Mis­souri for­ward Michael Porter Jr.

Miz­zou for­ward may be the game-changer Or­lando needs in draft

Orlando Sentinel - - FRONT PAGE - By Josh Rob­bins Staff Writer

be­lieves he might be the an­swer the Magic need in the NBA Draft.

CHICAGO — The Or­lando Magic won’t be able to se­lect a tran­scen­dent player when they pick sixth in the 2018 NBA Draft. A good one? Yes. A fran­chise cor­ner­stone? No.

At least that’s what con­ven­tional wis­dom says.

Michael Porter Jr. begs to dif­fer.

The 6-foot-10 Univer­sity of Mis­souri for­ward thinks the Magic, or any other team, would ac­quire a po­ten­tial su­per­star if they se­lect him.

“I’ve played against all these guys,” Porter said Thurs­day dur­ing a ses­sion with re­porters at the NBA Draft Com­bine. “They’re all great play­ers. But I’m the best player in this draft and I just can’t wait to show what I’m ca­pa­ble of.”

Porter has rea­son to feel so self-as­sured. Many re­cruit­ing ser­vices ranked him as the top player in his high-school class. He joined Alonzo Mourn­ing, Chris Web­ber, LeBron James and Dwight Howard as the only player in his­tory to to win the Nai­smith and Ga­torade boys na-

tional player of the year awards and be named the most valu­able player of the McDon­ald’s All-Amer­i­can Game.

But NBA teams have rea­son to feel skep­ti­cal. Porter in­jured his back early in his col­lege de­but, un­der­went surgery and didn’t play again until Mis­souri’s fi­nal two games, a first-round loss in the SEC Tour­na­ment game and a first-round loss in the NCAA Tour­na­ment.

The New York Knicks, Dal­las Mav­er­icks, Philadel­phia 76ers, Phoenix Suns, Cleveland Cava­liers, At­lanta Hawks, Memphis Griz­zlies, Houston Rock­ets and Los Angeles Clip­pers in­ter­viewed him on Wed­nes­day or Thurs­day, and Porter said of­fi­cials from those teams asked him about his back.

When he spoke with re­porters Thurs­day, he told them the in­jury may have been a god­send, even if it means he’ll fall a bit in the draft. Porter said he first in­jured his back be­tween his sopho­more and ju­nior years of high school when an op­pos­ing player un­der­cut him as he el­e­vated for a dunk. Porter said the in­jury wors­ened over the next two years and hampered his play.

He con­tends the surgery has helped him.

“I think it was a step back to take three steps for­ward,” Porter said. “I feel like I took a step back, but now I’m able to reach my full po­ten­tial be­ing out of pain and ev­ery­thing.

“I was hop­ing to turn col­lege bas­ket­ball up­side­down, just like a lot of these play­ers: Trae [Young], De­an­dre [Ay­ton], Marvin [Ba­gley III]. But this is just a step in my process of be­com­ing the best player I can be. It’s a lit­tle dif­fer­ent but I’m more ready than ever. I’ve been dream­ing about this NBA stuff for so long. I feel like I’m ready.”

Post-com­bine work­outs with NBA teams likely will be cru­cial for Porter to prove he’s healthy. Although he isn’t sched­uled to in­ter­view with the Magic to­day, the Magic al­most cer­tainly will in­vite him to travel to Or­lando for a work­out and interviews.

So far in Chicago, the Magic’s in­ter­vie­wees have in­cluded Or­lando na­tive and swing­man An­fer­nee Simons of IMG Academy, Univer­sity of Miami swing­man Bruce Brown Jr., Vil­lanova guard Donte DiVin­cenzo and Bos­ton Col­lege guard Jerome Robin­son, those play­ers said.

Ay­ton, Luka Don­cic, Ba­gley, Jaren Jack­son Jr. and Mo­hamed Bamba all could be se­lected be­fore Or­lando picks at No. 6. If so, the Magic will have a choice: Will they play it safe and pick some­one with no prior health issues or take a chance on Porter?

The an­swer is clear to Porter.

Asked why he thinks he’s the best player in the draft, he re­sponded, “I’ve played against all these guys. They’ve ob­vi­ously got­ten bet­ter. They’re all great play­ers. I’m not tak­ing any­thing away from them. That’s just how I feel. Every­body will know that soon.”

CHARLES REX ARBOGAST/AP

Mis­souri’s Michael Porter Jr. says he’s the best player avail­able in the up­com­ing NBA Draft.

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