USC's Kevin Porter Jr. could wind up being the steal of the draft

USC's Kevin Porter Jr. could wind up being the steal of the draft

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.

Thad Young on the challenges of being a father in a racially unjust world

Thad Young on the challenges of being a father in a racially unjust world

Before getting to Jim Boylen’s future, the anticlimactic end to the Bulls’ campaign and the NBA’s unprecedented 22-team play-in format to finish its 2019-20 season, Thad Young had to address the full context at hand for his conference call with reporters.

For Friday marked the 11th day since George Floyd, a black man, died after white Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin kneeled on his neck for nearly nine straight minutes. The killing has sparked mass unrest, protests and fervent discourse around racial injustice and police brutality across the globe. The world also continues to grapple with the new reality of the COVID-19 pandemic, which shuttered the NBA on March 11, and the rest of the United States (where the virus has killed over 100,000 and counting) soon after.

“I know we’re stuck in unprecedented times where we’re in the house during COVID and then the thing that happened with George Floyd and social injustice,” Young said before fielding questions on the call. “I just want to make sure to let everybody know that I hope everybody is safe and healthy with our families, and make sure we’re holding each and every one of us close and try to get through these tough times…”

Young, 31, is currently bunkered down in his family’s new home in Texas with his wife, Shekinah, and two sons. Parsing through the realities of a racially unjust world with his sons, to hear Young tell is, has been a balancing act.

“When they come up with a question, it’s very hard to answer that question because I don’t want them to have to grow up and fear for their lives or have to grow up and understand that they can’t do the same things that other people are doing,” Young said. “That’s one of the toughest things. You want to give your kid the world. You want to get them to understand that, ‘Hey, you can do whatever you want to do.’ In these times, it’s just not the same. You can’t do everything that somebody else is doing. 

“If I’m going to be specific about it, the black kid can’t do everything that a white kid is doing. Those are things that are very, very tough to talk about. But it’s a harsh reality and we have to talk about them. My kids are still young, six and nine. They understand certain things that are going on, but not entirely everything. 

“For me as a father, that’s probably one of the toughest conversations to ever have with your kids. They all have questions because there’s so much stuff on social media and so much stuff on YouTube, which is what all the kids are watching now. When they see a video pop up with different things that happened… My youngest son, he asked the other day, ‘Why did they kill that man, Daddy?’ It’s hard for me to answer that question because you don’t want to push him into the harsh reality of what it is. But you have to answer those tough questions and you have to have those tough conversations with your kids. It’s definitely hard. What happened is definitely saddening for me but it also scares me to death because I have two young boys.”

Sadder still because the direct onus of those difficult conversations falls on black families far more than their white counterparts. It’s a testament to how ingrained racial biases (at best) and racist practices (at worst) still are, even today.

The hope of Young, Zach LaVine, who spoke on an earlier call, and countless others calling and fighting for change, is that a new dawn is on the horizon. Whether substantive change comes to fruition remains to be seen, but Young emphasized that resolution will come through unity.

“It’s so early right now just to see if there’s going to be change. One of the things that I do see is we have some unity coming,” Young said. “We have some people who are getting together. We have these protests. People are coming out and letting their voices be heard. You have a lot of celebrities and very, very influential people who are following suit. The good thing is we have a lot of people who are speaking up for change and speaking up for freedom and peace. 

“We’re bringing more and more people together. One of the biggest things is to continue to do that. Continue to let our voices be heard. Stay together. Stay unified. And also make sure we do what’s right and steer everybody away from doing what’s wrong.”

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Zach LaVine explains decision to vote, thoughts on fight for social justice

Zach LaVine explains decision to vote, thoughts on fight for social justice

At a rally to address social justice issues in Seattle on Thursday, Zach LaVine made both an important plea and a notable admission.

“Go vote,” he said, via a video from Percy Allen of The Seattle Times. “I haven’t been able to go and do that yet, but coming this November I am going to, because I know it’s gonna change something.”

In the wake of George Floyd’s death at the hands of Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, which has sparked global unrest and protests, many have voiced the need for change, unity and concerted action to combat police brutality and injustice. LaVine added to that chorus (and past comments of his own) on a Friday Zoom call with assorted media. 

He also confirmed that he’s never voted before, but made it a point to explain the evolution of his involvement in politics in his comments.

“It (voting) just wasn’t something that I was hip to,” LaVine said. “Obviously, I know that you have the right to vote, but everybody doesn’t have to. With what’s going on, I think it matters a lot more now, at least to me, because I think every single vote counts. Before, I wasn’t educated at all on it. I’m trying to educate myself now more on the politics and what goes on and how things are voted on. So just taking action in my own community and trying to do my part is the reason why I’m moving forward with that.”

LaVine went on to encourage others to educate themselves — as he has and continues to do — on issues that resonate with them and act on them at the ballot box.

“Go out there and not just vote for presidency but things in your own community, as well,” LaVine said. “Because everything that you vote for can make a change and put those people who are in power to hear your voice and help make that change, as well. Educating yourself, making sure that we're all together, because what's going on isn't right.”

Action outside of the electoral process can manifest in different ways for different people. For some, it’s seeking out education on topics once unfamiliar to them. For others, it’s speaking out — whether it be in their own social niches or on social media. For one person, it might mean donating. For another, it might mean protesting. 

Whatever one’s personal preference or capacity, LaVine is imploring any and all allies to the cause to get involved, now more fervently than ever.

“This has been going on for a long time. I think the video cameras shed light on a lot of things, what's been going on with the world and police and different things like that,” LaVine said. “I think now that we're starting to get this platform for all athletes and entertainers to use our platform for good, and I just want to continue to go out there and share that, as well. There's going to have to be some type of movement, and maybe it might not be this generation, it might be the next, but you know, it can't continue to be this way.”

LaVine’s advice for those looking for ways to take action was all-encompassing, and centered on being unabashedly yourself.

“Educate yourself. Be active. Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there and be different either. Go out there and try to make a change even if you have an opinion and you’re the only one in the room talking,” LaVine said. “Don’t be afraid of that, because I think now with what’s going on, everybody has a certain opinion and now that everybody is talking, it’s OK to have that opinion. If something settles down and you’re the only one with an opinion, I think it’s a little bit harder for someone to speak up. So don’t feel scared about that. And go out there and do what’s right for you.”

He also parsed through the complex nature of the protests, which have in some instances featured looting.

“Everybody has a voice right now and we’re bringing attention to it, to where we have to be heard,” LaVine said. “Some of the negatives, obviously there’s a lot of frustration, not just in the black community but a lot of communities, where looting and things are going on. And you have to understand everybody’s situation. 

“For me personally, I don’t like looting and stealing, but if that’s a way for people to get their frustration out, that’s how it has to be. But it’s not being portrayed that way. It’s being portrayed as the black community is looting when that’s just the way of frustration and getting things out. And the black community isn’t the only one looting. The TV has their own narrative and they’re going to share their own narrative so we’ve got to be careful about that.”

The Bulls, according to LaVine, recently assembled on a Zoom call to talk through their emotions in the wake of the events of the past few weeks, organized by Arturas Karnisovas. LaVine called it a “safe space,” and pledged continued action moving forward.

“Not everybody has somebody to talk to or they feel afraid to talk, so, a safe space to talk and I think moving forward we're obviously going to do something,” LaVine said. “I think the league's going to do something. But I think that's going to come at a time when we can get together and actually sit down and think of something that's powerful.”

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