Have you ever felt robbed? Not in the literal way (I hope), but in relation to sports. As an Indiana sports fan, I am no stranger to heartbreak. The city’s quarterback and crown jewel had his Colts career ended by a neck injury. Then, the city’s quarterback and crown jewel had missed a season due to neck and kidney injuries. Paul George suffered one of the most gruesome leg injuries you will see. And on Wednesday, hometown hero Victor Oladipo ruptured a quad tendon.
When Missouri Tigers standout Jontay Porter tore his ACL and MCL during a preseason scrimmage, college basketball and NBA Draft fans alike felt robbed. Expected to take the next step as a leader at Missouri in his sophomore campaign, the injury put a dent in the hearts of many expecting to watch him. Not to mention, it set Porter himself back in a big way.
Up until their days at Missouri, Jontay Porter lived in his brother’s shadow. His brother, Michael Porter Jr., dominated the AAU and FIBA scene on his way to stardom. A pure scoring machine, many viewed Michael Porter as one of the best prospects in a loaded 2018 NBA Draft class. However, crippling back injuries sidelined Porter for most of his freshman season, dropping his stock significantly. Once a projected top pick, he slid to the Nuggets at 14 and has yet to appear in an NBA game.
In his absence, Jontay Porter introduced himself as a vital contributor to a Missouri Tigers team that made the tournament. Despite only starting seven games as a freshman, Porter captured the hearts of many NBA Draft writers, with many having him toward the top of the aforementioned stacked 2018 NBA Draft class. His rare blend of passing, shooting and ballhandling (for a big man) had scouts envisioning a perfect modern NBA center. Jontay tested the waters before ultimately returning to Missouri for his sophomore season.
Early into the college basketball season, injuries to top prospects had begun to pile up. Vanderbilt star freshman guard Darius Garland is out for the season, as is Oregon Freshman big Bol Bol. USC freshman Kevin Porter Jr. has missed significant time with injuries and suspensions; and Gonzaga’s Killian Tillie missed much of the beginning of the season.
The litany of injuries to prospects served to bury Porter. Once a player who garnered mid-lottery hype, one is hard-pressed to find him in the lottery at all in any mainstream boards or mock drafts. In this draft, which so lacks top-end talent not named Zion, Jontay’s name should feature more in tier II discussions. There is a small NBA Draft Twitter conglomerate who view him in a positive light, but those voices singing his praises are certainly in the minority.
Porter slotted in at number three on my most recent top 100. His intersection of size, skill, and age make him an intriguing bet as a modern NBA small-ball center. Porter’s skillset fits that of a small ball center, but he is not small in stature. He measured in at 6’11.5″ in shoes at last year’s combine and looks taller than his 6’10.75″ brother. As Porter is only 19 and will be until November. There is a chance for him to still grow into a legit seven-footer, possibly undergoing a spiritual transformation in the process.
Porter’s significant pudginess has been a topic of much discussion around him, as his 13.85% body fat was the highest mark at the 2018 combine. Although this excess body fat adds virtual weights to his ankles, his underdeveloped physique suggests latent athletic development. It would be similar to a player like Draymond Green, who at the time of his draft faced the same critiques as Porter only to blossom into an above average athlete and one of the best bigs in the NBA.
Let’s start breaking down Porter’s game on the court.
In the modern NBA, teams tend to look for one of two center archetypes (excluding unicorn super-freaks who do both, like Anthony Davis):
a) An athletic, defensive-minded center who doesn’t do much on offense out of rim running and finishing, and maybe a set shot if you are lucky. The Clint Capela and Rudy Gobert types.
b) A non-traditional big with plus passing, ball-handling and shooting ability, who may or may not be good on defense but that is ultimately not vital due to their elite offensive impact. The Draymond Green and Nikola Jokic types.
Of course, there are exceptions to this rule, but most non-superstar centers nowadays fit somewhere into one of these molds or are a combination of the two. Porter fits squarely into the latter archetype. He’s got the passing, handling and shooting chops to be an effective five in a modern, potent offense.
Nikola Jokic is a solid super ceiling comparison for Porter: another pudgy big with all-time passing greatness, sporting the handle to bring the ball up the floor and range out to the three-point line. Porter will never be the post player Jokic is, and won’t be as strong, but likely will shoot better and possibly will defend better too.
