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2019 NBA Draft scouting report: Jontay Porter

NCAA Basketball: Arkansas at Missouri Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Before the 2019 NBA Draft arrives, Peachtree Hoops will break down more than 70 available prospects with an eye toward what the Atlanta Hawks may look to do in late June.

This installment centers on Missouri big man Jontay Porter.

It’s hard to say that anything has gone right for Jontay Porter on a macro level since he made the decision to return to Missouri during the pre-draft process this time last year. After a poor showing at the 2018 Combine and amid rumors that he was going to be a borderline first-rounder, Porter pulled his name from the draft and re-upped for his sophomore year with the Tigers. Just 18 at the end of his freshman year due to a reclassification in his high school years, he could get another year of experience under his belt at Missouri and still be just as young as the one-and-done players in the 2019 Draft.

An all-around center with immense offensive gifts, a year as the Tigers’ best player and go-to option was supposed to show NBA teams what he could bring to the table at the next level and elevate him into the lottery. ESPN’s Jonathan Givony had Porter in the late lottery in his first 2019 mock draft following the 2018 draft last June, and several other outlets published mock drafts or big boards that placed him firmly in the top half of the first round, a far cry from where he was in the 2018 process, when he wasn’t even sure to be a first-rounder.

Fast-forward a year, and things have worsened significantly for Porter, who isn’t a full-fledged lock to have his name called at all among the 60 players chosen in the first and second rounds in next month’s draft. He tore his right ACL and MCL in preseason work in October, then re-tore the same ACL during the recovery process. He admitted that he defied his doctor’s orders in order to get back on the court quicker than they recommended after the first tear. It was a lost year for him and now he faces significant questions about his future injury risk and mental makeup on top of the existing pros and cons of his game.

The injury concerns will loom over everything related to Porter in the pre-draft process, much like it did for his brother, Denver Nuggets forward Michael, one year ago. Unless there is yet another setback in his recovery, he should be ready to play at some point in his rookie year, but with consecutive tears in the same knee within a few months of each other, a team that brings him into their organization will have to be extremely careful. Additionally, it will be important for teams to talk to Porter throughout their interview process to determine whether he has the maturity to not derail his recovery further after the decision to take to the court again before his doctors cleared him led to another ACL tear.

When healthy, Porter is an immense offensive talent and is fully capable of playing just about any big man role a coaching staff could envision for him on that end of the floor. He has fantastic ball handling ability and can make any pass on the floor, with his 6’11 height helping him see over defenses. He’s got a funky release on his outside jumper, but it’s hard to argue with the results after he shot 36% from deep as a freshman in 2017-18.

Porter a strong catch-and-shoot threat in spot-up or pick-and-pop situations, with solid footwork, though his NBA team will likely work with him on cleaning up some small quirks in that area and perhaps tweak his jumper to make it more consistent. At the center spot, he can get away with having a bit of an unorthodox release; there are plenty of very good shooters at the 5 who have less-than-perfect form on their jumper.

A secondary positive for Porter is that he shed a lot of the extra weight he was carrying a year ago despite the two injuries. Down 26 pounds at the 2019 Combine as compared to 2018, the sort of work ethic it takes for a high-end athlete to lose that kind of weight while injured is impressive and assuages some of the concerns related to his mental makeup and maturity. It’s extremely easy for players to develop bad habits while injured or be unable to change their current nutritional intake while hurt, which leads to poor conditioning and weight gain, but Porter was able to drop weight significantly.

A lighter body will allow him to move better defensively, which was a problem in his freshman year and will continue to be questioned after consecutive ACL tears. Defense is going to be a negative for Porter throughout his career, as he has the height and build of a center but neither the agility to defend away from the paint nor the size and length to be a pure rim protector. Each year, we see more offense-first centers played off the floor by increasingly quick and astute offensive attacks that put them in extreme difficulty; Porter is sure to get very similar treatment from many teams at the next level. Any agility gained by the weight loss over the last twelve months may be completely undone by the two ACL tears in that right knee.

The lack of explosiveness he showed as a freshman at Missouri will also be an issue for him around the rim on both ends of the court; he was not a very good finisher in his one playable year with the Tigers and will struggle against longer and more athletic NBA players. More ground-bound than a lot of centers, he’ll have to rely on his touch and shiftiness around the basket in order to find ways to put the ball in the basket, but he’s not the traditional rim-running big man who will get up for lobs and finish in traffic consistently. Offensively, that’s not as much of a problem, considering he can do pretty much everything else on the floor, but on defense, he’ll be a significant negative if he’s not able to up his burst at the rim to help out in rim protection and rebounding.

The final verdict on Porter is largely unknown at this point – he’ll have to go through extensive medical testing for NBA teams to seriously consider choosing him. If he’s cleared for a full recovery by team and league doctors, then his draft stock will rise in a hurry, but it all comes down to the medical reporting. The offensive upside is evident, as he could one day be one of the best big men in the league on that end of the floor, but concerns with his defensive profile and medical history will deter many teams from taking a chance on him.