“Don’t worry about the results. Just worry about the process.”

Michael Porter Jr. has heard the noise. He knows the knocks on him as a player, with his health and his defense in question frequently.

He also knows that it doesn’t matter as much as Twitter or Instagram make it out to be. The instant reactions, the elimination of face-to-face interaction, the emotion of a fan base rabid for success and an NBA rabid for the next key storyline.

So, Porter’s shutting out the noise and focusing on what he can control.

“I don’t really care what people say. I’m working,” Porter shared with media at Wednesday’s shootaround. “I’m trying to get better at all aspects of the game, so I’m not worried about what people are saying online.”

A former number one high school recruit, the ideal superstar player in a league mostly dominated by wings and outside shooting. The expectations coming out of high school for Porter were absurd. Brandon Roy called him “the best player I’ve ever seen” after Porter averaged nearly 35 points per game in his senior season and led Nathan Hale to an undefeated season. In a stacked 2017 recruiting class, Porter was the best of them.

One might think that Porter’s health issues during the past five years of his life would curtail those expectations, change his perspective on who he wants to be at the NBA level.

No dice.

Porter has also never wavered in his quest to become the best version of himself. He’s a gym rat, a basketball junkie, a tireless worker on his game. Though he’s had to spend significant time rehabbing and getting his body right after surgeries, it hasn’t changed his view of what he can be if his body allows it to be so.

“As long as my body’s in a good spot, I’ll be able to do what I need to do when I’m on the court.”

Nine games into last season, Porter couldn’t continue. His surgically repaired lower back was once again providing him too much pain to do the things he wanted to do. Even in the preseason, he began to feel discomfort. The watershed moment on November 9th, 2021, a blown tire and missed dunk against the Houston Rockets, was the final blow. Porter had surgery soon after and was forced to sit the remaining 73 games, plus Denver’s short lived playoff run.

All throughout, Porter was itching to return, if only to dispel the notion that he was injury prone. He was making progress too, but a setback after the 2022 All-Star game caused the Nuggets to rethink the idea of bringing Porter back too soon. They were rightly cautious, even if Porter grew antsy at times.

Nov 6, 2021; Denver, Colorado, USA; Denver Nuggets forward Michael Porter Jr. (1) grabs his leg after a play in the first quarter against the Houston Rockets at Ball Arena. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Now, Porter’s at another step in his journey, a long-awaited return to the court that he’s approaching as just another bullet point in a long to-do list of basketball goals.

“It’s just been a process,” Porter shared. “I’ll probably stick to the process, just take it day by day. It’s just another day in my return.”

On the status of his back: “I feel pretty good. Feel pretty confident going into the season. Comfortable that my body’s there physically. I’m excited to get it going.”

When Porter does return, the questions won’t end. The takes on Twitter won’t end either. A polarizing player and personality in many respects, Porter knows that he will end up facing criticism for missing shots, for his defense, for everything under the sun.

So, he’s getting off social media.

“You kinda have to go searching for it if you want to read stuff about you, so I’ve kinda just learned over the years,” Porter shared. “When you’re young, growing up through AAU, you’re always kinda worried about rankings, what people are saying about you. When you kinda detach from that and just in the moment, then a lot of stuff really goes over your head.”

And in a transparent moment that all of us can empathize with: “You post a picture. You may not get as many likes or comments as you’d want or whatever. Everyone experiences it, so for me, I’ve just found that it’s easier to try to disconnect from it.”

Oct 7, 2022; Chicago, Illinois, USA; Denver Nuggets forward Michael Porter Jr. (1) drives to the basket against Chicago Bulls center Nikola Vucevic (9) during the second half at United Center. Mandatory Credit: Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

Porter knows what he has to do to become a better player. The defensive end will be the biggest challenge from game to game. For a player that grew up as the best scorer of his age, defense was never a priority early. Now, after some high profile letdowns and in a different stage of his career, it’s time for Porter to focus up.

“I think when I’m locked in, I can be a pretty good defender. A versatile defender,” Porter emphasized. “For me, it’s just about the will to want to do it every time I’m on the court and being willing to put the majority of my energy into defense instead of my offense. Then, I can be a pretty good defender.”

The Nuggets know how important this is. It might as well be Michael Malone’s rally cry for the 2022-23 season. “If we don’t defend, we won’t win.” Porter has to be part of that process. He can’t simply be a bystander, and he knows it.

“You gotta help each other because we’re in the NBA. Guys are going to get beat. The help defense, the rotations, it’s just as important as on-ball defense.”

It takes a different mentality to stay locked in on the defensive end, especially at a championship level. It’s a mentality the entire Nuggets team has to get used to. New additions Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Bruce Brown will help point the arrow in the right direction. In the end though, Denver’s success will be defined by the steps Nikola Jokić, Jamal Murray, and Porter take on that end. They will all be on the court in important moments, and if Porter wants to be the player he knows he can be, he will have to make strides.

The good news is that he wants to. If he’s allowed to be great, he’s going to do everything in his power to become so.

“I’ve definitely got goals that are a lot bigger than the things that I’ve reached so far that kind of keep me motivated,” Porter said Wednesday. “But I’m definitely at peace with just knowing the fact that you can work as hard as you want physically, be the hardest worker, and a lot of things are still out of your control.”

“When you realize that, you realize ‘Man, I need to put in the work every day and leave the rest up to God,’ because that’s really all you can do.”