Michael Porter Jr. Believes He's The 'Best Player In This Draft,' But His Back Injury History Brings Risk

The Bulls have long eyed Porter and will meet with him soon.

Cody Westerlund
May 17, 2018 - 6:34 pm
Missouri forward Michael Porter Jr.

Christopher Hanewinckel/USA Today Sports

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By Cody Westerlund--

CHICAGO (670 The Score) -- In assessing the top storylines surrounding the 2018 NBA Draft class, none carries more intrigue and uncertainty than that of Michael Porter Jr.'s case.

A 6-foot-10 forward who projects to seamlessly fit the modern game, Porter boasts both prodigious talent and a history of back problems. The former fact is why he was considered the top player in the high school class of 2017 and a possible No. 1 pick in the 2018 draft.

It's the latter fact that has clouded Porter's future and was magnified last Nov. 21, when he underwent a microdiscectomy of the L3-L4 spinal discs in his back. The season-long back ailment cost him all but three games of a rocky freshman campaign at Missouri and has raised a red flag in front offices across the NBA.

At the NBA Combine at the Quest Multisport Complex on Thursday evening, Porter calmly did his best to dispel those concerns. He insisted he's 100 percent and feels "better than ever, actually." He was quick to point out his surgery was "minimally invasive." He explained that he has no restrictions, even if his camp decides it's best not to go through full-bore workouts in the coming weeks when he'll perform for teams.

Porter, who turns 20 in late June, also downplayed any long-term injury concerns.

"They just had to take a piece of the disc – like 10 percent – off that nerve," Porter said. "And I got another MRI, and they said the site is healed fully. I just got to keep up with my stretching, my core exercises, and they think I should be fine."

Porter's back problem stretches back to the summer after his sophomore year of high school. He first started experiencing back pain then, and it flared up in the ensuing years.

"It didn’t feel right at first, and I was compensating for certain things, and then it got messed up," Porter said. "And then it just got worse to the point I needed that surgery."

Porter believes his surroundings will go a long way toward ensuring the risk of recurrence is low, saying his decision to turn pro was based primarily on finding "the best physical therapist, the best training, the best nutritionists."

His situation is one the Bulls, the owners of the No. 7 pick on June 21, are closely monitoring. When they hit the rebuild button with the trade of Jimmy Butler last June, Porter's name was often the first to surface in private conversations as they looked to the 2018 draft. 

Since that time, Marvin Bagley reclassified into this draft class and dominated at Duke. DeAndre Ayton registered a monster season at Arizona. Luka Doncic continued to add to his resume as the most accomplished prospect to ever come out of Europe. 

Porter is well aware of all that, but it doesn't affect his belief in himself. He believes if he had been healthy all season, he'd be the consensus No. 1 pick.

"I played against all these guys," Porter said. "They’re all great players, but I’m the best player in this draft. I just can’t wait to show what I’m capable of."

Porter didn't meet with the Bulls at the NBA Combine this week, but that fact carried little meaning. The Bulls have been in contact with his agent, Mark Bartelstein of Priority Sports, with whom they have a quality working relationship. Porter is also training here in Chicago, meaning the logistical hurdles are minimal.

Informed that there has been a groundswell of love for him from Bulls fans on social media, Porter took the comment in stride, calling it "cool" and expressing his appreciation. What's more important as it pertains to a possible future with the Bulls came in later comments from Porter.

"At the end of the day, for me, it’s like getting in the right situation," Porter said. "I don’t need to go No. 1. I don’t have an ego that makes me want to go No. 1. I just want to end up in the right situation for me. You look at Donovan Mitchell, he went like 13, and he’s in the perfect situation for him. That’s kind of how I view it."

After the draft lottery on Tuesday evening, Bulls president of basketball operations John Paxson mentioned that teams can be at the mercy of agents in dealings with top prospects. If Porter's words about wanting to land in the best situation, as opposed to a high draft slot, are genuine, his camp could control some of the process by choosing not to have Porter work out for or give medical records to certain teams. Porter made clear that he personally has no problems giving medical records to anyone but then cryptically referenced that his agency has "a plan" for that.

The widespread belief is the Bulls are one of the organizations that Porter would like to land with. His words suggested that too.

"I feel like I’d fit in great with those guys," Porter said. "They got a great core, a lot of young, athletic guys. And they’re kind of looking for a small forward position. So I feel I would fit in great."

What's less certain is how the Bulls feel about Porter's long-term health and the risk-reward that comes with him. Their risk tolerance will go a long way toward deciding how they'll use the No. 7 pick, and Paxson acknowledged that's a regular conversation inside the Bulls' offices.

"There's something to be said for that, if you go out and take a chance on someone," Paxson said in speaking generally on 670 The Score on Thursday afternoon. "But that also could be a decision that sets your franchise back."

Such is the million-dollar question, literally, for the Bulls and a handful of other teams in the top 10 of the draft as they evaluate Porter.

Cody Westerlund is a sports editor for 670TheScore.com and covers the Bulls. Follow him on Twitter @CodyWesterlund.