Back and better: Porter Jr. says he’s best in draft class
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.
Michael Porter Jr., from Missouri, speaks to reporters during the NBA draft combine on Thursday in Chicago.