A brief college career came to a sudden end for this young prospect. What makes Michael Porter Jr. such an intriguing prospect, and is there any chance the Knicks could nab him?
Missing nearly an entire season is not exactly an ideal way to build one’s draft stock. For Michael Porter Jr., it was looking for a while like he’d never make his way back. After suffering an injury just two minutes into Missouri’s season opener against Iowa State, a shroud of mystery covered Porter Jr. and the Tigers alike. When would he be back, if at all? Could he return to school for another season? What exactly is the injury? Are we going to turn into the Hardy Boys trying to figure this one out?
Eventually, Porter did come back, albeit in limited fashion. He logged two games at the end of the year, playing in Missouri’s SEC Tournament loss to Georgia and in their First Round loss in the NCAA Tournament to Florida State. It could be argued that MPJ should assume the majority of responsibility for those losses, considering that he shot just 31 percent from the floor while looking (understandably) rusty and playing lackadaisical defense.
However, those games shouldn’t be an indictment on Porter’s potential. His size is remarkable and his skill set is downright titillating, making him a prototypical NBA forward in 2018. What, if anything, can we take away from his brief time in Columbia?
Star in the Making
Michael Porter Jr.’s name was well known long before he stepped foot on the basketball court for those brief two minutes in November. He was the MVP of the McDonald’s All-American game last year, notching 17 points and six rebounds. Most of his buckets came around the rim and were a product of lazy rebounding by the defense, but winning MVP while playing against that level of talent is impressive nonetheless. You’ll notice Trae Young scoot Porter a fabulous pass, Mohamed Bamba running the floor, and Collin Sexton playing perimeter defense in what is always a star-studded affair.
The excitement around Porter grew the second he was handed the MVP trophy. Already the number one player in the country on a fast track toward leading Missouri to make some serious noise in the SEC, the anticipation of the beginning of the college basketball season swelled. Unfortunately, the injury put a damper on all of that. The Tigers still managed to have a decent season thanks in part to Michael’s brother Jontay—another prospect in this year’s draft class—but the heights that once seemed within reach for MPJ were demolished in one fell swoop.
Porter is a perfect guinea pig as to why the one-and-done has people around the country grumbling. He would undoubtedly benefit from another year at college to hone his game and get more experience under his belt, but why do that when he’s guaranteed to be a top 10 pick and secure a lottery-level contract? These are the difficult questions that sprout up around this time of year, leaving us to look long and hard in the mirror at a system that’s gamed against the players.
There’s still a palpable buzz around Michael. His true potential, once crystal clear, is now a muddled picture of uncertainty. While there are many scenarios in which Porter ends up being a successful NBA player, the shoo-in top pick that once was no longer is.
We lean often, potentially sometimes too much so, on the physical build of a player. Each player’s size and length is an important factor in the prospect evaluation process, but we tend to become enamored with the image of a player rather than their actual basketball skills. It’s a natural reaction to a sport that is watched as viscerally as basketball is.
That fallacy doesn’t apply to MPJ. His tremendous height and malleability between frontcourt positions are simply salivating, but he pairs that with a skill set that separates him from his peers. Picturing him running the floor like this at full strength from the 4 is why so many fell in love with him initially:
Playing across positions is key toward having an NBA player reach their true potential. MPJ’s smooth nature at his towering height will create a variety of mismatches at the next level on a nightly basis.
Potential Offensive Juggernaut
Watch a game with Porter on the court, and the first thing that stands out is unquestionably his aforementioned athleticism and height. He is remarkably fluid for being 6-foot-10, with a smooth jumper and a knack for rising up above the defense:
During his two full games played at Missouri, Porter flashed his impressive jumper, but he also found himself taking a few ill-advised shots. All of this is to be expected for a player coming back from injury, but shots like this won’t fly at the next level:
Yeesh. That’s probably not as bad of a shot once Porter gets healthy and gets his feet under him, but NBA coaches won’t stand for that with over half of the shot clock remaining.
The fluidity that defines MPJ’s game is the primary trait that makes his upside so tantalizing. If he plays within himself a bit more, which he should once he hits the NBA, he could flourish as a wing scorer in a variety of environments. His body was completely ready for the NBA even when he was a senior in high school, save for the muscle that he’ll almost assuredly pack on in the near future. Once he adds that type of size, finishes like this will become even easier:
Squint, and it’s easy to see Porter becoming the next great wing scorer that is deceptively tall for his position. While his lack of experience at the college level has lowered his draft stock a bit, the team that gets him has to feel confident that they’ll be able to train him up and build upon the skill set that made him the most fascinating player in the country just mere months ago.
So…Any Chance He is a Knick?
Before the college season began, Porter was seen as a near lock to be drafted in the top three. Columns were abound comparing and contrasting MPJ to fellow prospect Luka Doncic, each piece taking a side as to which one would be better suited to be the first overall pick.
That’s no longer the case. The whirlwind of a season at Missouri has lowered Porter’s stock a bit to the point where he may end up going outside the top five. There’s a wildly slim chance he falls to the Knicks should they land at no. 9 in the lottery, but the odds are certainly not in their favor. I can’t quite see a universe in which Sacramento passes on him at no. 7—which, of course, means he’ll be a tremendous bust given the Kings’ draft history. If a team decides to reach for the likes Mikal Bridges, Collin Sexton, Trae Young, or even Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, MPJ could be waiting for the Knicks at nine.
Should Porter indeed fall, the question that is always on our minds when it comes to new talent being brought in is the fit with Kristaps Porzingis. Porter certainly seems like he’d be a clean fit next to the Latvian All-Star. From his switchable defensive ability, to his floor spacing, to his basketball I.Q., MPJ and KP could form a dynamic frontcourt duo capable of putting up points in bunches.
Don’t bet on it happening though. This maze is not meant for the Knicks.