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NBA AM: Looking Back On The 2012 NBA Draft

The 2011 NBA Draft class is eligible for extensions this offseason. Which players from the 2012 class could be looking at deals next summer?

Steve Kyler

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Looking Back At The 2012 NBA Draft:  As the saying goes, you really never know how a draft class will shake out until several years down the road. With the 2011 NBA Draft class starting to receive long-term extensions, the 2012 draft class is in essence on deck for their first big paydays.

Getting drafted into a pro sports league is no guarantee of a career. The NBA’s modern history is littered with players who were drafted, played a few years and disappeared into lesser leagues or are out of the game entirely.

Since 2001, about 22 of the 60 players drafted each year have gone on to have something of a career in the NBA, meaning they have received more than one contract and in most cases played for a number of years in the NBA at some level.

Twenty three players from the 2001 NBA Draft had careers, while just 16 players from the 2002 NBA Draft played long enough to call it a career. 2003, which is generally thought of as a deep draft, especially considering it produced LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and a cast of other notable stars, produced 26 players with NBA careers. The 2004 NBA Draft produced 22 players with careers, which is what the 2005 NBA Draft produced as well.

Looking back on the 2012 NBA Draft, there could be as many as 21 players with “career” ability, several of which could be multi-time All-Stars. Here is a look at where some of these guys stand as they enter their third year in the NBA.

The Franchise Players

Anthony Davis (#1 – 2012 NBA Draft)

Without much question Pelicans forward Anthony Davis is an NBA star. He was the top overall pick and despite some early injuries in his career, he has put up monster numbers and already earned his first of what is likely many All-Star nods. The true test of a player’s “franchise” worthiness is “would you build a team around him?” In Davis’ case, that is a resounding yes.

Damian Lillard (#6 – 2012 NBA Draft)

Much like Davis, Lillard is a star. Drafted sixth overall, Lillard was one of the more experienced players coming in, but even he’ll admit his success so quickly in the NBA was a little unexpected. Lillard is without much debate one of the best players from the 2012 NBA Draft class, and is absolutely a cornerstone type player.

Andre Drummond (#9 – 2012 NBA Draft)

Comparatively, Drummond isn’t nearly the sure fire bet that Davis and Lillard are, but given the growth of Drummond over the last two years, there is little doubt that Drummond is a special talent. The debate on whether to include him on the “franchise” list boils down to “would you start a franchise around him” and in most cases the answer is likely yes. Although, admittedly Drummond might best be suited in the next tier, the truth of the matter is Drummond likely gets a max contract, which locks him in as a franchise player for the Pistons.

The Big Money Players

Bradley Beal (#3 – 2012 NBA Draft)

Like Drummond, it’s easy to make a case for Beal as a franchise type talent. The problem is as good as Beal is, would you build a franchise around him? The answer in most situations is likely no. That in no way is trying to diminish Brad’s value, impact or status as an elite player in the NBA, or that fact that he’ll have a long career in the league.

Dion Waiters (#4 – 2012 NBA Draft)

Waiters is a small step below the top four, in that few franchises would build a team around him, but he is far and away one of the best talents from the 2012 NBA Draft. As it stands, it looks like Waiters will be staying with the Cavs this season and looks to be the starter at the off-guard position. If Waiters continues to improve as he has his first two seasons, he could be in line for a significant payday next summer.

Terrence Ross (#8 – 2012 NBA Draft)

Ross, like Waiters, isn’t a cornerstone guy, but he has proven to be extremely versatile and explosive. Arguably one of the best young shooters in the game, he is also an elite level athlete. Ross may be a victim of a numbers crunch in Toronto, but it seems pretty clear that Ross has career potential and could play a bigger role if he comes into camp with a sense of urgency.

Jared Sullinger (#21 – 2012 NBA Draft)

Sullinger fell on draft night due to injury concerns, but having endured some rookie year struggles, he has put up solid numbers for Boston. Sullinger isn’t likely going to command the max-level money he might have been in line for had he gone in the top five, but it’s pretty clear Sullinger can play in the NBA and should get a hefty long-term deal either next summer as an early extension or in restricted free agency in 2016.

