COLUMBIA, Mo. – Michael Porter Jr. was the talk of Thursday’s NBA Draft. Well, specifically his back, which limited his time on the court at Missouri to 53 minutes.
It was talked about before the draft special began and throughout the night as name after name came off the board before him.
Sitting with him were his family, his agent, Mark Bartelstein and Missouri coach Cuonzo Martin. Porter Jr. tried hard not to show the stress he was going through.
His parents, Michael Sr. and Lisa, kept him encouraged, Martin said. His brother, Jontay Porter, and Martin just tried to keep the evening light.
“Jontay and I we were both laughing and talking to him about different things. I wasn’t worried, as a coach,” Martin said.
Porter Jr. was selected No. 14 by the Denver Nuggets.
This time next year Porter, Missouri’s 6-foot-10 forward that decided to withdraw from the NBA Draft this year and return to Missouri, could be the next Missouri player drafted in the lottery. Porter, in CBS reporter Gary Parrish’s early 2019 NBA Draft, was projected as the No. 11 pick.
Martin, speaking on a local teleconference Friday morning, said being at the draft was a learning experience for Porter. It’s not just what was seen, but it’s what was said behind the scenes that can pay dividends in the future.
“A lot of talk was about guys playing hard, guys playing defense and playing as a good teammate and that was the conversation in regards to all of the players,” Martin said.
If that sounds familiar, it’s because it’s the staple that Martin has tried to build Missouri’s program around since he took over.
“It was good for Jontay to hear so when he goes back to his teammates he can say this was the talk. Everybody is talking about playing hard, playing defense and playing as a team,” Martin said. “I thought that was great for him to witness that, go through that and understand and say, ‘Yeah, coach you are right, I see this.’ Now he will go back and give the information to his teammates and it will make us a better team.”
Porter, who Martin said would’ve been a McDonald’s All-American had he not skipped his senior year of high school to play at Missouri, will be a major piece for the Tigers. He averaged 9.9 points, 6.8 rebounds and shot 36 percent from 3-point range in a largely successful freshman season.
After the season, Porter made the decision to declare for the NBA Draft.
Porter spent time working out in Chicago with Porter Jr., and West Virginia guard Jevon Carter. Carter, last year’s defensive player of the year, was drafted No. 32 by the Memphis Grizzlies.
“In Jontay’s case it’s how hard you have to work,” Martin said. “I think he got a little bit of that when he was working out in Chicago with Mike and those guys. You could see the growth in Jontay’s game right now with all the work he’s put in. Last night just kind of confirmed it for him, of how much it takes to be successful.”
Porter’s value to Missouri has been discussed in detail, many times by now. Standing nearly 7-feet tall, he’s a forward who can block shots inside and outside, has a nice shooting touch from outside, is an unselfish passer and has a unique ability to handle the ball for his size.
In fact, with Missouri working with just two true point guards next season, Martin said he thinks Porter could bring the ball up some next season, depending on his matchup.
“I’m not calling him a point guard, but depending on who is defending him on certain games we will have him bring the ball up and have him facilitate to other guys,” Martin said.
All of that adds up to a player who could have a major impact at Missouri next season. Martin said he doesn’t worry about Porter playing selfish to improve his draft stock next season, because that’s not in his nature, but he does want him to shoot 15 to 20 shots a game.
The draft was important for Missouri on a number of levels. Porter Jr.,’s selection ended a four-year NBA Draft drought, it brought even more recognition to the program and gave Porter and the Tigers some knowledge going forward.
“When you are in those rooms and you say ‘How did this guy go this high, or how did that guy drop that low?’ A lot of times, and Mike’s case it is a little bit different because of the injury, but a lot of the times those guys get in those workouts and it’s how hard do guys work out, how hard do they compete, the energy and passion of guys,” Martin said. “That’s when you see guys move up and some guys fall. It shows Jontay how hard you have to work, how consistent you have to be and have a business-like approach at trying to be successful.”
BARNETT TO THE BUCKS: Porter Jr., was the only Missouri Tiger drafted Thursday night, as expected, but before the night ended Jordan Barnett found a team.
Barnett will join the Milwaukee Bucks for the NBA Summer League, which begins in July. Barnett was Missouri’s second-leading scorer last year, averaging 13.7 points, shooting 41 percent from deep.
“He can make a 3-point shot and I think he is really developing his defense,” Martin said. “I think he is a guy who can play in the NBA for 10 years because of his athleticism and ability to make shots. Plus the spacing in the NBA will help him.”
Last season was the most Barnett has played in his college career. Barnett, who originally committed to Texas before transferring, played just 23 games in his junior year after sitting out half of the season due to transfer rules.
Any teams that called Martin to discuss Barnett, he made sure to tell them that Barnett hasn’t had a normal path in his college career.
“I said his best basketball is ahead of him the reason why is because he didn’t play a lot in his years at Texas, then he sat out at Mizzou and then he played a half of year,” Martin said. “This was his first full season. His numbers went up and I think he did a lot of good things in one full season playing basketball. I think the sky is the limit.”