If we're ranking the 2019 draft class on the basis of pure athleticism, Duke's Zion Williamson and Murray State's Ja Morant might still wind up being 1-2 respectively. But as we move further down the draft board, players with less impressive college resumes like Nassir Little and Kevin Porter Jr. will most likely be lottery picks based on athleticism and sheer upside.
Porter is a fascinating case after a rollercoaster freshman season at USC. The 6-foot-6 shooting guard missed seven games early in the season because of injury, and then had to serve a team suspension for personal conduct issues.
He wound up playing in only 21 games, averaging 9.5 points on 47 percent shooting from the field and 41 percent from 3-point range. Porter came off the bench in most of those games, averaging 22 minutes per game.
NBA teams will be making sizable investments in the players selected during the 1st round on June 20th, so Porter understands he'll be asked a lot of questions about why he was suspended at USC.
"I feel like people go through things, you know? Being my age, I was very immature, and I matured from that. I feel it was something I needed, and I don't regret it at all. It was definitely an experience I needed, just a reality check of where I'm at as a person. It changed me a lot, more accountable, more responsible and I just matured all around, on and off the court."
A lot of college players dread going through the pre-draft process, with teams staging demanding drills and 3-on-3 battles to gauge a prospect's physical and mental toughness. But Porter looks at these workouts as a chance to rehabilitate his draft stock after a less than sensational freshman season.
"Before everything that happened, I was considered a top 5 pick, so I feel like I'm still a top 5, and I believe after this whole experience and everything, I'm going to be back where I was supposed to be and where people expected me to be. A lot of people say I'm one of the most talented players in the draft, but there's red flags about my character. I've just been working on that, trying to improve off the court, prove that they can trust in me."
What scouts have seen is a player with prototypical shooting guard size and strength.
The lefthanded Porter has excellent first step quickness and the ability to finish over taller players at the rim. When asked to describe his best skill at the recent NBA draft combine, Porter told reporters he gets compared to another Pac 12 product. "I get compared to James Harden a lot. Being able to create off the dribble. Probably my versatility, being able to play the 1, 2 and 3, being able to guard the 1, 2 and 3 is probably my best aspect."
Okay, but comparing a raw college freshman to the reigning NBA MVP? Yes, they both played in the Pac-12 and are left-handed, but other than that it sounds like quite a reach. For his part, Porter is blown away by the compliment. "You see the things he's doing? He's a Hall of Famer in the making. So, just being compared to one of those players that's unguardable. There are players that are doing things for seasons, not just one season, but seasons. It's a blessing. I'm grateful, but I just wanna work."
And that work continues for Porter, who's been traveling from city to city this month, trying to convince teams holding lottery picks that he's worth the investment. "I've always been able to score at all 3 levels. What I've been working on in pre-draft is my decision-making, and that's been a key factor this offseason. I feel like I'm good shooting the 3. I've always been able to shoot it, just trying to get my reps in, make it more consistent. So, I feel good."
It's hard to imagine the Bulls taking a flier on a shooting guard to back up Zach LaVine with the No. 7 overall pick, but he could be a consideration if the Bulls decide to trade down to pick up future assets. The latest mock drafts have Porter Jr. going anywhere from 12 to 22, so he'll continue to visit teams over the next week, hoping to convince at least one of them that the comparison to James Harden isn't as far-fetched as it sounds.