I assume there are two types of people reading this right now, so I’m going to write two introductions for each. Missouri Tiger fans can head to Introduction One. Other curious readers looking to learn more about Michael Porter Jr. - maybe your team is thinking of drafting him or just did draft him - may head to Introduction Two.
Hey, y’all. You know the drill: Michael Porter Jr. is probably an otherworldly good basketball player - not that we’d know! - and will maybe set the NBA on fire with his unique blend of skill, physical gifts and scoring mentality. Or maybe he’ll always be hurt. Who’s to say? Let’s dive right in.
Welcome to the Michael Porter Jr. experience. I’d suggest popping a few of your preferred antacid and start praying to the basketball gods!
For the past year, Missouri fans have lived a frustrating double-life with Michael Porter Jr. On one hand, he almost single-handedly revived the excitement around Missouri basketball after a dreadful three-year stretch of 27 combined wins. His choosing of Missouri and subsequent recruitment of several high-profile players gave Missouri a consensus Top 5 recruiting class and a lot of hope headed into the year.
You might have heard what happened next: Porter got hurt one game into the season and, following a confusing few weeks full of rumor and speculation, basically ended his season by having back surgery. He teased a come back for the rest of the year and eventually returned for the SEC and NCAA Tournaments. He was clearly still dealing with fatigue and soreness and, despite his best efforts, couldn’t help Missouri win either game.
Weight: 211 pounds
Standing reach: 9’
Hand length: 8.75”
Porter Jr. is a dream fit for today’s NBA. He’s a rangy, skilled combo forward with the ability to score at all three levels. He’s also quietly able to grab boards down low. His athleticism isn’t elite, but he’s explosive around the rim and has a good - if not great - first step. He has enough basketball IQ and physicality to take bigger, slower defenders outside and smaller defenders down low without much trouble. His handle isn’t top-notch yet, but he’s able to run the floor well and bring the ball up the court on the break. He’s a confident player - just read his pre-draft interviews - and won’t back down from higher levels of competition.
If you noticed in his strengths section, there are a lot of, “good, not great” qualities listed. His handle, athleticism, physicality, and rebounding have all been more than enough to overpower everyone he’s ever played; he even looked pretty good when injured at Missouri. But as with any professional league, everyone is the best of the best. How those traits play against NBA defenders remains to be seen. Porter’s defense has also been questioned in the past. It’s not that he’s a particularly bad defender; he’s just never had to go full-stop against any of his peers. With his length and athleticism, he’ll be asked to guard a lot of scorers, so he’ll need to shake those concerns quickly.
Off the court is where things get tricky. Missouri fans didn’t hear much about it during the season, but there are persistent questions about Porter’s character, specifically as it relates to him as a teammate. From everything we can tell, he handled the situation and injury well, but there’s no way of knowing.
Finally, and most importantly, is the injury question. Porter hasn’t looked like himself in over a year and has been battling back and hip problems since his commitment to Missouri. The surgery he had - on his L3-L4 spinal discs - apparently comes with a full recovery promise, but back problems tend to be tricky, especially in a sport where running, jumping, and impact are a normal part of everyday life. Those questions emerged again last week, though Porter’s MRI came back clean. It may not matter, though.
Jonathan Givony (@DraftExpress) on J&J (92.9FM/680AM) says he’s hearing that there’s a strong likelihood Michael Porter Jr. will redshirt his first NBA season.— L. Jason Smith (@JasonSmith929) June 19, 2018
Probably not the worst idea, but not exactly encouraging for the team using a lottery pick on him.
This may be the most cop-out of all cop-out answers, but... we have no idea.
Michael Porter Jr. is perhaps the most fascinating player in this year’s draft because he hasn’t been his best self against competition above the high school level. But at that time, basketball types said he could have been the No. 1 pick straight out of high school. Clearly his potential his through the roof, but the past year didn’t do any favors to his projectable status an NBA star.
His ceiling is probably a perennial NBA All-Star, scoring champion and maybe MVP candidate. On the right team, he’s probably a franchise type player with his uncanny ability to score and do most other things pretty well. This is all especially true if he can stay healthy and improve quickly, à la Jayson Tatum. The comparison gets thrown around a lot, but Kevin Durant isn’t a bad comp if Porter hits his ceiling.
However, his floor is also significantly lower than most players in the lottery. Many of the great draft busts in NBA history never reached their potential because of injuries, but we’ve also seen teams willing to wait on players to overcome and train to prevent those injuries from flaring up. Look at what the 76ers have done with Joel Embiid.
If Porter can’t stay healthy, he’s a bust. Obviously. But what if he does and the other concerns don’t go away? What if he's not much of a defender and his above-average qualities seem mediocre against NBA competition. I’ve seen Michael Beasley thrown around a lot, and that’s not a bad thought. However, I’m thinking more of the recent New York Knicks Beasley, not so much the version that jumped around the league for the past few seasons. Ultimately, Porter’s ability to score from everywhere on the court will play, and some team will find a role - and room in the budget - for him.