NEW YORK — While it would be a shock if the Phoenix Suns don’t select Arizona center Deandre Ayton with the first pick in Thursday’s NBA draft, everything after that is up in the air.
The person who could have the biggest impact on how the draft rolls is Michael Porter Jr., the 6-foot-10 freshman from the University of Missouri.
On talent alone, Porter might have battled Ayton for that expected first pick, but a back injury sidelined him for all but three games of the college season and a recent hip spasm added to the concern.
His talent is so intriguing that Porter could be drafted as high as No. 2 by the Sacramento Kings. Most mock drafts don’t expect him to fall past No. 7 to the Chicago Bulls, which means the Sixers at No. 10 would likely have to trade up for a chance.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if I ended in the top five and wouldn’t be surprised if I didn’t,” Porter said during pre-draft interviews on Wednesday with top prospects at New York’s Grand Hyatt.
Porter felt discomfort in his first college game with Missouri in November and had surgery. He was expected to miss the college season. But he returned March 8 and had 12 points in an SEC tournament loss to Georgia and then had 16 points (shooting 4-for-12 from the field) and 10 rebounds in Missouri’s opening NCAA loss to Florida State.
“I expected to turn college basketball upside down as a lot of other guys have done,” Porter said.
It didn’t happen due to his injury, but he doesn’t regret returning for the last two games.
“Playing those couple of games, I didn’t expect to put on a show,” he said. “I knew it would probably have me move down in mock drafts a couple of spots. I didn’t care, I just wanted to help my team and not worry about other stuff.”
He insists that he hasn’t been tracking mock drafts.
I asked Michael Porter Jr about where he stands in this draft pic.twitter.com/VNpltU77OL
— Marc Narducci (@sjnard) June 20, 2018
“I have been paying attention to what NBA teams are saying to me,” he said.
Some of them are telling him some interesting things.
“I have been talking to teams who told me if I was there [at their pick], then they would take me, but I am sure they are telling a few prospects that,” Porter said.
If high school players were allowed to enter the NBA draft, Porter would have been a candidate to be the top player selected in last year’s draft when the Sixers made Markelle Fultz the top choice.
At Seattle’s Nathan Hale High, Porter was named the Naismith High School Player of the Year in 2017 when he averaged 36.2 points, 13.6 rebounds, 5.0 assists and 2.4 blocks on a 29-0 team that was coached by three-time NBA all-star Brandon Roy.
Porter had a group workout earlier this month with all NBA teams invited.
A second group workout was scheduled only for lottery teams on Friday, but it was canceled when he had the hip spasms. The lottery teams were invited to exchange medical information.
“I had been going hard for about a month straight, no days off in the weight-room gym, and it was sore and one day I didn’t feel right,” Porter said. “I got it checked out to make sure nothing was wrong. It has calmed down and I feel good.”
Porter realizes there are teams that remain skeptical of his health.
“I think a few teams are probably a little concerned and I understand that, but they all have my medical records, my MRIs, and I feel like for the most part, most of them feel comfortable,” he said.
If somehow, he fell to the Sixers, he would be more than happy to come to Philadelphia.
“The guys who run the organization, I met with them and they are cool … they are going with the young talent and they look like they are going to be a team to be reckoned with for a long, long time,” Porter said.
He feels he would fit in well with the Sixers.
“[I am] a young guy who can score the ball and do a lot of things,” Porter said. “They got Markelle, Ben Simmons, Joel [Embiid]. All those guys can do a lot of different things on the court, and I feel like I fit in.”
There are many teams he could fit in with, as Porter is the highest risk and highest reward player of this year’s draft.