Prior to the 2017-18 season, Michael Porter Jr. was one of 50 players named to the Wooden Award preseason watch list and one of just 5 players named to the AP Preseason All American team. The former #2 overall recruit seemed a sure bet to put up monstrous numbers on a poor Missouri team on his way to a top 3 selection in this upcoming draft. Those aspirations never materialized, as a season ruined by a severe back injury and increasing questions about his mentality have led evaluators to question whether or not the 19 year old will even be selected in the lottery. If those concerns are shared by NBA front offices, the Hornets could have a potential top three talent available at the eleventh pick.
Question marks: injury concerns, mentality, shot-making ability translating
The biggest question Porter will have to answer is whether or not he’s fully healthy after needing surgery to repair herniated discs in his back that forced him to the sidelines just two minutes into his college career. He was able to return for Missouri’s final two games but looked hardly the part of a high school phenom, shooting 33% of the field while not showing nearly the athleticism and fluidity he put on display during his high school career.
Despite all the time he missed and the rust that comes with it, Porter stepped into an overachieving Missouri team and immediately dominated the team’s possessions. His usage rate in his limited playing time was 36.5%, over 11% higher than the highest usage player on the roster during Porter’s absence. In the 53 minutes he played, he attempted 30 shots and turned the ball over 3 times while only notching 1 assist.
Porter will need to prove that his jump shot can hold up against top flight competition if he’s going to be such a high usage player on the perimeter. In the 10 games I can find data for between the U18 Americas Championship, Adidas Nations Counselors, McDonald’s All-American Game, and the Nike Hoops Summit, he converted just 11 of 39 3-point attempts (28.2%). His shot selection is very poor, as even his high school highlight tapes are littered with heavily contested, off balance shots taken while surrounded by defenders. That won’t work as well in the NBA where his height and length aren’t as exceptional relative to his peers like they were against high schoolers.
What he brings to the table: Combination of physical tools with the ability to get buckets
Even after his underwhelming but brief college career, it’s important to remember that Michael Porter Jr. was a top ranked recruit for a reason. In the aforementioned 10 All-Star and national games played, Porter averaged 16.7 points in 20.9 minutes per game on 50% shooting, even with his struggles from deep. He has rare shot creation ability at his size, which has drawn Kevin Durant comparisons from every corner of the Internet. His handle isn’t refined which slows him down at times, but he’s fluid and athletic enough to finish over the top of defenders around the basket both in transition and in the half court.
He doesn’t have otherworldly explosiveness, but he’s an above average athlete which combined with his length allows him to make plays above the rim. He’s a potential lob target both on the break and in half court sets and can rise up off the dribble to dunk in traffic. That combination of length and athleticism gives him significant potential as a defender as well. He’s quick enough on his feet to keep up with 3s and has the length to defend most modern 4s and be an impact help side defender, though he does need to add some mass.
Last season, only two players averaged at least 2 made 3-pointers and 1 block per game, DeMarcus Cousins and Kevin Durant. Michael Porter Jr. has the potential to join that club within his first season or two in the NBA, but questions about the health of his back and whether or not he can elevate the play of his team while getting those numbers have the potential to sabotage his standing as a top tier pick.