Jeremy Lamb (#12 – 2012 NBA Draft)

Lamb has a ton of potential, but it’s still a little unclear if he’ll be a full-time starter. Lamb played a much larger role last year and should see more time this year. If Lamb continues to progress, he should be a guy that gets a serious payday.

Miles Plumlee (#26 – 2012 NBA Draft)

Plumlee erupted last year after being traded to the Phoenix Suns. He had an equally strong summer league. If Plumlee continues where he left off going into his third year, he could be in line for a nice big man payday. Bigs that can play are always at a premium, and Plumlee looked the part of a big than could not only play, but could start for a number of teams.

Maurice Harkless (#15 – 2012 NBA Draft)

Harkless has shown flashes of brilliance, both as a defender and as an offensive player. This will be a big season for Harkless, especially considering the crowded roster at his position. Harkless has to separate himself this season in order for him to land that long-term deal. The good news for Mo is if Orlando doesn’t want him, several other teams would gladly take him off their hands. Harkless needs a strong season to cement his value, but his play to date likely locks him into another deal in the NBA.

John Henson (#14 – 2012 NBA Draft)

Like Harkless, Henson has really progressed nicely. They say injury creates opportunity and Henson has made the most of his. The Bucks have a lot of cash tied up in other players, so it will be important for Henson to come in assertive and aggressive. If he can continue to show the same level of progression he had last year, things should work out in his favor come contract time. Considering how raw Henson looked as a rookie, he has a lot more potential today than he did two seasons ago.

Harrison Barnes (#7 – 2012 NBA Draft)

Barnes was amazing as a rookie, however his performance dropped off considerably last season. If Barnes doesn’t rebound to form this season, things could start to get shaky regarding his future. There is no doubting Barnes’ potential as a player, but his stock is headed in the wrong direction. He needs a strong season this year to cement his future. They say the third year is when you define yourself as a player. Barnes needs to look more like a starter than a bench guy to get the career-securing contract.

Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (#2 – 2012 NBA Draft)

Kidd-Gilchrist has a similar problem to Barnes, he was far from impressive as a rookie, but made a lot of progress last year. If he can continue to trend upwards, that could bode well. As things stand, it’s hard to imagine a team investing a ton into Kidd-Gilchrist based on his play up to this point, so he too needs a strong season to cement his future.

Jae Crowder (#34 – 2012 NBA Draft)

Crowder isn’t likely a huge money guy, but given the role he’s played for the Mavericks and the big minutes he has shouldered, its clear Crowder will have a career in the NBA if he remains healthy. For a second round pick, he has beaten the odds on a lot of fronts, and given what he means to Dallas he might get a big payday next summer as a restricted free agent.

Will Barton (#40 – 2012 NBA Draft)

Like Crowder, Barton has likely played himself in a nice multi-year deal. His progression in Portland has been nothing short of impressive. Barton’s role this season should be increased and his teammates often label him the most underrated player on the team. If Barton continues what he has done over the last two seasons, he should be in really good shape next summer.

Kendall Marshall (#13 – 2012 NBA Draft)

It seemed like Marshall was going to be an NBA Draft bust after failing to receiving the third year on his rookie scale contract. However, after a brief stop in the D-League and a strong run with the Lakers, Marshall is back on the radar. Marshall is no longer on his rookie deal, so he won’t be getting an extension, but there is a chance with just this season left on his deal that a strong showing in Milwaukee could turn into a multi-year deal next summer.

Terrence Jones (#18 – 2012 NBA Draft)

Jones really cemented himself last season and should be the starting power forward for the Rockets this season. If he continues to show improvement with the new responsibilities and a chance to really shine, he could find himself in a good place next summer. The problem for Jones is that Houston doesn’t do a lot of early extensions, so he may have to wait until 2016 before he can lock in that long-term security and given where Houston wants to be, Jones may or may not be in the same situation in 2016. Jones has proven he can play, and given the kinds of contracts players like Patrick Patterson got this summer, Jones should be in pretty good shape.

