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Michael Porter Jr. has an injury history. He could still be a NBA superstar.

  • Fri, 18 May 2018 00:33

Missouri’s Michael Porter Jr. is far from an NBA Draft mystery. In a stacked recruiting class, Porter entered college as a consensus top-three prospect. He was the No. 1 player in the country according to Rivals, and finished as ESPN’s No. 2 prospect behind Marvin Bagley III.

A 6’10 forward with a knack for attacking the basket, Porter would’ve been a high lottery pick straight out of high school. Now, months after a disappointing college season trainwrecked by back surgery, Porter’s become viewed as one of the draft’s biggest risks.

Two minutes and two points into Porter’s college career, he was taken out with an injury that ultimately revealed a need for back surgery. A “microdiscectomy of the the L3-L4 spinal discs” is doctor jargon for the surgery that relieved pain from herniated discs in his back. He would miss the entire year, except for the last two games of the season.

Though he was healthy enough to play, Porter’s injury is what, unfortunately, defines him coming into the draft.

Is Porter destined to fall come draft day, or will an optimistic team pull the trigger on him in the top five? Right now, he looks like one of the draft’s most polarizing prospects.

Porter has all the keys to become an NBA all-star

At 6’10 with a seven-foot wingspan, Porter has the ideal frame for a combo forward. That’s where he’ll fit in the league during a time when those players are valuable more than ever. It’s possible to see his fit as a franchise cornerstone.

He showed more of a floor-spacer role with the FIBA U18 team in 2016, and led a team that included 2017 NBA lottery picks Markelle Fultz and Jarrett Allen, as well as expected 2018 lottery pick Mo Bamba in points per game with 16. He and Fultz were the team’s co-stars en route to a gold medal finish.

Porter spent a lot of time at point guard, and scored off the drive as well as off of offensive rebounds down low. His motor is unquestionably high despite not having the quickness just yet of say, Durant. He grabbed six boards per game.

Porter can run the floor, and he really thrived next to Fultz, catching oops and filling in lanes.

But what NBA execs will really look for is his ability to create his own shot, using his massive frame to move players in his way. It’s plays where Porter’s able to take someone off the dribble and muscle his way to the rim that boasted his ESPN No. 1 prospect ranking coming out of high school. That he can create his own shot separates him from other top prospects.

That’s the version of Porter that shows the ceiling of a top-five or higher player.

The question is if Porter can get back to that type of athlete following his surgery, which he couldn’t show in the two games he played since his return.

What did Porter look like in his return to Mizzou?

Porter was just a fraction of himself in two games with the Tigers. It’s clear his conditioning wasn’t yet up to par, and that’s fair. He was just months removed from surgery, and aside from two November minutes, he started his collegiate play in the SEC tournament and then the real NCAA tournament. That’s difficult for anyone, injury or not.

So it wasn’t a surprise that Porter scored just 28 points on 29 shots in those two games, jacking up a few he’d surely like to take back. He was trying to overcompensate for missed time by doing too much, and was dealing with unfair amounts of pressure. He was slow, and visibly winded, but it’s truly unfair to judge his prospect in that small showing.

He sunk just three of the 10 three-pointers he took, but his shot appears entirely similar to what it was before surgery. Nothing from a mechanics perspective seems to have changed, and that’s good news, especially since we’ve seen what happened to Fultz.

Porter needs the time and space to return to his superstar self.

What should teams expect from Porter right away?

Porter shouldn’t be overlooked because of the surgery he had that nearly ended his freshman season, but there’s a chance it effects his play as a rookie.

A study done by two orthopedic surgeons from NYU’s Hospital for Joint Diseases, and one from Department of Orthopedic Surgery at Northwestern, compared those who had surgery after disc herniation (like Porter did) and those who chose rehab.

Using PER as a baseline, the study found that in a small, 61-person sample size, those who had surgery had a decline in games played and in PER in the year after their surgery, but showed no difference in the years following. Those who did not choose surgery saw no change in PER or games played, but had shorter careers.

So Porter, who won’t even be a year removed from surgery by the time next season starts. could be a step slow coming out of the gate, and his mind could be ahead of his body at times as he works his way back into shape. For teams that can afford to wait, he’s worth it.

Porter’s body and style of play mock that of the takeover scoring wing every team hopes to replicate. Porter’s a discount top-3 talent who could slip because of injury concerns. If all that worry is for naught he could be a draft day steal.

Porter may not provide the Rookie of the Year-type impact like Donovan Mitchell or Jayson Tatum in Year 1, but he should develop into a starter in time at worst case. He’s too big-time a talent to pass up after Luka Doncic, Deandre Ayton, and a select few others are off the board.

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