As terrific as this season has been, everyone has a right to have felt at least a little bitter about being robbed of getting to see Michael Porter Jr. play basketball for Missouri.
We all know the story at this point. He checked himself out of his first game two minutes into the season, ended up having back surgery and missing every game up until tonight. There were faint glimmers of hope along the way, but here we are, and Michael is going to play tonight.
Here’s video of Mizzou coach Cuonzo Martin confirming that Michael Porter Jr will play tomorrow pic.twitter.com/wm8siRoWVY— Benjamin Hochman (@hochman) March 7, 2018
Through all the waiting and non-MPJ basketball that’s happened in that time, I thought it might be a good idea to reset ourselves on who MPJ is and what to expect from him.
Meet your blue chip freshman (again)!
We did plenty of work in the preseason to explain the forthcoming impact of a player like Porter Jr. He’s the kind of generational talent who rarely goes to a school like Missouri.
In previous pieces he was compared to Kevin Durant, Dwight Howard, Andrew Wiggins, and LeBron James because it’s a short list of players who achieved 100.0 rating on 247sports.
At 6’10, MPJ is has elite size for his position. He’ll either play on the wing or at the combo forward spot. With Cullen VanLeer out, there will be opportunities for a lot of guys to play out of position, simply out of need. But the chance to see a lineup which goes 6’7, 6’10, 6’11, 6’11 from the 2 to the 5 is a distinct possibility.
Porter’s best quality is his ability to shoot. With his height and high finish to his jumpshot, he’s difficult to defend on pull ups. He’s also skilled enough that if you try to move a bigger player onto him to affect his shooting, he can just drive by them. He’s a really, really tough matchup particularly at the college level.
What remains to be seen is how effective he’ll be after three plus months of inaction.
What kind of expectations should we have?
If your expectation is Porter coming in against Georgia and putting up 35 points, 15 rebounds, and 8 assists in 35 minutes of action ... well, I don’t think that’s realistic.
More than likely, he’ll play in the area of 15 to 23 minutes to allow him to get his sea legs back. Because Porter is such a skilled scorer, it wouldn’t surprise me to see him score 15 points. But if he takes 10 shots in his time out there, you want him to be efficient — it wouldn’t surprise me to see him press a little bit and go 4-for-13 or something.
One thing to keep in mind is that Missouri doesn’t play with great pace, and the Tigers are facing a Georgia team that will want to grind it out as well. In the first matchup between these two teams, the pace was a tempered and physical 61 possessions. So if Porter takes 13 shots in 61 possessions he’s already at 21.3% usage without factoring in the minutes he’s not on the floor. If he plays 20 minutes, 13 shots is 43% usage without factoring in turnovers — that’s 4% higher than Trae Young who leads the country with a 39% usage rate.
What’s probably more likely against Georgia is that he gets seven to eight shots in 20 minutes. Get him into the game, let him get his legs, run a few sets to get him a few looks early, and let him run offense for the other guys as well. It wouldn’t shock me to see him creep up to around 30% usage, but it’s not necessary against Georgia.
Porter’s teammates could benefit significantly from him being on the floor might. Kassius Robertson has been skidding just a bit over the last week and has faced tight and tough defense. Jordan Barnett has been ready for kickouts all season long, as has Jontay Porter. Jeremiah Tilmon is ready for putbacks and dump-offs too. If defenses have to focus more on a player like MPJ, perhaps that means a few more open looks per game for the guys who have gotten Missouri to this point.
Michael Porter Jr. hasn't skipped a beat - he drilled 15 straight 3's in practice. pic.twitter.com/G0kFGuBJl4— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) March 8, 2018
Or, maybe he doesn’t miss and goes for 30. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
MPJ will always face the pressure of being who he is when he steps on the floor, particularly for a team like Missouri and particularly after sitting out for so long.
The eyes of college basketball will be fixed upon the ScottTrade Center this afternoon. What may be lost in all of this is the fact that Missouri needs to go win a game against a tough opponent. The Bulldogs are tough and physical and defend well. When they make shots, they’re as good as anyone in the league, and Mark Fox is one of the smarter, more creative coaches when it comes to getting his team good looks.
Georgia will be prepared for Michael Porter Jr. when he steps on the floor. The Dawgs are going to bump him and bang him and force him as far off his spots as they can. For Michael to be successful in this game, he just needs to let the flow of the offense come to him. He’ll find his shots, but don’t force things because his teammates have been generating offense without him for months.
So here we are. Soon we’ll get to watch Michael Porter Jr. play for the Missouri Tigers again. More than anything, it’s fun. But this team was already good, and now they’re adding an elite talent. This has the potential to be really fun.