Draymond Green (#35 – 2012 NBA Draft)

Green is a favorite among the Warriors front office so that bodes well for his future and given how well he plays with the group in the Bay Area, it is far more likely that Green gets a new deal from the Warriors this summer. As a second rounder Green is not eligible for a rookie scale extension, but he looks to be a restricted free agent this summer and he’s likely to land a significant new contract.

Mike Scott (#43 – 2012 NBA Draft)

Given that Mike Scott already received a multi-year deal this summer, he is arguably the first player from 20102 to lock in a future. His three-year, $10 million contract has two guaranteed years and a team option for a third, so while he’s not completely locked in, he does have a much longer window to see what he’ll be in the long-term.

Still Not Sure

Andrew Nicholson (#19 – 2012 NBA Draft)

Nicholson has been something of an enigma. He can really play, but struggles to play extended minutes and has worn down in his first two season in the NBA. Nicholson could very easily be out of the league in two years or sign a multi-year deal at a lower dollar. All sides of the Nicholson equation need him to have a defining season, both improving and cementing his place or falling backwards. Historically the 19th pick hasn’t produce a lot of longevity, it’s been very hit and miss and Nicholson could easily fall into either category. He needs to a strong season to cement his future.

Kyle O’Quinn (#49 – 2012 NBA Draft)

O’Quinn has beat the odds at every step, and while he’s put some quality minutes on tape, he still has more to do to cement a long-term career. Considering what similar skilled players like DeJuan Blair have gotten in free agency, O’Quinn needs a stand out this season to lock in the potential for a multi-year deal next summer. Considering the 49th pick has yielded roughly three players with long-term NBA careers, O’Quinn is facing stiff odds, but if he can improve on his play last season he could be one of the ones that gets a chance to make it.

Robert Sacre (#60 – 2012 NBA Draft)

For the 60th pick, the fact that Sacre has lasted this long is impressive. It’s extremely rare for the 60th pick to amount to much and given that Sacre is already on his second NBA contract bodes well for his potential going forward. Like O’Quinn, Sacre needs to show significant improvement this season. He has one more fully guaranteed year on his deal and a team option next season. The Lakers can decline the option and restrict Sacre’s free agency, which might make landing a long-term deal a little difficult, but if he plays well this season there is a premium for bigs than can play and Sacre could beat the odds again.

They say the third season is where a player defines their career, so for most of the players on this list, this is a huge season for them. It’s unlikely more than a small handful get an early Rookie Scale extension next summer, but given where the salary cap projects to be in July of 2016, some teams may opt to sign guys early to try and get the price lower, rather than facing unrestricted free agency in a year when the cap could go up an unprecedented amount after the NBA inks its new national TV deals. There really is a lot on the line for many of these players.

More Twitter:  Make sure you are following all of our guys on Twitter to ensure you are getting the very latest from our team: @stevekylerNBA, @AlexKennedyNBA, @LangGreene, @EricPincus, @joelbrigham, @SusanBible @TommyBeer, @JabariDavisNBA , @NateDuncanNBA , @MokeHamilton , @JCameratoNBA and @YannisNBA.

Steve Kyler is the Editor and Publisher of Basketball Insiders and has covered the NBA and basketball for the last 17 seasons.

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NBA Daily: LiAngelo Ball Fighting For Place in the NBA

LiAngelo Ball has the name recognition but is trying to prove he belongs in the NBA based on his skills and abilities.

James Blancarte

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NBA fans are currently being treated to competitive Western and Eastern Conference Finals. The postseason is coming to a close and in roughly two weeks, the eventual 2018 NBA champion shall be crowned. With the NBA season nearly over, NBA draft season is revving up. On June 21, exactly sixty young men will hear their name called on draft night. This group will include highly sought-after NCAA collegiate prospects, international players and U.S. born players that have spent time improving their respectives games overseas.

Attention is most often focused on the top few picks. However, one name has had a conspicuous tendency to stick out, LiAngelo Ball. Like his older brother Lonzo Ball, Liangelo was recruited into the UCLA program amid the heightened attention surrounding the Ball family. Unlike Lonzo, Liangelo was unable to showcase his game on the U.S. collegiate level following a widely covered theft scandal overseas, his subsequent suspension from the UCLA program and the Ball family’s decision to then place LiAngelo and his younger brother LaMelo Ball into the Lithuanian league.

