Missouri forward Michael Porter Jr. is the 2018 NBA Draft’s enigma. Though front offices, and basketball betting enthusiasts alike, have known about the talented 6-foot-11 scorer for years, concerns about his back, hip and maturity have come into play and widened the range in which he could be drafted on Thursday night.
Because of that he becomes the draft’s most interesting prop bet, with 888sports putting Porter’s projected draft spot at 6.5. We’ll take a look at both sides of that bet and determine where your money should go based on where we think Porter’s going.
Just 10 short months ago Porter was the consensus top recruit in the country and the No. 1 NBA prospect. He was the best player on USA Basketball’s U18 team in 2016 and he played on the 2017 USA Junior National Select Team, winning MVP at the Nike Hoop Summit. He was also the MVP at the 2017 McDonald’s All-American Game over guys like Deandre Ayton, Collin Sexton and Kevin Knox. Lastly, he won the Naismith National Player of the Year award as a high school senior, averaging 36 points and 13 rebounds.
Porter met with teams at the NBA Combine in Chicago, where he’s also working out (his agency is based in the Windy City). He’s gone through two successful private workouts for teams, and his medicals have been given to all interested teams. All it takes for Porter to come off the board is one team in the top 6 to either feel comfortable in his long-term health or want to roll the dice and risk a pick on a player with immense upside. That could come as early as No. 2 and Sacramento.
The Kings are looking for a new face of the franchise post-DeMarcus Cousins and are reportedly still weighing all options. Again, Porter was the top prospect in the class before the injury occurred. Talent-wise he’s on par with likely No. 1 pick Deandre Ayton and International star Luka Doncic. Porter has also been linked to the Grizzlies and Mavericks, picking at Nos. 4 and 5, respectively.
Both teams have obvious needs at forward. The wild card team here is the Bulls. They’re picking 7th but also have potential assets to move up if they believe a team will take Porter before them. They own the No. 22 pick and have Bobby Portis in the last year of his rookie deal; drafting Lauri Markkanen last year made Portis somewhat expendable, given what Portis might command in free agency next summer.
Porter has such immense talent that he’s in consideration as a top-5 pick despite undergoing back surgery mere months ago. That says plenty, and one team will want to roll the dice on a potential franchise-altering talent.
Back surgery is a major red flag for an athlete’s long-term health. Back surgery at 19 years old? The biggest red flag. Porter’s draft range is widened not because of his skill set but because the procedure he underwent in October and the two lackluster performances he had upon returning to Missouri (14.0 points on 31 percent shooting).
Porter is a unique prospect, but his draft stock isn’t helped out by the fact that this class is so deep in frontline talent. As many as four big men could go before him (Ayton, Bagley, Jackson, Bamba), so teams looking specifically for a forward or center can find one without having to roll the dice on Porter.
In such a scenario, those four big men and Slovenian point guard Luka Doncic make up the first five picks. Trae Young is a perfect fit in Orlando at No. 6 which would then bump Porter to No. 7 and the Bulls or later. That’s a distinct possibility. Even a player like Wendell Carter, who has a high floor and is a far less risky prospect, could sneak past Porter on Thursday.
There is no easy play here, which is why we’ve designated this much space to the question. The -200 bet seems high for a player who hasn’t exactly done himself any favors in the pre-draft process: he postponed a workout in Chicago because of a sore hip, and he recently called himself “a mix of Giannis (Antetokounmpo) and (Kevin Durant).” Confidence is one thing. A comment like that is another.
And with a handful of talented bigs available, plus Orlando having a need for a point guard, there are more scenarios where Porter is available at 7 than ones where he isn’t. Then again, this is the NBA. Teams picking at the top of the draft are there because they lack star power. Role players don’t win in this league.
Porter has legitimate superstar, MVP-type talent. Eight teams don’t have to want to take a risk on Porter. Only one does, and we’re betting that someone will take a risk on that surgically repaired back and hope that Porter stays healthy and becomes the player everyone thought he’d be a short year ago. Our bet is Porter Under 6.5.