready to step up as Denver Nuggets' third star

Michael Porter Jr. is ready to do more than just fill the void on the Denver Nuggets caused by the departures of key wing players such as Jerami Grant and Torrey Craig.

The second-year forward is prepared to not only be a full-time starter, but believes he's ready to be the third star that Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokic need.

"Yeah, I do," Porter said when asked if he thinks he can become the second- or third-leading scorer on the team.

"I want to be one of the best players," Porter later added. "And I want to guard the best players and I want the best players on the other team to guard me."

Tim Connelly, Nuggets president of basketball operations, said it is a poorly kept secret that the Nuggets need Porter to take a big step forward this season. They lost Grant's versatility, particularly on defense, when the forward signed with the Detroit Pistons. And Craig, one of the team's other top wing defenders, signed with the Milwaukee Bucks.

After sitting out the 2018-19 season following back surgery, Porter's playing time fluctuated to start his rookie season. Elevated into the starting lineup due to injuries, Porter shined during the seeding games in the NBA's restart in Orlando, Florida. He was named to the All-Seeding Games second team after averaging 22.0 points, 8.6 rebounds, 1.6 assists and one steal in seven games.

He started three games in the postseason and was inconsistent, averaging 11.4 points and 6.7 rebounds. But the experience of playing 23.7 minutes per game in the playoffs on a team that pulled off two straight historic 3-1 series comebacks to reach the Western Conference finals was incredibly valuable.

"I kind of saw everything last year," said Porter. "We played LeBron [James] in the playoffs, I played against Kawhi [Leonard], Paul George, all the best players at my position. So I feel like I have some experience now going into this season that I didn't have last year in my first year playing."

"I went from DNPs to starting on a Western Conference finals team in the playoffs," Porter added. "I learned a lot in one year and looking to carry that over to this year. I want to make a really big jump. I've been working really hard in all the areas that I saw that I need to get better in the playoffs. I'm excited and I feel like I'm ready."

Nuggets coach Michael Malone said that the starting spots at shooting guard, small forward and power forward have yet to be decided, but he believes Porter can make a big leap.

"I think [he] really showed himself well in those 19 playoff games that he had a chance to play in in Orlando," Malone said. "And I think Michael Porter has a chance to be an all-league talent, and I'm excited to see what he can do this year."

Veteran Will Barton, who left the bubble prior to the seeding games because of a knee injury, said he is feeling better and has made it clear he prefers not to come off the bench.

"I'm a starter in this league," Barton told reporters Friday. "I think I've proved that year in and year out being one of the most consistent players in the whole NBA.

"... I think it is clear-cut who I am in this league."