OK, deal me in on Michael Porter Jr. He may well be the wild card of the inside straight for the Bulls.
The mystery man of the 2018 NBA draft, the kid who was targeted as the best player in this draft class until back surgery last year still figures as the biggest gamble in this draft. If his back is no longer an issue, which he assured reporters—and apparently teams, as well—Thursday at the NBA Draft Combine, he could be the rare impact player who isn't selected in the top five or six in the draft. Though he's still a 19-year-old coming off back surgery and basically sitting out almost his entire freshman year in college.
Could he fall to the Bulls at No. 7 in the NBA draft?
What would they be getting?
"I'm a versatile player, a position less player, and I can do a lot of things on the floor," assured the lithe 6-10 athlete who has been likened—drum roll—to Kevin Durant. "When I get on the floor they'll see for themselves I'm 100 percent; I'm feeling great.
"I've played against all these guys," Porter Jr. said with more assurance than bravado. "They're all great players, but I'm the best player in this draft. I just can't wait to show what I'm capable of. I hurt my back sophomore year in high school. Going up for for a dunk a guy kind of undercut me; fell on my back. I tried to play the next day and I should have just rested it. It got worse and worse. When I had the surgery, I kind of viewed it as a blessing, a new start where I could reach my full potential. They had me the No. 1 player in high school. But I didn't feel I was at 100 percent then. I do now, so I'm just excited to show everybody the player that I am and that I am still the best player."
If Porter Jr. is all that he says he is and demonstrates that with medical exams and workouts, in which he insists he is anxious to attack with enthusiasm, then he could move into that supposed first tier of prospects with DeAndre Ayton, Luka Doncic and Marvin Bagley. Potential impact big men like Michigan State's Jaren Jackson Jr. and Mohamed Bamba are considered the top prospects after those three. Does a team risk a chance on a balky back with a top lottery pick when they can get an anchor center?
So when the Bulls select No. 7, perhaps Porter Jr. could be available.
And, oh what an ideal fit a fit Porter Jr. would be for a Bulls team in desperate need for an athletic wing player with accurate three-point shooting range.
Porter Jr. was conversational and direct in his 11-minute session with media, not backing off from any of the health questions or rumors that he was not a favored teammate his truncated season at the U. of Missouri. He was among the most articulate of the players who met reporters during several hours of interviews, making direct eye contact with questioners, even opening his IPhone to list the teams he's met with. He was confident without being cocky and not only was aware of community interest about him, but he was conversant about the Bulls roster and perhaps his place. He's been working out in Chicago in recent weeks since signing with local Priority Sports.
"I appreciate the love the fans have shown me," he said. "My natural position is small forward, but I feel in today's game there are guys who can do anything on the floor and that's how I view myself. I feel like I fit in great with those (Bulls) guys. They have a great core, a lot of young guys, athletic guys and they are kind of looking for a small forward position. So I feel I would fit in there."
Porter Jr. is from Missouri, but he was such a highly regarded prospect in high school that his father was hired by the U. of Washington as an assistant coach. Wink, wink. He transferred high schools to play his senior year in Seattle for former NBA player Brandon Roy, who ironically fell in his NBA draft because of worries about future knee problems. Porter was the king of the high school circuit and averaged 37 points and 14 rebounds in his senior year. He committed to Washington, but when coach Lorenzo Romar was fired, his father got hired as an assistant at the U. of Missouri. Porter Jr. recommitted and went to Missouri.
He played the season opener and then opted for the surgery, which was to keep him out the year. But he returned for the team's post season tournament. He averaged just 10 points off the bench in three games and shot just 30 percent on threes. Suddenly, his draft status began to slip in the mock drafts prepared by media while teams began to have doubts.
But Porter Jr., who will be 20 in June, didn't appear to have any.
"I knew (coming back for Missouri) I wasn't going to put on a show or be the Mike they (would see) in a few months," Porter Jr. said. "The way I was thinking about it was they'll know the player I am in a few months. So it was really trying to help my team and not be selfish with the decision. We had six players on scholarship because two were injured, so I was just trying to do what I could to be a part of the team."
Sounds like a good teammate.
"I was hoping to turn college basketball upside down like a lot of these players, Trae, DeAndre, Marvin," Porter Jr. admitted. "But this is just a step in me becoming the best player I can be. It's a little different. I've been dreaming about this NBA stuff for so long I feel like I am ready. It's been challenging, but I feel 100 percent. I feel better than ever, actually. That injury happened a couple of years ago and had gotten worse. I feel pain free and better than I have for a long time. Hopefully, I'll get out to a few workouts with teams and I can't wait for that. I'll be full go, so in the workouts I won't be holding out at all.
"It was a very minimally invasive surgery," Porter Jr. insisted. "They just had to take a piece of the disc, like 10 percent off that nerve. I got another MRI; they said it's healed fully. I just have to keep up with my stretching, my core exercises. (I've been told about) multiple guys with this injury, had surgery and come back way more athletic and better than ever. It's as a big deal, obviously, but it was a surgery a lot of guys bounce back from. It was a step back and then take three steps forward. I took a step back. But now I'm able to reach my full potential."
That's the question teams will have.
Ayton, Doncic and Bagley likely will remain the top three picks. They seem too sure to pass. They are considered the main impact players in this draft.
But what if you have a chance for an impact player at No. 5? Or No. 7? Is it worth the risk to pass on a player who could be a longtime starter?
"For me, it's getting in the right situation," said Porter Jr. "I don't need to go No. 1. I don't have an ego that makes me want to go No. 1. I just want to end in the right situation for me. You look at (Utah's) Donovan Mitchell. He went, what, 12, 13, and he's in the perfect situation for him. That's kind of how I view it. I think once I work out, I'll be in that conversation (among the best players)."