Name: Michael Porter Jr.
Position: Small Forward/Power Forward
Dimensions: 6’10.75”, with a 7’0.25” wingspan, 9’0” standing reach, weighing 211 pounds
Stats (3 games played, 17.7 minutes per game): 10.0 points, 6.7 rebounds, 0.3 assists, 1.0 steals, 0.3 blocks per game; 38.3% field goal, 30% 3pt, 77.8% FT
It can be a little hard to pin down strengths and weaknesses for Michael Porter, because it’s all a tale of “what could have been.” Porter came in to his freshman season as one of the best freshmen in college basketball, ranked #2 in the ESPN 100 behind Marvin Bagley, a likely top-3 pick. Cole Zwicker of The Stepien in November called Porter “perhaps the best wing/combo forward to enter the draft since Kevin Durant.” He was being mocked as high as the #1 overall pick before the college season started—and then, 2 minutes into his college debut against Iowa State, he suffered a major back injury that would cost him almost his entire freshman season.
Porter was expected to miss the entire season, but was able to return early from his injury and appear in Missouri’s final two games of the season, including their first-round loss in the NCAA tournament. We didn’t see much from him in those two games, as he understandably struggled while returning from injury and trying to help his team. That’s precisely what makes it difficult to nail down his strengths and weaknesses—or at least the degree to which they’ll translate to competing at the highest level.
If you buy into the pre-injury, high school-based hype, though, there’s a lot to love about Porter. He’s a tall, athletic forward with polished perimeter scoring skills, exactly the kind of player that’s perfect for the modern NBA as a wing who can get shots off over any defender. He has a comfortable handle and smooth, high release on his jumper, with scoring versatility at all three levels.
His rebounding, which was considered a strength coming out of high school, was a rare area where he showed well in his short collegiate career, averaging 6.7 rebounds in 17.7 minutes per game. Obviously the sample size is minuscule, but it seems as though he’ll be able to play both forward positions in the NBA, and surviving on the glass at power forward could alleviate issues with perimeter defense earlier in his career. While he is inconsistent defensively, his athleticism allows him to fit in as a switching or hedging big man while he works on his perimeter man skills.
Porter is incredibly skilled for a wing prospect of his size, but he still has strides to make in his development. Missing out on a year of basketball at Missouri definitely sets him back, as seeing him work through any growing pains against D1 competition would have provided a little assurance to NBA teams. As it is, he’ll come in with hardly more playing experience than a prep-to-pro prospect, but he’ll turn 20 years old in late June, putting a stricter timeline on his development than similarly green prospects who went pro before the one-and-done era.
In order to become a top-tier shooter in the NBA, he’ll have to tweak his shot to get a quicker release against longer defenders. While he’s comfortable with the ball in his hands, he still has to show exactly how capable he is of using his handle to create space against elite defenders, or creating looks for his teammates. The Ringer’s scouting report writes that Porter could suffer from “Andrew Wiggins Syndrome,” as an inefficient scorer who doesn’t do much else. The perimeter scoring skills are enticing, but two questions emerge: can he be an efficient 3-level scorer in the NBA, and can he develop the other aspects of his game to become a well-rounded star and not an empty-calorie points-scorer? A big part of efficient scoring involves getting to the free throw line, which makes The Ringer’s observation that he avoids contact especially worrying.
Defensively, while there’s reason (outlined above) to be optimistic, there is still a chance that he struggles to guard both forward positions early in his career. He’s never been highly-regarded on the defensive end, as The Ringer writes that he “doesn’t grind on defense,” while The Stepien questions his lateral quickness and notes that he plays upright instead of sitting in a defensive stance. Against power forwards, despite his strong rebounding numbers, he could be punished in the NBA with his slight frame. While he’d be able to take on fellow small-ball 4s, he doesn’t have the strength to hold his ground against more legitimate big men at the position.
Fit on Clippers
We’ve talked a lot about how the Clippers have a good supporting cast, but are lacking the top-tier centerpiece star for that cast to support. Frankly, no prospect is ever a sure bet to reach that level of stardom—only a handful of players in the league actually lead their team to championship contention. But Porter’s raw scoring ability at least suggests that he may be able to reach that level, which is something that many prospects have no chance of achieving. His injury severely damaged his draft stock, pushing him from a contender for the #1 pick to now being routinely mocked outside of the top 5. In one live mock draft done on ESPN, he slipped down to 15, though that seems unlikely.
The point of drafting Porter, if you’re the Clippers, is to gamble on that health risk and star potential in an attempt to land a guy who could maybe fill that void as the team’s centerpiece. Still, it would be premature to expect him to slot into that role immediately. As a rookie, Porter would still be on the bench behind Danilo Gallinari and Tobias Harris at the forward positions, but he could have an expansive role at both forward positions and get plenty of touches and shots to show his stuff as a scorer. Then, within 2-3 years, he would hopefully replace an aging Gallinari in the lineup and play alongside Harris.