Keegan Hartman, 23 Sports

Michael Porter Jr. joined the Missouri Tiger family back in March of 2017 after decommitting from the University of Washington due to the departure of former coach Lorenzo Romar, whom Porter had developed a strong relationship with in part because Porter’s father, Michael Porter Sr., was an assistant coach for Romar. Additionally, then new men’s basketball coach for the Tigers, Cuonzo Martin, had offered Porter’s father an assistant coaching job. Previously, Porter Sr. had also served as the assistant coach for the Mizzou women’s basketball team under head coach Robin Pingeton, who just so happened to be Porter Sr.’s sister-in-law. As if that weren’t enough, Porter’s sisters, Bri and Cierra, both played for the women’s basketball team at Mizzou. Figuratively speaking, to add the “icing on the cake,” Porter Jr. would also be arriving to familiar territory regardless, not only with his family ties but also having lived for years in the Columbia area. The 6-foot-10-inch freshman had attended Father Tolton, a Catholic School in southeast Columbia, where he excelled in nearly every aspect of the game.

In his three years attending Father Tolton, Porter put on a clinic. He played in nearly 35 regular season games for the Father Tolton Trailblazers and led the team in nearly every category. Porter averaged 30 points per game, 13 rebounds, and 22 assists. Following three years at Tolton, his family packed up and moved to Seattle, Washington with his father’s new assistant coaching opportunity. Porter Jr. once again shined on the hardwood, playing his senior season for Nathan Hale High School. There, Porter Jr. continued to add to his resume, averaging 36 points, 13.6 rebounds, and 5.0 assists per game. Michael led Nathan Hale to an undefeated 24-0 record, winning the 2017 Washington 3A State Championship in the process. His impressive hardwood performances earned him numerous accolades, including 2016-17 Gatorade National Boys Basketball Player of the Year, Gatorade Male High School Athlete of the Year, and McDonald’s All-American honors, where Porter received MVP for his performance, dropping 17 points and leading the West team past the East 109-107.

On November 10, 2017, in a packed Mizzou Arena of over 15,000 fans, MPJ and the Mizzou Tigers made their highly anticipated season debut against the Iowa State Cyclones. Porter made his presence felt early, jumping into the paint to rebound teammate Kassius Robertson’s three-point attempt and lay the ball in the cup for the score. However, with just two minutes into the first half, Porter was taken out of the game with what was thought to be “tweak in the hip.” Porter was evaluated by team trainers and given a pack of ice to relieve any pain. He would sit out the remainder of the game, and the Tigers would go onto defeat the Cyclones 74-59. On November 21, 2017, Mizzou issued a statement via Twitter:

On December 23, 2017, for the first time since his surgery, Porter Jr. addressed the media regarding his surgery and the rehabilitation process.

“I’m feeling great,” Porter reassured. “Rehab is going really well, and I am getting better everyday.” Porter had endured the same injury once before, stating “a couple years ago” and that rehab had called for a lot of “core strengthening” and “dynamic movements”. Throughout the season, Porter somewhat embraced the role of courtside leadership during the regular season, saying he enjoyed providing support for his teammates.

On Thursday, March 8, 2018, Porter would returned to the court, resuming his career with the SEC tournament in full swing. In his (re-) debut, Porter put on a freshman-like performance, still displaying rusty aspects of his game. Porter did post 12 points and 8 rebounds, but only shot five for seventeen from the field as Missouri fell to Georgia 62-60. However, Porter and the Tigers still got selected for the 2018 Division I Men’s Basketball National Tournament, playing the Florida State Seminoles in the first round. But things did not go according to plan for Mizzou, who fell to the Seminoles 67-54. Still, Porter and company showed fight. Porter posted 16 points, 10 rebounds, and 3 steals, but fatigue caught up with him late in the game, and he would check out of what was ultimately his final game as a Tiger with roughly 2 minutes left in regulation.

On March 26, 2018, Michael Porter Jr. announced that he would forgo his next three seasons at Mizzou and declare for the 2018 NBA Draft, releasing a statement to fans via Instagram.

Numerous people, myself included, anticipated the departure of Porter Jr., but wish to have been able to see him play a full season in the black & gold. Following his statement, Jontay Porter, Michael’s little brother and fellow freshman, announced that he would stay in Columbia for his sophomore season (2018-19) via Instagram.

