Michael Porter Jr. injury: What back surgery means for the forward and the Denver Nuggets

How will Michael Porter Jr.'s back surgery affect the Denver Nuggets' chances of making the playoffs?

After winning a combined three series in the last two postseasons, the Nuggets find themselves 10th in the Western Conference, largely because of injuries to both Porter and starting point guard Jamal Murray.

With Porter headed for a third surgery on his troublesome back, as reported Monday by ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski, Denver has to prepare for the possibility of an extended absence. Already, the Nuggets were likely to play the bulk of the regular season without Murray, who suffered an ACL tear in April.

Denver still has the reigning MVP in center Nikola Jokic, who's played at an even higher level this season when he's been on the court. (Jokic has missed the last four games, all Nuggets losses, with a wrist sprain.) With other West teams scuffling early in the season, a healthy Jokic may be enough to ensure Denver avoids the play-in tournament. But that's no longer a certainty.

Let's take a look at what Porter's surgery means for him and the Nuggets.

Denver's depth gets tested ... again

Because of Jokic's singular skill set, figuring out how to handle minutes with the MVP on the bench has always been a challenge for Nuggets coach Michael Malone. Last season, Malone attempted to keep the offense afloat by staggering Jokic's minutes, first with Murray, then with Porter after Murray was lost to the ACL tear.

Porter-only lineups were actually shockingly effective in 2020-21, outscoring opponents by 13.2 points per 100 possessions in 225 minutes according to NBA Advanced Stats. Porter's emergence -- he averaged 23.5 PPG the remainder of the season, shooting 56% from the field and 49% from 3-point range -- was a big reason Denver went 13-5 after Murray's injury and beat the Portland Trail Blazers in the opening round of the playoffs.