How is Michael Porter, Jr.’s Draft status impacted by his impending back surgery?
The Missouri freshman forward, a one-and-done lock, has generally been considered one of the top two incoming players in college basketball this season (along with Duke’s Marvin Bagley III). Both are at the top of most NBA teams’ current Draft boards.
But Porter played just two minutes for the Tigers this season before being shut down for good, with the team announcing last week that the 6-foot-10 forward would have a microdiscectomy -- removing some of the bone over the nerve root and disc material under the nerve root, to alleviate pain -- and miss the rest of the season. As this is almost certainly his only season in college, NBA teams will have to rely solely on what they saw of Porter in high school and the AAU circuit to make Draft evaluations, assuming Porter, as expected, declares for the 2018 Draft.
Backs scare NBA types. They tend to linger throughout a player’s career; once Larry Bird’s back got jacked up, it didn’t get better, no matter what treatment he tried. The same with Tracy McGrady and others who played despite the pain, year after year. The microdiscectomy, of course, is supposed to alleviate some of that pain.
The uncertainty of how much Porter has been in, how much he’ll be in and how much he’ll be able to tolerate once he’s banging in the paint or getting knocked down on drives, taking charges, etc., is what NBA scouts and executives can only guess at right now.
I asked a dozen personnel people how concerned they were with Porter, Jr.’s surgery and if it will impact where he’s picked. The responses were mixed.
“If it’s a standard microdiscectomy, it shouldn’t be much of an issue (lots of those procedures on NBA players),” one general manager said Sunday via text. “If it’s more than that, the result could be of greater impact. If he can do a few draft workouts, he should be just fine. It may play out like the (Joel) Embiid draft where Joel was affected by a couple picks (because of the foot), but not much beyond that.”
But another executive had a different view.
“No doubt it hurts him,” the exec said. “Obviously the medical evaluation will be more important and often times as we know, the agents with players at this level withhold information from most of the teams so it will be an interesting decision as to how they handle. Backs are like knees and serious foot/ankle injuries. Tough ones.”
All will be watching to see how Porter, Jr.’s rehab program is structured for clues about how soon he’ll be back.
“It depends obviously on the outcome of the procedure and level of rehab success,” another GM said. “But it would take a real problematic situation to cause a big draft slip. He should stay well inside the Top 5.”
The top of the 2018 Draft looks potentially loaded, with Bagley, Arizona big man DeAndre Ayton and European wing Luka Doncic all expected to be taken high when and if they enter the Draft. No one I spoke with believes Porter, Jr, will fall out of the top five, though his position within the top five could slide a little.
“Every team in the top 5 in the lottery will do their medical due diligence and see the potential long-term impact,” another GM texted Sunday. “They will also compare his talent upside to the other top players in the draft. His lack of body of work could either hurt or help him based on how well Doncic, Bagley, and Ayton play throughout the year.”
If there are no complications and he makes a complete recovery, the surgery will not have any bearing on his draft position for me. But, I believe it will change how other people and ownership look at it.”
Said another longtime personnel man: “he will still be a top five pick but might not go number 1 now. Almost like Embiid. If he were healthy, he would have been number 1 but with injury went 3. It depends where the gap is from top tier to next tier. If teams see 5 guys at the top he goes 5. If they see 3 guys he goes 3.”
And another: “it’ll be hard to take him #1, but unlikely he drops out of top 5 IMO.”
Another pro personnel man pointed out the injury will only make the input of higher-ups on a team even more acute.
“If there are no complications and he makes a complete recovery, the surgery will not have any bearing on his draft position for me,” the pro personnel man said. “But, I believe it will change how other people and ownership look at it.”
Porter posted a picture of an empty room on his Instagram feed Sunday, with a caption: “Just letting y’all know whoever said it was gonna take 3-4 months to recover lied” with two smiley faces afterward. (Porter neglected to inform that the original prognosis was delineated by Missouri, in its original Tweet about his impending surgery.)
Posted on Michael Porter Jr.’s Instagram. Interpret at your own risk. pic.twitter.com/FMIjIo1iGo— Dave Matter (@Dave_Matter) November 26, 2017
Statement from #Mizzou:— Mizzou Basketball (@MizzouHoops) November 21, 2017
Michael Porter, Jr. will undergo surgery on Tuesday, Nov. 21, in Dallas, Texas. The procedure, a microdiscectomy of the L3-L4 spinal discs, has a projected recovery time of three-four months and will likely cause him to miss the remainder of the season.
The immediate, fact-free speculation online Sunday night was that Porter was hinting at a possible return before the end of Missouri’s season. But no one knows for sure. That’s going to be a recurring theme when it comes to Porter and the NBA during the next seven months, before Draft night 2018.
“This will be like any other injury,” an assistant GM said. “You have to get as much information as possible and then determine if it is worth risk. However, back issues are generally more concerning than most. It’s gonna come down to information, information, & more information."
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