Back and bet­ter: Porter Jr. says he’s best in draft class

Daily Times (Primos, PA) - - SPORTS - By Tim Reynolds

CHICAGO » If given the chance, Michael Porter Jr. would have a sim­ple ques­tion for those who touted him as the best NBA prospect in this draft class a year ago and no longer do to­day. Why? The way he sees it, Porter was widely con­sid­ered the best high-schooler in the coun­try 12 months ago — even though he had back is­sues that led to him hav­ing surgery last fall and ba­si­cally robbed him of his only col­lege sea­son at Mis­souri. So now, he thinks it’s log­i­cal that if his back is bet­ter, his stock should be even higher as well.

“I’m still the best player,” Porter said.

And that’s his mes­sage at the NBA Draft Com­bine, go­ing on this week in Chicago. The small for­ward went through the an­thro­po­met­ric test­ing — height, weight, wingspan, body fat per­cent­age and so on — but isn’t par­tak­ing in on-court matters this week, opt­ing in­stead to save his state­ments there un­til he gets work­outs with teams over the com­ing weeks.

“I know with­out a doubt,” Porter said. “I’ve played against all these guys. They’re all great play­ers. But I’m the best player in this draft and I can’t wait to show what I’m ca­pa­ble of.”

The play­ers who are likely to be taken at the very top of next month’s draft aren’t par­tic­i­pat­ing in the com­bine. Ari­zona’s Dean­dre Ay­ton de­clined an invitation, Slove­nian stand­out Luka Don­cic’s sea­son in Europe isn’t over — and Duke’s Marvin Ba­gley III only took part in in­ter­views with some teams.

That doesn’t mean in­trigue is lack­ing at this gather­ing of hope­fuls.

Texas’ Mo Bamba, he of the 7-foot-10 wingspan, said he be­lieves he mer­its con­sid­er­a­tion from Phoenix for the No. 1 over­all pick. Billy Preston, who left Kansas in Novem­ber un­der the cloud of an NCAA in­ves­ti­ga­tion and briefly played in Europe, is in Chicago and in­sist­ing that he’s ready men­tally and phys­i­cally for the NBA life. Brian Bowen, who hasn’t played a col­lege game yet — he left Louisville for South Carolina af­ter it be­came known he was part of the FBI’s probe into col­lege basketball and could only prac­tice with the Game­cocks af­ter en­rolling there — is par­tic­i­pat­ing as well.

But there might not be a player in Chicago with more in­trigue around him right now than Porter, who went from can’t-miss to couldn’t-play.

“Mike is a great player,” said Bruce Brown Jr., a guard who’s leav­ing Mi­ami af­ter two sea­sons for the NBA. “I know him per­son­ally. We’re cool as friends. I think he can show the world what he is ca­pa­ble of and what I know he’s ca­pa­ble of.”

Porter is among the 25 or so Chicago in­vi­tees who are skip­ping the 5-on-5 por­tions of the com­bine. That’s not a sur­prise — the trend in re­cent years has been for play­ers who are likely to be taken with the high­est picks to skip some or all of the com­bine events — but a case could be ar­gued that Porter could have used some game time.

He played in three games at Mis­souri, one of those for only two min­utes be­fore his back surgery on Nov. 21. He re­turned for two NCAA Tour­na­ment games.

CHARLES REX ARBOGAST — THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Michael Porter Jr., from Mis­souri, speaks to reporters dur­ing the NBA draft com­bine on Thurs­day in Chicago.

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