Now removed from overseas play, LiAngelo Ball is fighting to prove that his game (and not just his name) warrants the attention of NBA team officials. Many critics are quick to look past Lonzo’s clear NBA talent and whatever potential LaMelo Ball might have to quickly dismiss LiAngelo. LiAngelo Ball made it clear he sees himself as an NBA player. Ball spoke to Basketball Insiders recently to discuss a wide range of topics.

“I’m an NBA player, that’s why I declared for the draft. That’s why I’m here also,” Ball stated.

While those who question the potential for Ball to make the league via the draft, Ball has been busy doing his best to make a good impression in person. Ball spoke about the interviews he’s had so far.

“Team interviews were great. It wasn’t really an interview for me. I just started talking, vibing with the coach really. I felt like it went good for me,” Ball said and confirmed which teams he had spoken to. “I had two with [Oklahoma City] and the Suns.”

Alex Kennedy of Hoopshype confirmed that Ball also has private workouts scheduled with the Lakers, Clippers and Warriors.

Ball gave some insight into his approach to the workouts and whether there is a specific approach regarding the teams in attendance.

“I’m going to work out hard. I’m not really familiar with what they do so, I don’t know but I’m going to knock down my shots and show my endurance. Stuff like that,” Ball said.

Numerous videos have been posted of Ball shooting well in these workouts. The videos, as his past play would indicate, show that Ball is at least a capable outside shooter. Ball was quick to point this out, along with his defensive potential, as skill sets that make him a viable NBA prospect.

“I feel like I bring the team, I can knock down shots for a team. I’m real confident in that,” Ball said. “I feel like my defensive game is good. With the right coach and somebody lets me know the techniques, I feel like I’ll be a good defender in the league.”

Young players and prospects are often asked which players they have looked up to or emulated as it helps to give a bit of insight into the young player’s mentality. Ball didn’t admit to copying a particular player’s game but did name a few players he likes to watch while slipping in a flattering comparison he says he has heard about himself.

“I don’t really model my game after other players. I always just play my own way, my own style. I like to watch players as far as James Harden, LeBron [James], Klay Thompson. People say I play like [Thompson] sometimes. So, I just like watching that type of stuff. Pick up stuff from the game,” Ball said.

Ball also highlighted his time in Europe as a plus to his resume.

“I feel like it translates good into the NBA. I mean, I got a year of experience over in Europe, Europe basketball. [Because] they do a lot of the same sets, like I said, as far as coming off the screens, pull-ups and all that. I feel like it helped me out there,” Ball stated.

Also, Ball didn’t hesitate to show his interest in playing for any team beyond the Lakers, if that opportunity presented itself.

“I’m saying I’d like to play for the Lakers [because] my brother is on the team. I want to play with him. I’d love to play for any other team really. I don’t have like a set choice.  Any other team, I’m ready to play for,” Ball stated

Ball needs to keep all options open. There are only so many spots in the draft and as Ball stated, he will have to be prepared to explore every opportunity in the draft, free agency or perhaps through the G-League. For now, he is focusing his attention on the task at hand and doing whatever he can to ensure his name is among the sixty called on draft night.

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Mock Drafts

2018 NBA Consensus Mock Draft – Ver 4.0

Each week, four of Basketball Insiders’ experts take a look at the draft class and weigh in on what they are seeing and hearing in the march up to the 2018 NBA Draft.

Basketball Insiders

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Each week, four of Basketball Insiders’ top writers will break down the latest news and notes surrounding the 2018 NBA Draft. Included is an updated mock draft that reflects how each writer sees the draft landscape based on the latest news, workouts, and information from the pre-draft process.

