Michael Porter Jr.

USA TODAY Images

Schmeelk: Michael Porter Jr. Is The Great Unknown In NBA Draft

Big Man Only Played In 3 Games At Missouri

John Schmeelk
June 07, 2018 - 10:20 am
Categories: 

With the NBA draft only two weeks away and individual workouts continuing for the Knicks, there will be some tough decisions to make.

I already looked at two players who have a (small) chance of being available when the Knicks pick: Oklahoma point guard Trae Young and Duke big man Wendell Carter Jr. The death of the traditional center might make Carter a poor fit with Kristaps Porzingis, while Young’s defensive deficiencies might limit his usefulness in the NBA.

Neither player presents the type of evaluation challenge that Michael Porter Jr. does. There is no bigger unknown in this month's draft than Porter, especially for people who haven’t had the chance to see him play in high school. Combine that with the injury concerns and the questions regarding his intangibles, and you have a player that NBA evaluators will be able to paint a far more complete picture of than any media member covering the draft.

The amount of digging and research NBA scouts have done on Porter has no doubt been daunting. Even the evaluation of his play on the court is going to have to be limited to what he did in high school and in all-star games. Porter played only three games at Missouri, one before back surgery and two after. Scouts will probably just throw those games into the trash, since it was clear Porter had no legs when he returned to his team in March for the SEC and NCAA tournaments. He wasn’t physically ready to play, and it showed.

That means scouts are going to have to extrapolate how he will convert his game to the NBA based on his performance against 15-, 16- and 17-year-olds. It’s possible, but certainly not as easy, to make an accurate evaluation as it would be if he had a much larger body of work on the collegiate level. Porter was the second-ranked prospect in his class by ESPN, and a year ago many thought he would be the top pick in the draft, so the expectations were high.

MORE: Schmeelk: A Look At Some Possible Draft Targets For Knicks At No. 9

The second part of the evaluation process -- and probably the most important -- is going to be in the hands of each team’s medical staff. On Nov. 21, Porter underwent microdiscectomy on his L3-L4 spinal discs, forcing him to miss four months. Back injuries are tricky, and even corrective surgery can leave a high probability of reoccurrence in the future. It can also permanently sap athleticism from players, but Porter’s youth might help avoid that and speed up recovery.

Injuries can change everything for teams. Dennis Smith, for example, wouldn’t let the Knicks look at his knee last year, virtually eliminating any chance they would pick him. Something very similar could happen with Porter this year after he skipped the medical portion of the NBA combine.

After the season, Porter also pointed out that this back issue had been bothering him in one way, shape or form for a few years, perhaps even impacting his high school play. One thing scouts were critical of in high school was his defensive dedication, but could it be that his back injury prevented him from really getting into a good defensive stance? It’s hard to know.

The third and final critique of Porter comes from his tenure at Missouri. Many different reporters have whispered how NBA executives are concerned with Porter’s interactions with his teammates there. The school basically turned its program over to the Porter family when it received commitments from both Michael and his brother, Jontay, shortly after it hired their father to be an assistant coach.

The reports say that the arrangement did not foster a good relationship between Michael Porter Jr. and his teammates. Or was it his injury that caused the problem? In high school, there weren’t any reported problems with him, so perhaps it won’t be an issue. But there is no way to know for sure. It’s something else NBA teams will have to investigate and come to their own conclusions on.

All those concerns are why Porter might be there when the Knicks select at No. 9. But should they pick him? His skill set in high school screams “modern NBA big man” on the offensive side of the ball. He can shoot, handle, spot up and finish at the rim. He can play power forward or even be a small-ball center to create mismatches. He could be a very good fit next to Porzingis, with some of Porter’s rim-protection deficiencies being erased by his frontcourt mate.

His defense is another story. He struggled in that department in high school, and it is hard to chalk that up solely to a back problem. Scouts also indicate he didn’t necessarily get his shots or points in the flow of the offense. Is he too much of a ball stopper? Will he have the athleticism to utilize his wing skills at the pro level? Does he have a good feel for the game? Those are all things that are hard to teach. Michael Beasley was immensely talented coming out of college, too, but problems in those areas have contributed to his inability to become a star in the NBA.  

If Porter regains his athleticism, remains injury-free and isn’t a cancer in the locker room (I think all are more likely than not), then he would likely provide maximum value for the Knicks at No. 9. But all three are significant concerns that the Knicks and other NBA teams are going to have to take a long look at. If those concerns weren’t there, Porter wouldn’t get out of the top five, or maybe even the top three.

Should the Knicks pick Porter if he’s there? For people on the outside looking in, like you, me and every other reporter, it is going to involve a lot of guesswork. The Knicks and every other NBA team are going to have exponentially more information than any of us do on Porter on and off the court. Everyone is going to have to trust their evaluations.  

A player like Porter, if he reaches his potential, could really change the culture of a franchise. Or he could be a wasted pick in the top 10 of a very deep draft. The Knicks are going to have to do their homework and decide whether rolling the dice on a player like Porter is worth the risk.

You can follow me on Twitter at @Schmeelk for everything Knicks, Giants and the world of sports.​