Marc Gasol — with less defense — compares similarly. A smaller version of current Brook Lopez (thanks to @canyondriver and the rest of the draft twitter pals for comp help) with better passing and handling feels like a safe upside bet as well. His shooting gives flashes of Sleepy Sam Perkins as well. I do think Porter has top 25-player in the league type upside though, so a peak like Jokic’s is likely unreachable, but Gasol type impact feels reasonable.
Porter’s uniqueness stems primarily from his especial passing ability. His feel for the game is tremendous, and combined with his elite basketball IQ, make for a devastating passer in all facets of the game. A quintessential Jontay wow play, Porter flashes his handle attacking the closeout before finding the backdoor cutter for the dunk:
His reads are almost always snappy quick, finding the wide open man under the bucket when the defense is scrambling:
Trailing on the break, Porter immediately floats a pass over to a gunner on the wing right when he touches the ball, displaying excellent anticipation, vision, IQ and touch:
Although he won’t ever be a great post player in the NBA because of a lack of functional strength, he should be able to post up switches with his solid footwork and touch. When multiple defenders latch onto him, Porter is always searching for the man on the weak side to pass to:
Porter’s game has shades of early 2000s big man Mehmet Okur (a comparison of the gods, courtesy of @ross_homan1). A true anachronism with his blend of marksmanship from the outside and passing ability. Operating primarily with his back initially to the basket, Okur had the vision to find open teammates on the weak side:
Back to Porter, he doesn’t need to turn his body to find the open man, as he flips this wild over the shoulder pass to a cutting man for an open short corner jumper:
Diverting the attention of the defense with his elite shooting gravity, Porter rifles a pinpoint skip pass across the width of the court, hitting the shooter on the numbers, allowing him to rise up for the triple:
In the games I re-charted, this didn’t occur too often but Porter can be indecisive, causing the offense to stall. After driving into the lane, he misses an open corner shooter on the weak side and eventually loses the ball:
For a near seven foot big man, Porter’s shooting ability is elite. He shot a solid 36.4% from three in his freshman season; though that number increases to 42.6% in his 19 conference games. With quick, compact shot mechanics, his shooting threat bends the defense and neutralizes rim protectors. Porter’s motor on both ends is top notch and we will touch on this later but watch his left leg twitch before he catches the pass on the hop before rising up for a three off of the window:
Potential NBA impact wise, think Brook Lopez, who has essentially evolved into a gigantic Kyle Korver with the way he is shooting:
It’s easy to envision Porter in this role, forcing the defense to defend deep behind the line or risk the consequences. Except Porter has the handling and passing ability Lopez does not, allowing him to further weaponize his gravitational pull, which has the potential to be massive assuming he shoots somewhere near a player like a peak Lopez. Porter has already shown the ability to beat defenders off of the dribble from a standstill: despite the botched finish, this ability to drive into the paint is impressive:
Out of the pick and pop, Porter whizzes by his defender before locating the open shooter in the corner. No shot comes of this play but that’s an easy three points in the NBA:
Again with the ball atop the key, Porter uses some of his foot quickness to get into the lane and muscles through defenders for the and-1 finish:
Inside the arc, Porter is a crafty scorer. Porter has solid touch: here, he fakes a couple passes before flowing into a nifty fade towards the baseline:
Porter only shot 6/14 on runners during the 2017-18 college basketball campaign, which isn’t the most auspicious sign. His lack of vertical explosion will greatly limit him as a play finisher in the NBA. Therefore, developing a consistent short floater game could help make him a more dynamic short-roll playmaker and a more dangerous cutter:
Porter’s optimal NBA offensive role is an ancillary one on a good team: one with an elite pull-up initiator and spacing. Like Lopez, Okur, and Perkins before him, Porter would serve well as a spot-up shooter. But he can do so much more than that with his skill and pure intelligence and intuition. If Porter lands on the right team willing to commit everything to him, we could have ourselves an offensive dynamo near (but likely not at) the level of a Jokic:
It is often the players with the best intuitive decision making that become the most valuable NBA players and Porter checks that box. He has real third (or maybe even second) best player on a championship offensive equity if he is optimized properly.
