Michael Porter Jr. Increasingly Becoming NBA Draft's Biggest Wild Card

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Michael Porter Jr. Increasingly Becoming NBA Draft's Biggest Wild Card
Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

NBA scouts have watched Michael Porter Jr. since 2014 at USA Basketball camp. Yet one week before the 2018 draft, he's the lottery's biggest wild card. 

With Porter presumed to have recovered from November back surgery, his camp raised eyebrows Thursday, the day before his second scheduled pro day, telling teams he "developed some inflammation that wrapped around his nerve and caused massive spasms," per ESPN.com's Jonathan Givony

Yahoo Sports' Shams Charania also reported:

Considering Porter is receiving looks from teams high in the lottery, it's a development worth investigating.

Before the announcement, a source close to Porter's circle told Bleacher Report the family "feels good about him going top four," and that "more than likely" the Sacramento Kings could pull the trigger at No. 2. 

This comes a day after USA Today's Sam Amick reported the Kings could take Porter. A rival executive confirmed to B/R that he could envision Sacramento selecting him that high. 

Doing so would mean taking on risk, particularly with Duke's Marvin Bagley III, Slovenia's Luka Doncic, Texas' Mohamed Bamba and Michigan State's Jaren Jackson Jr. all attractive, qualified candidates once Phoenix takes Arizona's Deandre Ayton at No. 1. 

So why would Sacramento or any of these top teams gamble on Porter, who played 53 minutes as a freshman and faces questions about his durability?


Why teams may gamble

Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

Porter measured 6'10 ¾" at the combine, which in today's league, works at center. But his game mirrors a wing's, pointing to mismatch scoring potential as a combo forward.

He didn't play well in Missouri's final two contests and still managed to total 28 points. Porter just has a knack for putting the ball in the basket, and he can do it in a variety of ways—often outside the paint, where his shot is difficult to contest for opposing 3s and 4s. 

At the 2016 U18 Americas Championship, he scored 15.8 points in just 21.0 minutes over five games. In 2017 during three contests at Adidas Nations, he averaged 17.3 points in 20.0 minutes. Between his unique size, versatile shot-making ability and instincts, he could develop into a top option. 

And that's exactly what teams such as the Kings, Atlanta Hawks, Memphis Grizzlies, Dallas Mavericks, Orlando Magic and Chicago Bulls could use. 

Many scouts believed before the season and surgery that Porter would be the draft's No. 1 pick. These teams could now look at it as a chance to buy low—the way the Philadelphia 76ers did with Joel Embiid when a predraft foot injury made it tougher for the Cleveland Cavaliers (Andrew Wiggins) and Milwaukee Bucks (Jabari Parker) to take a chance in 2014.

Having scouted him in high school while he was playing for Brandon Roy at Nathan Hale in Seattle, I believe there is no question Porter is pro-level scorer who's shown he can take over games. The issue teams face is deciding if that success will translate, having barely seen him over the past year, and whether his body will allow it to.


Why teams would pass

Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

"Explosive" was never the right word to describe Porter before the injury. "Coordinated" was a more accurate term. At Missouri in his two March games, his lack of explosion was evident, more so than in years past. He was stuffed at the rim on multiple occasions.

Porter, of course, hadn't played all season save for two minutes in November and therefore wasn't properly conditioned. But the lack of returned burst doesn't make it easier to roll the dice. Even if the medical reports are clear, they won't account for lost bounce.

As far as his body shape, the eye test reveals a high waist. Between that and his back, will he able to get down and slide defensively?

In terms of other basketball-related reasons to be hesitant, there are a few.

He totaled one assist through 53 minutes his freshman year. Last summer at Adidas Nations, he combined for one assist in three games (60 total minutes). Porter isn't a big passer, and his shot selection often includes hero jumpers.

He's a perimeter big whose handle only allows him to attack in straight lines. Porter isn't particularly creative with his dribble. His method for shot-creating is often just rising and firing over his man—because he can at his height—even if he's off-balance. 

Porter will also turn 20 years old a week after the draft. Jackson and Kevin Knox (another combo forward) are still 18. Doncic and Bagley turn 20 in February and March, respectively. And it seems safe to assume Porter will need at least a year to regain his lower-body strength and confidence while also having key skills to improve.

If the top of the draft didn't appear so stacked, it would be easier to see why a team felt the potential reward was worth the risk with Porter. But taking him in the top eight, never mind in the top two, would mean having to pass on more proven—and apparently healthier—star prospects with similar upside.


Where will Porter land?

He could go anywhere from No. 2 to the Kings to late in the lottery, depending on medical assessments and who wants to gamble. Yahoo Sports' Shams Charania already reported the MRI on his hip was clean, and chances are team doctors won't find any red flags.

The Kings appear to be a threat to draft Porter, who would fill a major need for them. The Hawks, who have the No. 3 pick, worked out Trae Young, Jackson, Bamba and Bagley this week, and seem more likely to choose from one of those more familiar players.

Other than the Kings, the Mavericks could give Porter a look at No. 5, as could the Bulls at No. 7. Porter's father, Michael Porter Sr., told Missouri radio station KMOX (via College Basketball Talk) that the Bulls were the only team his son underwent a physical for. The prospect has also been training this month in Chicago.

The Cavaliers (No. 8) and New York Knicks (No. 9) would also make sense as possible suitors if he slips that far. But at this stage, even with just six days to go, it's a guessing game until teams review the medicals and do more homework following his latest back spasms.

The only thing that's clear is Porter has the strangest, widest draft range of any prospect projected in the lottery.

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