Michael Porter Jr. trusts his process and in his mind it’s only a matter of time before people who matter believe in it too.
The NBA’s biggest question mark strolled confidently into the combine at Quest Multisport for a late afternoon media session, declaring next month’s draft is more than a two-player showcase.
“They had me as the No. 1 player in high school and I wasn't 100 percent. I'm still the best player,” he said. “I played against all these guys, they're all great players but I'm the best player in the draft.”
Suddenly, Luka Doncic and DeAndre Ayton heard their ears ringing at the notion, that a player who hasn’t truly been seen since the Adidas Nations showcase a year ago is better than the top stars in a star-studded class.
Porter has no swagger-dripping game-winners against the best overseas competition and certainly no tour de force campaign Ayton put together in Tucson. The lingering image to Porter’s name is a back injury that robbed him of essentially his entire freshman season at Missouri.
Three games are on his collegiate ledger, but his confidence and talent are as undeniable as the question marks surrounding him.
“Is he gifted or talented,” repeated one assistant general manager in attendance for the combine.
At 6-foot-10, scouts believe Porter has the greatest ability necessary to excel in a league full of multidimensional talents and transcendent stars: He can get a bucket, and get it easily.
“I was hoping to turn college basketball upside down like a lot of these players,” said Porter, mentioning Ayton and Trae Young as prospects who each had considerable time capturing the imagination of scouts and fans through the college season.
“But this is a step in my process to be the best player I can be,” Porter said. “It's a little different but I'm more ready than ever. I've been dreaming about this NBA stuff forever, I feel like I'm ready.”
Playing against Seattle-based pros like Jamal Crawford, Isaiah Thomas and DeJounte Murray gave him a confirmation of sorts, that missing the showcase one-and-done season cannot rob him of.
Seeing Philadelphia’s “Process” fulfillers, Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, emerge after early injuries held them back, along with belonging on the floor with NBA players, gives him reason to believe he’ll be next.
“It was dope, I got used to playing with those guys,” Porter Jr. said of the Seattle players. “It was cool. It was weird, those guys are in the league but I was doing my thing. I felt good on the court, it was really good for me.”
The back injury that sidelined him at Missouri had been affecting him since his sophomore year in high school after being undercut during a dunk. Instead of resting it, he kept playing and things deteriorated—not after being the consensus No. 1 player in the country, in his eyes.
“I think I got a good glimpse in high school but I feel I far surpassed that player,” Porter said. “There (were) things I didn't want to do due to the back pain. But I think I'm a much better player.”
If his on-floor polish meets his ability to negotiate the task of answering the mundane questions asked by media members probing about which teams he met with — no, the league didn’t set up anything with the Bulls for the combine — he’ll be a find for whomever drafts him.
If his medical records check out.
Jared Sullinger’s back was red-flagged before the 2012 draft, when his freshman year at Ohio State had him pegged as a top-five pick.
He slid to Boston at 21 and had serviceable years, averaging 13.3 points and 8.1 rebounds his second season, before things caught up with him in 2016-17. But Sullinger was undersized and battled weight issues as a post player.
Porter Jr., said the one executive and a few others, is “gifted”.
The combine is a place used for teams to unearth details about potential draftees through the interview process more than it is the five-on-five play or the measurements everyone goes through. They have thick folders of strengths and weaknesses for players on the floor, but can’t truly get to know them until sitting down with them.
Porter is the opposite.
He knows that’s the question, and he had no problem quoting the medical minutia, using the term “minimally invasive” to describe his November surgery that had him sidelined until early March.
Because seemingly, there should be no question about his game.
“It was a step back to take three steps forward,” Porter Jr. said. “It's been challenging but I feel 100 percent. I feel better than ever actually. I feel pain free and I haven't felt that way for a long time.”
Porter Jr. doesn’t know if he’ll release his medical records to every team, even though some league executives murmured teams should have access to every player as opposed to players and agents steering matters to their advantage — or at least acting in the client’s best interest.
“I can already go, full go. In the workouts I won't be holding back at all,” he said. “When I get on the floor, they'll see for themselves that I'm 100 percent. I feel great.”
He’s in a lose-lose situation to some degree. Of course he’s going to say he feels great and teams will see how he performs at full health, and of course it’ll be met with a certain amount of skepticism.
Critics can present his two-game late-season return to Missouri as “Exhibit A”, when his game against Georgia in the SEC Tournament and showing against Florida State in the opening round of the NCAA’s didn’t show the best player in the country.
Totaling 28 points and shooting 33 and 29 percent, respectively, won’t inspire much confidence but it doesn’t seem fair in the least to use that as evidence.
“I knew I wasn't gonna put on a show or be the Mike they saw in a few months,” Porter said. “Really just trying to help my team and not be selfish with the decision. We had six players on scholarship and two got injured. Just trying to do what I can.”
He declared for the draft soon after, and has been in Chicago for the past several weeks, working out at Quest Multisport to get himself right.
Porter Jr. remembers going through every step of the rehab process — the cautious stage where being careful was recommended as things healed gradually, instances where he had to build strength in his left leg, the leg he explodes from.
Then the step of trusting his body, which he didn’t do at first when he was given the green light to “push it as hard as it gets”, he said.
“It was weird, especially going back to play at Missouri,” Porter Jr. said. “Even at practice, I was trying to be different as a player. Not trying to get to the rim and dunk on anybody. I had the power in my leg, I know I can jump and dunk it but I was jumping two inches off the ground.”
He’s well past that point now, he claims, and has no problem addressing whatever concerns teams have — again, believing he’s in the upper crust of draft prospects but saying he’s not tied to having his name called first.
“At the end of the day, I don't have to go No. 1. I don't have the ego to go No. 1,” Porter Jr. said. “I just want to be in the right situation for me. Look at (Utah’s) Donovan Mitchell. But I think when I work out I'll be in that conversation, yes.”
He feels his versatility in a positionless league, businesslike approach and undeniable gifts will make some team happy and others regretful when it’s over.
He talks it.
He’ll have the chance to show he can walk it.