Before Trae Young began rewriting the college basketball record book. Before Marvin Bagley was jumping out of gyms. Before Deandre Ayton was going for 20 and 10 in his sleep and before Mo Bamba and Jaren Jackson were blocking anything in their lanky vicinities, there was Michael Porter Jr. Though Bulls Nation is seemingly convinced he and the Bulls are a match made in heaven, and though they’re well aware of the talent and skill set he possesses, Porter Jr. has become the forgotten elite prospect of the 2018 class.
It stems, of course, from the back surgery Porter had in November – specifically, a microdiscetomy of the L3-L4 spinal discs – that threatened his freshman season after appearing in one game for 2 minutes. Missouri University said the procedure and three-to-four-month recovery time meant Porter would “likely cause him to miss the remainder of the season.” With millions of dollars on the line it was expected that Porter would bypass any opportunity to return and focus his efforts on the draft.
That didn’t happen. Porter returned in time for the SEC Tournament on March 8 and also played in the Tigers’ NCAA Tournament game against Florida State. Results varied, with Porter scoring a combined 28 points, grabbing 18 rebounds and shooting 9-for-29 in 51 minutes. It was clear Porter showed expected rust after having played 2 minutes of live game action since high school. But Porter played, showing he was at the very least healthy enough to gut it out in March and play alongside his brother, fellow first-round prospect Jontay. But before all that, and before the other top prospects earned their money (and went to school?), it was Porter who was the unanimous No. 1 pick in the class.
And that’s because he’s been on the NBA’s radar for the better part of four years. A member of USA Basketball since 2014, Porter started all five games for the 2016 U18 Team, averaging 15.8 points, 5.6 rebounds and 2.4 assists. That team won gold at the FIBA Americas U18 Championship in Chile. Porter was the leading scorer on a team that included Mo Bamba, Trae Young, Markelle Fultz and Hamidou Diallo. He played on the 2017 USA Junior National Select Team, and scored a game-high 19 points at the 2017 Nike Hoop Summit. He was named MVP in a game that featured Jaren Jackson, Wendell Carter and R.J. Barrett. Put another way: the game was loaded with talent, and Porter Jr. won MVP.
Porter Jr. also won MVP at the 2017 McDonald’s All-American Game over names like Deandre Ayton, Collin Sexton, Lonnie Walker IV, Kevin Knox and Tre Duval. All this came months after Porter led his Nathan Hale High School team to a 29-0 record and a 3A state title, averaging 36.2 points and 13.6 rebounds along the way. He was the Gatorade, USA Today AND Naismith National Player of the Year.
Got that all? He was the top prospect in the country for a reason.
And that’s because at 6-foot-10 Porter is equal parts perimeter scoring threat, bouncy athlete in transition, strong finisher in traffic and long defender with excellent timing. Remove questions about whether his back surgery will become a long-term issue and he becomes the perfect prospect.
It begins with his scoring prowess. Porter has NBA scoring title potential, and that’s not hyperbole. Going outside in, Porter has an unorthodox shooting stroke but made 47 percent of his 3-pointers as a high school senior. His Missouri/USA Basketball numbers weren’t as impressive, but the takeaway here is range won’t be an issue.
He can get his shot over just about anyone, and his midrange game is even better, whether it’s off the dribble or posting up. It isn’t the prettiest looking shot but it goes in more often than not. And where he, at 6-foot-10, lacks a tight, compact dribble he’s long, athletic and durable at the rim. He’s going to score at will when he gets to the rim. There are no weaknesses in his game as a scorer.
Porter’s perimeter skills on offense translate, too. He has good quickness and feet for his size and impressive length that will make him a versatile defender. He won’t be holding his own on the low block against Anthony Davis anytime soon, if ever, but he’s also going to succeed guarding his fair share of wings. He’s a magnet on the boards and is able to push in transition off those rebounds, which adds to his offensive skill set.
On-court, Porter’s biggest question mark is that he’s more of a scorer than a creator at this point. He gets any shot he wants at 6-foot-10 and is the most athletic player on the floor when attacking the rim or attacking offensive rebounds. That’s won’t come as easily in the NBA. Defensively, like most prospects, he’ll need to add weight. Is he a perimeter-oriented 4 or a 3 with potential to play inside? These questions remain, as do ones regarding his health. Medical evaluations will tell the story on where Porter goes. His skill set really isn’t up for debate.
So if the Bulls find themselves on the clock and Porter still available, as long as his medicals check out there shouldn’t be a question as to who they select. While his skill set could create an odd pairing on the perimeter with Zach LaVine and his less-than-ideal creating, the Bulls need an injection of talent. Porter would give the Bulls a second versatile frontcourt threat alongside Lauri Markkanen, and Fred Hoiberg would have myriad options on how to free up Porter when defenses cue in on Markkanen, or vice versa. It’s a matchup nightmare for defenses and continues Hoiberg’s desire for more transition opportunities.
If the Bulls decide to swing for the fences - something they haven't done in the past - Porter Jr. is their man. Remember, just four short months ago (and admittedly a back surgery) he was the top player in the country. No one questioned it.