I am going to start this by saying Jontay Porter will likely not be a plus defender when he enters the league or within a few seasons. It is possible, as we will discuss later, but his current physical limitations will hurt him. As mentioned before, his body fat percentage of 13.85% was the highest at the combine. This fat clearly has an impact on his defensive ability, slowing him down and limiting his versatility. His multi-foot cushion is not enough to halt this drive and Porter concedes the layup:
In this Missouri Tigers clip from a game against South Carolina, Jontay is beat middle, but the help D stymies the drive. His limited foot speed and agility is clear and hurts him against fast, quick players:
Continuing with the theme of physical impediments, Porter’s short standing reach of 9’1″ is well below average for a center of his stature and limits his ability to get vertical. His poor 7’0.25″ wingspan compounds this limitation. Combined with his lack of vertical pop, his wingspan and standing reach make Porter a sub-optimal primary rim protector:
Porter’s lack of athleticism also causes him to foul too often, as seen by his 4.8 fouls per 40. Often, Porter positions himself correctly but bails out the defense by fouling. As seen in these next two clips, Porter is in fine position to contests but extends his arms out at an angle, causing him to foul:
Despite all of these negatives, Porter is by no means a terrible defender. His insanely high BBIQ is just as evident on the defensive side of the ball as on offense, further indicated by his 4.1 stocks per 40. Nikola Jokic, another athletically limited big man, has improved his defense vastly over his career and, like Porter, makes plays with his IQ and positioning:
Despite his aforementioned struggles as a primary rim protector, Porter excels as a help-side shot blocker. He has a knack for coming off of his man at the perfect time to block a shot. I couldn’t include all or even most of his blocks and keep this piece a reasonable length. Watch Porter swoop in from the weak side to block this shot after the guard rejects the screen:
Patrolling the paint, the Missouri Tigers stud sniffs out the pump fake and comes over to block this shot:
Porter being a bonafide basketball savant helps make up for some of his sluggishness around the rim and on the back end of the defense. While he is not fast by any means, Porter has surprisingly good feet. For a guy of his size, he is fairly nimble and changes directions better than one would expect. He clocked in at a 3.07-second shuttle run at the combine, the same mark as Donovan Mitchell.
Combined with his ever-running motor, then you have a serviceable defensive player at the college level. This play gives us a good look at Porter’s general activity on defense. In the middle of the 2-3 zone, Porter is always low, moving his feet, has his arms wide, is communicating and is in position to bother this floater:
Switched onto a guard, Jontay bothers the ball handler with his length before diving down to help on the post:
Porter executes drop coverage well here, sliding his feet with the attacker and closing out long without fouling:
Switched onto a guard, Jontay forces him baseline and stays attached to his hip the whole time before rejecting his reverse layup off of the glass:
Much of my hope for Porter’s defensive ability comes from what he may become more than what he is now. The Stepien’s Ben Rubin has said he believes Porter would be a top 10 prospect on a zone team. No teams in the NBA play exclusively zone of course (thank the heavens), but some teams are beginning to sprinkle zones in against certain lineups. Furthermore, many off-ball defensive concepts stem from zone concepts, anyway. When he gets access to a world-class strength and conditioning program in the NBA, shedding off excess body fat is probably. If/when he does that, depending on how athletic he becomes, Jontay Porter could easily become a plus defender not considering the offensive value he offers.
It is befuddling more people don’t view Porter as a top five type prospect in this class. Given his pedigree and cornucopia of skills, Jontay seems like an obvious top prospect. Lowering him because of injury concerns is one thing, but ACL and MCL tears are not the career-enders they used to be. Chronic back and neck injuries, like his brother’s, are another story. I see no reason Porter wouldn’t declare, given the weakness of the 2019 NBA Draft class.
Because of Porter’s injury and lack of exposure this season, he will almost certainly not go in the top five or even the lottery. This is all the better for him as he is likely to end up on a good to a great team ready to optimize his skills. A team like the Spurs, Celtics, or Jazz are three teams that will likely be in the range to draft Porter.
It makes it all the better, as so much of his value comes from being able to draft him 10-plus spots later than he should ever fall. Porter is a surefire tier II prospect and likely will not fall out of my top five at any time in this NBA Draft season. Whether others come around, though, is yet to be seen.
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