Nuggets coach Malone: No rush to play Porter Jr.

The Denver Nuggets are in no rush to get first-round pick Michael Porter Jr. on the court, even if that means he doesn’t play at all during the 2018-19 season, according to head coach Mike Malone.

Giving an interview on NBATV during the Nuggets’ summer league win over the Boston Celtics on Saturday night, Malone said the team is set on bringing Porter — who slid to the 14th pick in last month’s draft after he missed almost all of last season due to back surgery — along slowly.

“We understood the risk-reward situation with Michael Porter, and we felt at 14 he was far too great of a talent to pass up,” Malone said. “And we’re going to be patient. We’re not going to rush him back, and that’s the luxury we have.

“We have a very good team coming back. We have a very deep team, so there’s no reason for us to say, ‘Michael’s got to play this year.’ We’re going to give him all the time and treatment he needs to get better, and hopefully he can get back and help us this year.”

Denver returns almost all of the pieces that helped it reach 46 wins last season, which proved to be one victory shy of a playoff appearance in the highly competitive Western Conference. Porter’s clearest path to playing time would be at small forward — especially after Wilson Chandler was traded in a salary dump — but he might be a better fit at power forward.

Porter, who turned 20 on June 29, was kept off the Nuggets’ summer league roster but has been in Las Vegas to watch games. The team has not given any indication as to when it expects him to be ready to play, but the patience expressed by Malone echoes comments from team president Josh Kroenke and president of basketball operations Tim Connelly since Porter was drafted.

Widely considered a top player in the 2017 recruiting class, Porter missed all but three games of his freshman season at Missouri after injuring his back last November, which required him to have surgery on his L3 and L4 spinal discs. He returned in March and went 9 of 29 from the field in two games.

A week before the NBA draft in June, he canceled a second pro day workout due to a sore hip, prompting reports that teams were very worried about his long-term health. Porter said those concerns were overblown and offered to work out for teams during draft week upon request, but he still slid to the end of the lottery before the Nuggets drafted him.

Denver did so knowing the risk could be worth the long-term benefits.

“I challenged the room to think about Michael Porter, to think about this year but let’s also think about Michael Porter for the following season if we have to completely shut him down or get him right,” Kroenke said of the team’s though process on draft night. “I think the room, in unison, was just excited about the possibility of having a talent like that around.”