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NBA Daily: Jontay Porter Embraces The Adversity

Two consecutive ACL tears would derail any player’s morale, but for Jontay Porter, his bad luck in recent months will only make him stronger.

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Investing in a player with an injury history is arguably the biggest risk a team can take. It’s why two teams passed up on Joel Embiid in the 2014 draft, and why his current contract with Philadelphia has a lot of conditions that can only be met if he’s able to stay on the floor.

It sounds unfair because, really, it is unfair. It’s yet another horrid example of the ugly side of the sports business. Even if you’ve proven that you’re capable of great things, if you have any warning signs that you’re a liability, teams will either avoid or add you for much less than what you’re worth.

If there’s one part of the body that can really hurt a player’s chances of staying in the league if it proves to be faulty, it’s the knee. Knee injuries destroyed the careers of blossoming talents such as Brandon Roy and Greg Oden and prematurely ruined the primes of Derrick Rose and Shaun Livingston.

Jontay Porter hasn’t even stepped on an NBA court yet, and he’s already in danger of joining the aforementioned names. Back in October, the sophomore center tore his ACL and MCL during a scrimmage, then tore the ACL again in March (Note to future ballers: Not a good idea to disobey doctor’s orders when it comes to recovering from serious knee injuries).

Despite the hard luck that’s come his way over the past seven months, Porter seemed to be in good spirits when talking about his knee at the NBA Draft Combine in Chicago.

“I do think I have healthy knees and they will come back 110 percent,” Porter said. “It’s just a matter of time and being patient.”

If what Porter says is true, then the sophomore big from Missouri could be a diamond in the rough in this year’s NBA draft. Porter brings so much to the table with his skill set. He’s an adept passer for his size – 2.2 assists per game – an adequate shooter – 36.4 percent from three – and a passable defender – averaging 0.8 steals and 1.7 blocks per game.

There’s only one problem. Those stats came from the 2017-2018 season. It’s hard to see how he’ll do coming off of two consecutive ACL tears. Porter’s not expected to be a high pick in this draft. He’s projected to be picked in the late first-round as a best-case scenario. Jontay knows expectations for him aren’t very high, but he’s set lofty goals for himself – at least for the situation that he’s in – for when he enters the league.

“A lot of teams are intrigued by my skill set,” Porter said. “Some teams need immediate help and they may not think that I’m willing and able to do that so my goal is to play this upcoming year so we’ll see what happens.”

Going that route is going to be a tough one for Jontay. Because his most recent injury occurred just two months ago, Porter is still in recovery, which limits his ability to show teams what he has to offer. Despite the setback, it’s clear that he’s doing everything in his power to show teams what he’s got.

“It’s tough when I can’t get on the court and show them but what I can say is that I’ve taken every good thing in my game and elevated that and every weakness I’ve improved on as well,” Porter said. “I’m just trying to become a complete player and basically a game-changer… Every time I step on the floor, I just want people to know (I’m) in the game and (I’m) making a difference.”

It’s not a position that anyone in Porter’s shoes would want. Fortunately for Jontay, there’s someone who knows what he’s going through. And not just anyone, his big brother Michael knows what it’s like to have to go through a long recovery.

For those who don’t remember, Michael Porter Jr. was projected to be a high lottery pick in last year’s draft before a back injury cut his freshman year at Missouri very short, limiting him to three games. Because of the persistent issues with his back, Porter’s stock dropped him all the 14th overall in the draft. To make things worse, Denver chose to have Michael sit out the year to rest his back.

Even if the phrase, “It runs in the family” sounds so very tragic at times like this, having his brother’s moral support and example has helped Jontay lot during the recovery process.

“It’s nice to not be the only out there struggling with the injuries and everything,” Porter said. “I was actually living with Michael in Denver… Seeing how he does things and how he’s been patient with his (rehab), you see how it’s paying off and he’s going to be 100 percent healthy going into the Summer League. That’s one thing I want to do is just be patient with it and attack every day like I can accelerate the process myself which is how I’m thinking about it.”

Life for Jontay Porter has been anything but easy since October. Even with all he’s gone through, there is reason for him to optimistic. Harry Giles was the projected No 1. Pick in the 2017 draft before his knee injuries piled up on him. Even though it’s been a long journey, between his draft stock plummeting and him taking his first season off, there’s a lot of optimism surrounding Giles’ future as a player.

The bar for Porter is not as high as it was for Giles, but the cautious approach the Kings took with Giles so far has proven to be correct. Whoever takes Porter in the draft could see a somewhat similar payoff. The road to recovery may get even longer from here, but because he knows of what’s at stake, Porter’s accepted the cruel hand that fate has given him.

“I’m trying to embrace it wholeheartedly. This happened for a reason and all I can do is be positive from here on out and get my knee back and better than ever,” Porter said. “I’m trying to take as many positives out of this as I can.”

Matt John is a staff writer for Basketball Insiders. He is currently a Utah resident, but a Massachusetts native.

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