I’m still Team Trae Young, and now I’m Team MPJ as well


Photo sourced from Bleacher Report

March Madness was not exactly kind to my boy Trae Young. After Oklahoma snuck in as a 10-seed, they drew a tough matchup against Rhode Island. In the first game of the tournament, Oklahoma lost 83-78 in overtime, effectively ending Young’s collegiate career, as Young officially declared for the NBA Draft Tuesday morning.

Now before the game I tweeted that “the world isn’t ready for what Trae Young is going to do to Rhode Island.” And looking back I really wasn’t wrong. Young put up 28 points and 7 assists, while being hounded the whole game by Rhode Island and with no supporting cast. Young single-handedly kept Oklahoma in this game. Yet he gets the blame for not doing enough. He’s going to be fine. The true mark of an elite player is when they put up a stat line that’s well below his expectations but still well above any other player’s.

This draft class is being hyped up as being one of the deepest in years. There are at least 10 players that could be impactful in the NBA. While Trae Young is one of them, Young’s former AAU teammate, Michael Porter Jr., might be even better.  

Not too long ago Michael Porter Jr. was the #2 recruit on ESPN for the class of 2017. A 5-star prospect, he was an early favorite to be a top pick in the 2018 NBA Draft. He initially committed to play at Washington in his hometown of Seattle, also where his father was an assistant coach. After Washington fired Head Coach Lorenzo Romar, Porter decommitted and instead decided to play at Missouri, where his dad found a job under Cuonzo Martin, and his younger brother Jontay reclassified to play this season with Michael. The Porter family was coming to Columbia to bring back the program from mediocrity.

However, two minutes into the season opener against Iowa State, Porter left the game with a back injury. The injury reportedly had been nagging beforehand, but it got to the point where Porter checked himself out of the game because of the pain. Shortly after, he underwent spinal surgery to repair for herniated disks and was expected to miss the remainder of the season. Not only did Porter’s status as an NBA prospect have a dark cloud over it, but Missouri lost its savior. But they remained relevant without him, and as the postseason approached, Porter had been well ahead of schedule on his rehab, and was healthy enough to attempt a Kyle Schwarber esque comeback in the postseason.

Unlike Schwarber’s dominance in the World Series, the results were mixed for Porter. In the SEC tournament game against Georgia, Porter played 23 minutes, but shot a mediocre 5-17 with 12 points. He made some noise late in the game by hitting a 3-pointer to cut the Georgia lead, but missed a similar shot late that would have put Missouri ahead. They ended up losing 62-60, but regardless were granted an 8-seed in the NCAA Tournament. Considering Porter said he was about 60% upon returning, the Georgia game essentially served as a buffer game for Porter to shake off the rust and the team to adapt playing with him. At the very least, Porter could come off the bench as a spot-up shooter.

The first round matchup was even more rough statistically. After being thrust into a larger role with guard Jordan Barnett suspended for a DUI, Porter shot 4-12 with 16 points in 28 minutes. Even more concerning was the lack of conditioning, as Porter looked winded down the stretch, reflecting the little practice time he had in his recovery. Missouri lost 67-54 to Florida State, ending Porter’s abbreviated collegiate career.

While I can’t and don’t speak for NBA scouts and General Managers, Porter’s struggles have actually sold me more on him. The back injury will be a red flag for teams as he goes through the draft process, particularly if it could be a long-term ailment. But with a normal training process, Porter will be able to get back to the elite caliber player he was prior to the injury. There will plenty of demand for a 6’10” versatile forward who stretches the floor with his length and shooting, and also dominate the paint. When he gets his burst back, this rushed-back version of Porter will be only a distant memory.

But here’s the main reason I’m sold: This is a guy who suffered a potentially career-threatening injury, and within a couple of months he’s grinding to get back on the floor. Porter could have just accepted he would be out for the season and focus on his NBA future. But no, he wanted to do everything in his power to get back for his teammates and help the team make a run. Sure, it’s not the smartest course of action in terms of a career, but it shows heart. It shows he cares about the needs of his team more than getting his. In addition, Porter walked off the floor crying after the Florida State loss because he put everything he had into making a comeback and helping Missouri make a run, but in the end, he wasn’t physically up for it. He knew he had one season before turning pro, so instead of coasting and looking ahead to the Draft, he put everything he had into his one collegiate season because that’s the kind of worker he is.

If I had the first overall pick, I’m taking Michael Porter Jr. You can teach skill, but you can’t teach work ethic. Porter has both, in addition to the intangibles of an NBA superstar, and his dismal tournament showing does not change that.