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Michael Porter Jr. Is the NBA Draft’s Biggest Mystery

Despite news that he had to cancel a Friday workout with hip spasms, his stock seems to be on the rise. How is that possible?

Michael Porter Jr. Getty Images/Ringer illustration

Every NBA draft seems to have one of these guys. The injured basketball star whose potential is enticing, but whose projection is clouded in uncertainty, leaving teams and onlookers alike without a clue.

Welcome to the Michael Porter Jr. Mystery.

Porter Jr. and his team canceled a Friday workout in Chicago that was scheduled to be in front of the Kings, Suns, and Knicks. Yahoo’s Shams Charania reported that the cancellation was due to a strained hip and muscle spasms. Teams were later informed that the MRI returned clean. Still, per ESPN’s Jonathan Givony, Porter couldn’t even get out of bed. I’m gonna go ahead and say that, if true, that doesn’t sound promising for a guy who is set to be drafted in a week. There’s no certainty that the workout will be rescheduled, though teams are still hoping to meet with Porter in Chicago.

The former Missouri forward was already one of the wild cards in this draft, and with this latest development, his situation has gotten even wilder.

Porter, who was the no. 2 recruit in the 2017-18 class, underwent spinal disk surgery in November after injuring his back in the first game of Missouri’s season. The setback kept him out of most of his freshman season. He came back unexpectedly late in the season to play in three games, which did more harm than good to his draft cause. But for teams who remember Porter when he was dunking all over high schoolers at Nathan Hale High, and those who have seen him work out, his talent is undeniable. The only question is whether he can turn that potential into NBA success, or whether back injuries will linger throughout his pro career.

Yet even with his injuries and the clandestine nature of his predraft process, Porter’s stock is somehow rising. A private workout he held last week with the Mavericks and the Grizzlies, among other teams, was “extremely impressive,” according to a Dallas source of Mike Fisher’s. Sam Amick of USA Today reported Thursday that there’s a “very real chance” the Kings will take Porter at no. 2, a development that was reported after Porter canceled his workout. Earlier this week, ESPN’s Ian Begley reported that teams ahead of the Knicks in the draft had tried to gauge New York’s interest in moving up to draft Porter. The Ringer’s latest mock draft has him going fourth overall to the Memphis Grizzlies, and Jonathan Givony reported that it is unlikely he’ll fall out of the top 7. That’s quite the come-up for a player who might not even be able to get out of bed.

It’s easy to see why Porter is such an attractive prospect. He’s a near-7-footer who can shoot well from nearly every spot on the court. If healthy, he’ll be a perfect offensive wing in today’s NBA and could have an impact right away. But the injury, as well as concerns about the other facets of his game—passing, rebounding, and physicality—meant Porter was considered a mid-to-late lottery selection when the predraft process began. In some ways, he was underrated given his ceiling. Now, the tables have flipped, even as more questions have come up. Porter’s situation doesn’t have a clear explanation, so at the risk of turning it into the galaxy brain meme, let’s go through the options to try to shed some light on why his stock is rising at such a perplexing time.

The most obvious scenario could be that Porter has a promise from an unknown team. This isn’t a rarity, as many prospects in past drafts have canceled workouts because a team has promised them it will take that player at a certain slot. That the reported threshold is the seventh pick could mean that team is the Bulls, but it could also mean that it’s the Kings, and a promise from the team holding the no. 2 pick would make any workout with teams below Sacramento a waste of time. Just look at Deandre Ayton: The presumptive no. 1 overall selection has worked out with only the Suns.

The alternative theory is that Porter and his camp are trying to dodge certain teams and find the perfect situation for him. Let’s face it: The top of the draft features franchises that haven’t exactly been well-run establishments in the past few seasons. There’s a good chance that by avoiding teams near the top, Porter could make his way down to a franchise that’s more to his liking, or at least one that’s fallen in love with him.

And then there’s a curveball scenario. Maybe Porter’s stock isn’t actually rising, and teams are just hyping him up as part of a smoke screen. How else to explain teams directly contacting the Knicks to try to sell them on moving up to draft Porter rather than the other way around? It wouldn’t be difficult to sell Porter stock to any team if so many squads were in love with him.

Regardless, Porter has become the most interesting prospect on the board with the draft just seven days away. Soon enough, it will become clear what this mess was all about.