Version: 1.0 | 2.0 | 3.0

Moke’s Notebook: One thing I can say for sure is that this is the most unpredictable draft I’ve seen in many years. The Kings and Hawks are each rumored to be open to moving the second and third pick in the draft, and I have a feeling that’s due to the intrigue surrounding Luka Dončić. At this point, the expectation is that the Suns will select DeAndre Ayton first, and I get the sense that there are many that believe that the risk of selecting Dončić is too great. Aside from that, Michael Porter, Jr. (whom I’ve been told is the “dream” scenario for the Knicks) and Mo Bamba each saw their stock rise pretty dramatically during the Combine in Chicago. I’ve seen some mocks having Porter as highly as third.

Aside from those two, there are a lot of questions about Trae Young. It was once thought that Stephen Curry and even Kevin Durant weren’t strong enough to make it in the NBA, and similar questions have been asked of Young. Between Dončić, Bamba, Porter and Young, we might be looking at four of the biggest risks that are consensus top seven picks in quite some time. Of the batch, I’d feel most comfortable selecting Bamba, whose maturity and outside shooting are both better than advertised, but again, with teams at the top willing to discuss dealing their picks and the appetite for risk playing a major role in how the draft shakes out, I only have confidence in my top seven, not necessarily where they’ll land.

As we get closer to the draft, I’d keep an eye on a few names: Aaron Holiday, Jalen Brunson and Donte DiVincenzo. Each of those guys have a shot to move up into the late teens, with Holiday, in particular, having lottery potential. Keita Bates-Diop and Jevon Carter are two second rounders who I wouldn’t be surprised to see sneak into the top 30, either.

Over the coming weeks, some guys will be called in for more individual workouts and as the weeks progress, our intel will get stronger.

Jesse’s Notebook: Though the NBA Lottery and Combine are behind us, there are still a lot of questions about how things will shake out on draft night. While Luka Dončić has been considered a consensus top-two pick for some time, some are now questioning whether he will drop a spot or two. I still believe that by draft night, Dončić will likely be picked either first or second, but that doesn’t seem to be a foregone conclusion anymore.

The mystery man of this year’s class continues to be Michael Porter Jr. Porter Jr. checks off all of the boxes for a top-tier draft prospect, but his injury history and long-term health are still major issues that teams need to consider. No one in the draft has a larger range of outcomes. Porter Jr. recently said at the Combine that he is the best player in the draft and it will only take one team with a top pick to agree with his assessment to roll the dice and take a shot on him. But if it looks like his athleticism or burst is limited because of his previous injuries, he could drop toward the end of the top-10.

As of now, there is a good sense of who will be picked with the top 15 picks or so. Once we get outside of that range, things become somewhat less clear. There is very little consensus on how teams will draft from 16-30, so I expect the upcoming workouts and other pre-draft processes to help add clarity on that front.

Benny’s Notebook: Since Basketball Insiders’ last set of Notebooks, much of the draft landscape has changed. From lottery leaps to combine crushers, we’re finally at the point in the process where things start to happen. I still believe Luka Dončić is this draft class’ best player — he literally won both the EuroLeague MVP and Final Four MVP this weekend — but we must deal with the reality that Phoenix (and perhaps others) may look elsewhere. Outside of swapping No. 1 and 2, most of my adjustments come in the lower half of the first round.

I’d banked high on Mitchell Robinson showing out at the Draft Combine and, instead, he pulled out of everything completely. Allegedly, this is because Robinson has earned a promise from the Los Angeles Lakers at No. 25, according to Aran Smith of NBADraft.net. So, with little else to go off of on Robinson, he slides for me. Additionally, after the strange week of Dennis Schröder news, it’s possible that the Atlanta Hawks could search for a future guard — and the stock-rising Aaron Holiday certainly fits the bill.

Lastly, I’ve begun to come around on Zhaire Smith, the 6-foot-5 prospect from Texas Tech that averaged 11.3 points and five rebounds per game. In the modern, positionless NBA, Smith can already guard multiple spots and his athletic abilities have been rated at the top of his class. He may need some G-League time next season, but he turns just 19 years old in early June. While he probably won’t rise much higher than I’ve had him in mocks thus far, he makes sense for plenty of rebuilding rosters.

