Once upon a time, Michael Porter Jr. was the top player in high school and a projected first overall draft pick in the NBA. At 6’10, with the ability to shoot from anywhere on the court, coupled with pro-level athleticism, many teams had their eyes and ears peeled for Porter’s eventual declaration to join the draft. However, injuries to his back led to two surgeries and derailed his meteoric rise to basketball stardom, with one doctor telling him and several other teams evaluating him that the young star would never play again.
“The Clippers doctor was examining me and told the group ‘Yeah, this guy is never playing again.’“Michael Porter Jr., The Old Man and The Three
MPJ joined JJ Redick‘s The Old Man and the Three Podcast and shared his arduous journey leading up to the draft. Due to his back issues, Michael was not able to do the private workouts that prospects normally do, and this was because of the need to preserve his health and manage his rehab process post-surgery. Instead, Porter Jr. hosted one “pro-day,” which is essentially a workout organized by his own people, allowing scouts to drop in and evaluate Michael one time before the draft night.
“The first pro-day went really well, I had Sacramento pull me aside and tell me they were going to take me at number two.”Michael Porter Jr., The Old Man and The Three
John Hollinger called his medical report the worst he’s ever seen in his career. Porter had back surgery called an L3-L4 microdiscectomy to treat herniated disks in his back. If you’re wondering how bad was it, here’s a doctor explaining the issues Porter Jr. was dealing with (as a teenager.)
“One analogy we use a lot is when you poke a hole a jelly doughnut. When you squeeze the jelly is gonna come out. If you don’t poke a hole, it’s going to be contained. Genetics plays a small role, but over time everyone’s disks deflate like a tire getting worn down. In some athletes, if stress is being transferred to an area … it’s a repetitive stress injury. Over and over, jumping up to catch rebounds, you’re getting stress in one area. Then you get these micro tears and the nucleus pulposus (jelly) comes out.”Dr. Charla Fischer, SB Nation
Sacramento ended up taking Marvin Bagley Jr. with the second pick back in 2018, and while he has turned into a nice player for The Kings, MPJ is much closer to reaching superstar status than Bagley is. Would the Kings have benefited more by selecting Porter Jr. second? Probably, but in a draft that is now three years old, it seems as if a redraft of the class does have MPJ ending up in Sac-town.
Luka Dončić would go first in a redraft of the 2018 class, followed by either Trae Young or DeAndre Ayton. I think Luka is still on another level compared to Young and Ayton, and in the long run, Dončić will grow exponentially compared to the other two. Then, you have a log jam in positions 4 to 7 in the rankings between MPJ, Mikal Bridges, Jaren Jackson Jr., and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. Porter Jr. is a great talent with lots of upside, but we have seen the others on the list perform on bigger stages or much bigger roles for their teams in the past three seasons.
It’s hard to imagine a scenario where MPJ is in the top three players in the 2018 NBA draft, even if we were to do a redraft. The top three in the list above have just achieved so much more while proving they can be consistent in the league in expanded roles. This is the next step for MPJ, to learn how to grow into a more consistent scorer and defender for the Nuggets while setting the stage for possible stardom with another team later in his career.
His injury caused his draft stock to plummet, but he ended up exactly where he needed to be in hindsight. Because just like his rehab process from back surgery, he needed to take his ascend in the league at a much slower pace than his counterparts. In the end, MPJ can still be a top player in this league, but there is no way Sacramento should have drafted him at number two.