Back and better: Porter Jr. says he’s best in NBA draft class
CHICAGO — If given the chance, Michael Porter Jr. would have a simple question for those who touted him as the best NBA prospect in this draft class a year ago and no longer do today.
The way he sees it, Porter was widely considered the best high-schooler in the country 12 months ago — even though he had back issues that led to him having surgery last fall and basically robbed him of his only college season at Missouri. So now, he thinks it’s logical that if his back is better, his stock should be even higher as well.
“I’m still the best player,” Porter said.
And that’s his message at the NBA Draft Combine, going on this week in Chicago. The small forward went through the anthropometric testing — height, weight, wingspan, body fat percentage and so on — but isn’t partaking in on-court matters this week, opting instead to save his statements there until he gets workouts with teams over the coming weeks.
“I know without a doubt,” Porter said. “I’ve played against all these guys. They’re all great players. But I’m the best player in this draft and I can’t wait to show what I’m capable of.”
The players who are likely to be taken at the very top of next month’s draft aren’t participating in the combine. Arizona’s Deandre Ayton declined an invitation, Slovenian standout Luka Doncic’s season in Europe isn’t in Chicago — his European season isn’t over — and Duke’s Marvin Bagley III only took part in interviews with some teams.
That doesn’t mean intrigue is lacking at this gathering of hopefuls.
Texas’ Mo Bamba, he of the 7-foot-10 wingspan , said he believes he merits consideration from Phoenix for the No. 1 overall pick. Billy Preston , who left Kansas in November under the cloud of an NCAA investigation and briefly played in Europe, is in Chicago and insisting that he’s ready mentally and physically for the NBA life. Brian Bowen , who hasn’t played a college game yet — he left Louisville for South Carolina after it became known he was part of the FBI’s probe into college basketball and could only practice with the Gamecocks after enrolling there — is participating as well.
But there might not be a player in Chicago with more intrigue around him right now than Porter, who went from can’t-miss to couldn’t-play.
“Mike is a great player,” said Bruce Brown Jr., a guard who’s leaving Miami after two seasons for the NBA. “I know him personally. We’re cool as friends. I think he can show the world what he is capable of and what I know he’s capable of.”
Porter is among the 25 or so Chicago invitees who are skipping the 5-on-5 portions of the combine. That’s not a surprise — the trend in recent years has been for players who are likely to be taken with the highest picks to skip some or all of the combine events — but a case could be argued that Porter could have used some game time.
He played in three games at Missouri, one of those for only two minutes before his back surgery on Nov. 21. He returned for two NCAA Tournament games.
Here’s how little Porter played last season: There were 3,505 players in Division I who scored more points than he did in his only college campaign. Porter shot 10 for 30 at Missouri, scoring 30 points in 53 minutes.
Obviously, those aren’t best-player numbers. Everything else on his resume suggests otherwise — 36.2 points and 13.6 rebounds per game as a senior in high school, MVP of the McDonald’s All-American Game, and was both the Naismith and Gatorade Boys High School National Player of the Year awards. He was the fifth player to sweep those, joining Alonzo Mourning, Dwight Howard, Chris Webber and LeBron James.
“In the workouts, I won’t be holding back at all,” Porter said.
He’s interviewing with a slew of teams this week — New York, Dallas, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Atlanta, Cleveland, Memphis, Houston and the Los Angeles Clippers so far, with Sacramento, Charlotte, Oklahoma City and Boston still to go. He knows that the Bulls fans are letting anyone who will listen on Twitter know they want him, and said he was impressed how New York’s braintrust knew many things about him.
And make no mistake: He says he is raring to play again.
“I was hoping to turn college basketball upside down, just like a lot of these players,” Porter said. “But this is just a step in my process. It’s a little different, but I’m more ready than ever. I’ve been dreaming about this NBA stuff for so long. I feel like I’m ready.”
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