Steve’s Notebook: With the official NBA Draft Combine in the books there has been a lot of draft chatter. While it’s important to state clearly that its still very very early in the process and lots of things can change, there is a sense at least in a few places where some teams seem to be heading and where some players might end up landing.

The Phoenix Suns did land the top overall pick, and there was almost no executive in Chicago who thought Arizona big man DeAndre Ayton wouldn’t be Phoenix’s pick. While there is real validity to the idea that new Suns head coach Igor Kokoškov has experience and a relationship with euro sensation Luka Dončić, the belief is the Suns will make their decision based on talent, not relationship.

There was also a buzz that both Sacramento and Atlanta seemed more interested in the domestic big men available at the top of the draft rather than Dončić. That could always change, but the thought process there was the risk that Dončić could opt to stay out of the draft if he didn’t like where he would land, and both teams seem to be higher on other players.

There were a few players who clearly had fans among NBA talent evaluators.

Duke’s Wendell Carter Jr, could go significantly higher than expected with Dallas being his likely ceiling. The Mavericks are far from locked in on anyone, but the belief is the Mavericks are looking at versatile bigs.

Kentucky’s Kevin Knox was something of a mystery in Chicago opting to do very little publicly and left town early. According to several teams, Knox could go as high as six to Orlando and has strong interest from the Bulls, Cavaliers, and Knicks.

UCLA’s Aaron Holiday is said to have a “soft” commitment in the late teens and has, at this point, turned away workouts with teams in the 20’s. There is a sense he could be gone before by the 19th pick.

Boise State’s Chandler Hutchison pulled out of the Combine with NBA Draft.net’s Aran Smith tweeting that he is believed to have gotten a commitment from the Chicago Bulls at 22. Smith also tweeted that Mitchell Robinson also got a promise from the Lakers at 25. One veteran executive labeled this draft class as being the most aggressive draft he can recall where agents were calling and pressing for commitments.

Villanova’s Donte DiVincenzo wowed athletically during combine testing and several executives before the testing sessions not only nailed where he’d measure and perform, they also suggested he’d be gone in the 20’s.

Executives were especially critical of the two notable international prospects Dzanan Musa and Rodions Kurucs, suggesting that both could slide into the second round.

IMG Academy’s Anfernee Simons has several fans, but the word on him is that he’s a long-term project that would need time. There was a considerable amount of fact-finding by scouts on Simons. A team to watch could be Orlando if Simons is there is there when the Magic select at 35 or 41.

Tulane’s Melvin Frazier came away with mixed reviews, some love his length and athleticism and see him as a defensive presence, other teams saw him as lacking defined NBA skill sets.

Maryland’s Kevin Huerter has some fans. One executive offered a friendly wager that Huerter would be gone by 40.

West Virginia’s Jevon Carter looks like he has a real shot to be drafted in the first round, with several teams at the bottom of draft expressing real interest.

There are a couple of sleeper types that seemed to have turned some heads through the process in Chicago, namely Kansas’ Udoka Azubuike, Louisville’s Ray Spalding, Dayton’s Kostas Antetokounmpo and West Virginia’s Sagaba Konate. All of them could go significantly higher than currently projected.

Who are these guys anyway? Steve Kyler is the Publisher of Basketball Insiders and has covered the NBA for the last 19 years. Moke Hamilton is a Deputy Editor and Columnist for Basketball Insiders and has covered basketball for the last eight years. Jesse Blancarte is a Senior NBA Writer and Deputy Editor for Basketball Insiders and has covered the NBA for the last four years. Benny Nadeau is an NBA Writer and finished his first season covering the NBA for Basketball Insiders.

More Twitter: Make sure you are following all of our guys on Twitter to ensure you are getting the very latest from our team: @stevekylerNBA, @LangGreene, @EricPincus, @joelbrigham, @TommyBeer, @MokeHamilton , @jblancartenba, @Ben_Dowsett, @SpinDavies, @JamesB_NBA, @DennisChambers_, @mike_yaffe, @MattJohnNBA, and @Ben__Nadeau .

