Michael Porter Jr.'s situation is obviously unique. NBA teams had a chance to see him play plenty in high school between Team USA events and the All-Star circuit, but his college basketball experience is minimal.
Porter, the No. 2 recruit in the high school class of 2017, had a procedure known as a microdiscectomy in his lower back in order to alleviate a herniated disc. So far, Porter has played in a preseason charity scrimmage against Kansas and just two minutes of Missouri’s opener against Iowa State prior to his comeback Thursday in Missouri's SEC Tournament opener.
Still, the 19-year-old is in the conversation to be a top-five pick.
Absent any health issues, Porter’s case centers around the intersection of size, athleticism and skill he possesses. At 6-10 with a 7-0 wingspan and 9-0 standing reach, he has the frame to be one of the league’s larger combo forwards. For perspective, Porter’s standing reach — a more important measurement than height for translating length on the court — is equal to what Anthony Davis measured at the draft combine in 2012.
Combined with his fluid athleticism as a ballhandler, three-level scoring and flashes of passing and defense, Porter’s size makes him a unique prospect in a draft class lacking high-end wing prospects. That scaleable wings who can slide up and down the position chart in various situations are the scarcest and most valuable commodity in the modern NBA only heightens his worth.
Even more so, said value of the various archetypes found within the wings and combo forward classification of NBA players can differ significantly. One-way offensive wings typically contribute less to winning basketball than two-way 3-and-D wings, and strict 3-and-D wings typically contribute less than two-way forwards who can create offense for themselves and their teammates. Considering such a spectrum provides a way forward for analyzing the range of outcomes for a player like Porter.
Offensively, there is an extremely high likelihood Porter will contribute positive value to an NBA team in one role or another. Although we have limited statistical data to draw on since he hasn’t played more than two minutes of college basketball, his shooting numbers from his final season in the Nike EYBL are promising.
Porter connected on 36.1 percent of his 3-point attempts while hoisting 5.4 per 40 minutes. He also shot 84.4 percent from the foul line on over 10 attempts per 40 minutes. Similar numbers from the college 3-point line would project him as an above average NBA shooter.
Porter benefits from a high release point that makes it difficult for defenders to bother his jumper once he gets into his shooting motion. He also gets excellent rotation on the ball as it arcs towards the basket, and he has shown he can launch from a variety of spaces on the floor.
Notably, Porter needs to improve his strength. His catch-and-shoot motion includes a heavy load-up featuring a big dip of the ball. If his release doesn’t quicken, many of his jumpers will be contested by better defenses.
As a 19-year-old with a viable jump shot, Porter checks the initial box on our value spectrum for forwards, but the intrigue lies with his potential to do more on the offensive end. Many of the modern NBA’s most valuable players are wing initiators — a combination of forward size and guard skills. The best of them can create shots for themselves and their teammates.
Porter certainly flashes potential as a self creator, especially as a fluid ball-handler in big spaces where his athleticism and coordination shine. It translates less in the halfcourt, though.
While he has a decent first step, can carve out space at the rim with good upper body strength and is a creative finisher around the basket, he lacks the necessary advanced dribble moves to separate from quality defenders on a consistent basis. Those may come in time, as he does do a good job of getting his shoulders low relative to his defender.
Additionally, his ability to make tough shots is a boon here. NBA offenses aren’t always capable of generating the perfect shot, so when things break down, having a player like Porter can be useful as the shot clock ticks.
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In terms of creating for others, Porter looks like he has some work to do. Although he averaged 3.7 assists per 40 minutes for MoKan Elite in the summer of 2016 and has decent court vision, he often barrels to the hoop with his head down.
Still, there are flashes of something to develop. Porter occasionally whips passes down quickly into the post, finds rollers, moves the ball for better shots and uses his height to dump passes over the defense.
Porter’s long-term outlook includes some level of primary initiator equity, which is why he’s such a coveted prospect. Being able to play bigger while maintaining offensive flexibility is the goal. However, in order to reach such a ceiling, he needs to make strides both as a ball-handler and passer.
On the defensive end, Porter appears to be a mixed bag. At times, his size and mobility are overwhelming for smaller opponents, but occasionally, he can be lackadaisical in making rotations and getting back in transition. His lateral quickness also isn’t great, and he doesn’t always sit down in a stance, although he’s capable.
In theory, Porter could be a multi-positional defender who can help on the defensive glass, as evidenced by the 16.6 rebounds per 40 minutes he grabbed in the Nike EYBL. It’s not clear he’s actualized that defensive potential yet. Realistically, one of the most valuable aspects of Porter potentially taking the floor for Missouri would be the opportunity to see him play defensively. How’s his effort? Does he fit in well within a team scheme? Can he regularly guard quicker small forwards?
The looming issue certain to dominate all of those on-court questions, though, remains Porter’s health. According to research done by injury expert Jeff Stotts, "three out of every four players to undergo disc-related surgery report additional back problems at some point during their career." Whatever team selects Porter will have to be comfortable with his medical reports, which introduces another intriguing variable to the equation.
The 19-year-old and his advisors will potentially have an opportunity to wield additional influence over the draft process by selectively choosing which NBA teams to share his medical information with. The absence of those reports could scare a team off from taking him in June.
Someone — medical information or not — is going to take the risk with Porter. Players with his ceiling don’t sit in the green room too long on draft night, injuries or not. And now with news he’s been cleared to resume all basketball activities, perhaps college fans and NBA teams alike will get a chance to see a flash of that ceiling sometime this season.