Could Missouri’s Michael Porter Jr. last until the Charlotte Hornets’ 11th overall pick in the June 21 NBA draft?
And if 10 other NBA teams pass over Porter, would that be a “Eureka!” opportunity for a team in need of more star power?
Porter is a wild card at the top of this draft. A 6-10 player with small forward skills, Porter emerged from high school with comparisons to Kevin Durant. However, his body betrayed him: A back condition that started in his sophomore high school season (he says he fell while dunking) grew worse to a point he had surgery, which limited his single college season to three games.
Porter made himself available to media at the NBA draft combine in Chicago in mid-May. He was open and frank in describing the injury: He described the surgery as “very minimally invasive.” It was a microdiscectomy, which is removal of some bone to relieve pressure on a nerve.
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Porter said in Chicago he is fully healed from the November procedure and has no workout restrictions. As a reminder that he was once perceived as a contender to be the No. 1 overall pick, he added, “I’m the best player in this draft.”
What if he's still around at No. 11? ESPN did a one-hour mock draft special Tuesday night, and Porter lasted all the way to the Washington Wizards at No. 15.
This would be quite a test of nerve for new general manager Mitch Kupchak, making his first draft pick with the Hornets. This franchise needs another star, beyond point guard Kemba Walker, and there is no reason to assume anyone on the current roster can be that.
You can disregard anything about Porter’s three games last season, not just because he was hurt, but because two of those were at the end of the season with Porter and the coaches looking for how he could fit into an established rotation. His shooting was awful (33 percent from the field and 30 percent from 3-point range), but the sample is so small and the circumstances so detrimental, it’s hard to pass judgment.
So look back on what he was in high school: A lot of perimeter skills, particularly in catch-and-shoot situations, and a knack for getting to the foul line and producing (82 percent). Size and length that would allow him to play either forward position. The athleticism to play the switching defense so in vogue in this NBA time period.
I particularly liked something Porter said in the group interview in Chicago about how high he’s drafted being less important than a good fit with the team selecting him.
“I don’t need to go No. 1,” Porter said. “You look at (Utah’s) Donovan Mitchell; he went like 12 (or) 13 and he’s in the perfect situation for him.”
If teams drafting before the Hornets are scared off by medical uncertainty, the Hornets will have a risk-reward decision: That's where Kupchak's 20 years of experience, overseeing the Los Angeles Lakers, will matter.
There’s a big difference between risking the 11th pick on a medical question, versus a top-5 pick. Porter lasting that long is certainly an eventuality that will have the Hornets’ attention.
Cavs’ fluid future
Several people asked me recently if I thought the Cleveland Cavaliers might be open to moving the eighth pick to the Hornets, presumably to acquire two-time All-Star Walker. That’s the pick originally owned by the Brooklyn Nets that the Boston Celtics sent to the Cavs as part of the Kyrie Irving deal.
The problem with any prediction on what the Cavaliers might do: It could be contingent on LeBron James’ intentions. That could change with the Cavs’ performance in the NBA Finals, and beyond that result.
Obviously, the Cavs would love for James to re-sign there rather than depart for another team (the Philadelphia 76ers, Houston Rockets and Lakers are often speculated as possible destinations). The eighth pick could either be a way to improve the Cavs roster in hopes of convincing James to stay or the first step in a rebuild.
The problem, if you’re the Cavs front office, is in the NBA calendar the draft precedes free agency (it’s the opposite in the NFL). So, the Cavs can’t have a definitive, binding agreement with James until weeks after exercising the eighth pick.
I would guess Walker would be more attractive to James as a teammate than any rookie the Cavs would select No. 8. But if such a trade was made, and then James doesn’t re-sign there, a rebuilding team would probably rather have a rookie locked to an affordable salary the next four seasons than hope to re-sign Walker in the summer of 2019, when he reaches free agency.
That’s a lot of variables to manage, particularly when they could change by the week between now and draft night.
Position analysis: Power forward
Frank Kaminsky’s future as a Hornet isn’t the biggest decision facing this front office, or maybe even Top 3, but it’s important and not that far down the road.
The Hornets used the ninth overall pick to select him in the 2015 draft. That surprised some fans, since Duke’s Justise Winslow was still available, and became more of a thing when it was reported the Celtics offered the Hornets a package of picks for No. 9.
In three seasons, Kaminsky has been so-so by the standards of a Top 10 pick. He’s averaged about 11 points each of the past two seasons. His 3-point shooting took a nice jump last season to 38 percent, but his rebounding (never prolific) and his assists were down from the previous season.
Kaminsky would be a restricted free agent after next season. He has yet to challenge Marvin Williams for a starting job. Williams has been a better defender and a more reliable 3-point shooter. Does Kaminsky push Williams, who makes $14 million next season and $15 million in 2019-20?
I don’t think there’s anything about the Hornets’ current situation at power forward that would discourage Kupchak from drafting a player at that position with the 11th pick. Particularly so if he took a player such as Porter or Michigan State’s Miles Bridges, who could play some at either forward spot.