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NBA Daily: Porter Jr. Ready to Make Up For Lost Time in the NBA

Michael Porter Jr. played just 53 minutes of basketball in his lone college season, yet believes he’s the best player in the draft now that he’s seemingly healthy.

Dennis Chambers

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When Michael Porter Jr. stepped foot on Missouri’s campus, he was supposed to inject life into a basketball program that hadn’t made the NCAA tournament since the 2012-13 season.

After receiving his release from the University of Washington, following the firing of Lorenzo Romar, Porter Jr. decided to return home and play under Cuonzo Martin for the Tigers. The No. 2 ranked recruit in the nation, the near 6-foot-11 small forward possessed the scoring and versatility traits to suggest he would be a star at the college basketball level before making his jump to the NBA.

But that would not be so for Porter Jr., as a back injury and subsequent surgery would limit him to just 53 total minutes in three games coming at the end of the season.

In his brief stint as a student-athlete, Porter Jr. played how many would expect a teenager coming off of months-long injury rehab: rusty.

Thirty points and 20 rebounds in three games, on 10-for-33 shooting from the field, and 7-for-20 from beyond the arc. It was clear Porter Jr. was not up to the speed he expected to be on the college court just several months prior. But no matter, he wanted to get out there anyway, regardless of risking re-injury, so that he could help his teammates.

“I knew that I wasn’t gonna put on a show, or be the Mike that they saw in a few months,” Porter Jr. said at the NBA Combine. “The way I was thinking about was just, you know, they’ll know the player I am in a few months. Just trying to help my team and not be selfish with the decision. We had like six players on scholarship at the time because two had gotten injured. So, I was just trying to do what I could to be a part of the team.”

Porter Jr.’s return didn’t lift his team the way he had hoped, as Missouri fell to Florida State in the first round of the NCAA tournament 67-54. When the clock hit zeros, the smooth shooting swingman with a questionable injury history set his sights on the NBA.

However, Porter Jr.’s projection at the game’s highest level is much different in May than it was 10 months ago. From positioning himself to battle for the top overall pick, Porter Jr. is now somewhat of an enigma. His game is a bit of a mystery, and so are his medical records. Once considered a no-brainer to be picked top-three, Porter Jr. could find himself sliding near the back end of the top 10 on draft night.

Noting that he originally injured his back a few years ago in high school, when the injury finally caught up to him just before his college career was ready to tip off, Porter Jr. took a unique approach to otherwise disappointing news.

“When I had to have the surgery I kind of viewed it as a blessing,” Porter Jr. said. “A new start, and I could really reach my full potential. They had me as the number one player in high school, but I didn’t even feel like I was at 100 percent, and I do now.”

Being at 100 percent, as Porter Jr. says in his own words, just before he begins his NBA career has the forward excited for his future. Despite missing time on the court and falling behind other prospects in the draft conversation, Porter Jr. hasn’t lost his self-confidence.

“I’m just excited to show everybody the player that I am,” Porter Jr. said. “I’m still the best player … I played against all these guys, they’re all great players. But I’m the best player in this draft.”

Though his back is still a mystery, and his sample size is small, if Porter Jr. were to reach the potential scouts and NBA personnel pegged him as having when he was on the doorsteps of college basketball, then he has the makings of a franchise-caliber player.

With the opportunity of getting that kind of upside at a potentially discounted selection, Porter Jr. was one of the most popular names at the Cmbine. The forward mentioned meeting with just about every team picking in the top 10 come June’s draft. One team that Porter Jr. has been frequently linked to, the Chicago Bulls, were not exclusively mentioned on his list. But Porter Jr. noted the Bulls and his agent were in contact and he hoped to get a workout scheduled with Chicago.

No matter who Porter Jr. meets with or works out for from now until draft night, the versatile and skilled forward projects to be one of the most interesting players to follow. Could he impress throughout the draft process and reclaim his spot within the top-three? Or will he slide down draft boards and become a potential steal for a team in the back half of the lottery?

Whatever the outcome is, Porter Jr. will be ready.

“I was hoping to turn college basketball upside down like a lot of these players,” Porter Jr. said. “But this is just a step in my process in becoming the best player that 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.”

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