There were many questions and concerns right out of the gate once Porter Jr. had announced his decision to go into the NBA Draft. In June, prior to one of Porter’s NBA Pro Days, Porter informed his agent that he was experiencing spasms in his hip. On June 18, Porter opened up about his hip spasms prior to his pro day The Will Cain Show. Porter explained that the injuries/spasms got “exaggerated a lot.”

“It was just a little sore, so I told [my agent] my hip was kind of sore and he just wanted to shut it down for a couple of days,” Porter said. “And then people took that and kind of ran with it, saying, you know, my hip was injured, I couldn’t get out of bed. … None of that was really true. I was just sore and I wanted to take a couple of days off. So that’s all that was.”

On Thursday, June 14, it was reported that Porter would miss his second pro day slated for June 15 (Friday), but later that same day, an MRI revealing a “positive review” put Porter in the clear to attend Pro Day.

Leading up to the NBA Draft, Porter was making a case for a top NBA Lottery selection. Some NBA analysts had Porter going top five, while others were saying that with the questionable medical history, Porter would not see a top 10 selection. In May, ESPN Analyst Jay Bilas weighed in on Porter’s talents during the Rich Eisen Show:

“The guy that I think is going to be the most interesting player in the draft as to how you process how good he is versus what he’s been through and his body is going to be Michael Porter Jr., the kid out of Missouri. He could have been healthy, and if he’d come right out of high school you would have said ‘hey man, he might be the 1 or 2 pick.’ That’s how talented he is. But he got injured, he had surgery, he played all of two minutes at the start of the year for Missouri and didn’t come back until the SEC Tournament, when he was out of shape and didn’t show very well. So there are a lot of question marks. It’s not often you say ‘well, we have to find out what the doctors say, and then we’ll get to the basketball part.’ But if the doctors say [there] are no red flags on his medical, he’s a top-3 talent that could wind up going 8, 9, 10.” -Jay Bilas, ESPN Analyst

 On draft night, Michael Porter’s fate would be decided, and it would take great patience and positivity. In weeks prior to the draft, many analysts believed that Porter could make a case to go within the top three picks of the draft, but concern about Porter’s back & hip problems prevented any urgent move to select Porter. The earliest potential for Porter’s name to be called was believed to be No. 2 by the Sacramento Kings, but they would instead make the move for Duke Freshman Marvin Bagley. Soon, the No. 10 pick rolled around, but there was still no surefire sign of a Porter selection being near. Then, after the LA Clippers picked back-to-back picks, selecting Michigan St. SF Miles Bridges and Boston College PG Jerome Robinson, the Denver Nuggets had their chance to select Porter Jr. with the 14th pick. After careful examination of Porter’s medical reports, the Nuggets decided to pull the trigger. Porter’s long night of waiting ended with fulfillment and relief with finally being selected by Denver. Tim Connelly, Denver Nuggets president of operations, spoke highly of Porter’s talents, and told the Denver Post “You have to take swings at guys like that.”

Former NBA player and 2004 NBA Champion Chauncey Billups gave high praise to Michael Porter’s game on ESPN’s draft night coverage after Porter was selected by the Nuggets: “I’m going to assume that he’s [Michael Porter Jr.] healthy, and if he is, he reminds me of a young, young KD (Kevin Durant)… … He has a passion to score the basketball similar to KD.”

Porter spoke on Denver’s anticipated plan regarding his injury history following his selection: “They’re gonna put a plan together for  me,” Porter said. “Some teams, even if you feel good, they want to make you feel even better before they put you on the floor. It’s all what the team wants me to do, but I feel like I could play immediately.”

It was revealed by Connelly that the Nuggets had serious talks and intentions to trade up for Porter, who was high on Denver’s draft board, but as fate had it, Porter fell right into the arms of Connelly and company.

On July 3rd, Porter agreed to terms on a four year, $15.4 million contract. Porter is said to make $2.4 million in his first year and $2.8 million his second year. On top of his income with the Denver Nuggets, Porter also signed a multi-year endorsement deal with PUMA prior to being drafted, although the figure remains undisclosed.

Assuming that Porter will return back to full health this season, look for MPJ to be a popular name among rookies and veterans in the NBA next season. Regardless, Mizzou nation wishes nothing but the best of luck for Michael Porter Jr. in his future with the Denver Nuggets franchise.