The legend of Michael Porter Jr. started with a grainy iPhone video in a high school gym somewhere in the middle of Missouri. Then only a sophomore, Porter took off for a dunk on some poor, unsuspecting teenager, and when he came down he was about to go viral. Years ago, it would have been a poster. Now, it was a Vine. The clip made it all the way to SportsCenter, where it would be named the No. 1 play of the night.
The highlight offered a brief window into what scouts and college coaches already knew at that point, that Porter was capable of jaw-dropping moments. Over the next 18 months that raw talent coalesced into something more fully formed. Today, Porter looks a lot like everything the game demands out of a modern combo forward.
"You see a lot of 6'8, 6'9 kids who think they're a wing in high school," Eric Bossi, national recruiting analyst for Rivals.com, told SB Nation. "But Porter is a legitimate wing. His skill level really stands out."
Porter announced the worst kept secret in college basketball last month when he committed to Washington. His father had been hired as an assistant by long-time family friend Lorenzo Romar earlier this year, and the Huskies weren’t the only program offering Michael Porter Sr. a job. These are the sort of moves a school makes for an elite five-star recruit, and Porter is that and more.
The top spot in the class of 2017 has always belonged to DeAndre Ayton, a center from the Bahamas who was once named the best long-term prospect in high school basketball ahead of Ben Simmons, Brandon Ingram, Harry Giles and Josh Jackson. Porter Jr. has made it his mission this summer put that idea to the test.
He was arguably the most dominant player on the EYBL circuit this summer, finishing second in scoring (22.8 points per game) and fifth in rebounding (10.9 per game). He took his game to another level at Nike’s year-end Peach Jam event, where he led Mokan Elite to the league championship. Porter first dispatched Ayton’s Cal Supreme team in the semifinals with 25 points, then wrecked the PSA Cardinals and fellow top prospect Mo Bamba with 33 points in the title game on 5-of-6 shooting from three-point range.
Porter then flew to Chile for the FIBA U18 Americas Championship. All he did there was lead the United States in scoring on the way to a gold medal. He posted 15 points or more in four of the tournament’s five games.
"He might be one of the single most talented guys I've seen come through the program," said B.J. Johnson, assistant direct of USA Basketball. "A guy that has elite size, athletic ability, shooting ability ... he has the total package."
ESPN’s Paul Biancardi has already invoked the name of Paul George as a comparison. The rough outline isn’t hard to see. At 6’10, Porter combines the height of a big man with the skills of a guard. He ties it all together with a special ability to run the floor and finish above the rim. It was on full display during FIBA Americas.
Porter comes from a basketball family. Both of his parents had professional careers, and his two older sisters play at Missouri -- where Michael Porter Sr served as an assistant on the women’s team the past three years. Porter Jr. has spent his entire life learning how to play on the perimeter, and it shows.
He isn’t a great shooter yet, but he’s already capable. Porter shot 35.1 percent behind the arc on 77 attempts in EYBL play, and made 6-of-20 threes (30 percent) at FIBA Americas. It’s a shot he’s been taking since he started playing the game, and it figures to only get better.
Porter has actually been told to shoot less in recent years. That may seem strange to NBA fans who have had the value of shooting drilled into their heads, but it helped spark a critical development in his game; namely, the need to grow tougher and welcome contact.
That’s been the most common criticism of Porter throughout his career, but Bossi has seen him make major strides. He remembers seeing Porter as a 6’5 eighth grader whose jumper seemed like the only part of his game he was interested in developing.
"He's become more physical," Bossi said. "He’s become less dependent on his jump shot. When he was younger, he would really hunt that jump shot, and settle for it. Now, he realizes he’s 6’10, why not try to dunk on these guys?"
Of course, life is more than dunks and threes. Porter is still figuring the rest out as he grows into his body and learns the game, but the signs of a high-feel player are there. He threw some nice passes throughout the U18 tournament and showed a knack for scoring in the halfcourt.
ESPN and Rivals still have Ayton with the No. 1 ranking, but there’s no question Porter is making a push. In a Sports Illustrated poll of 106 college coaches, Porter was narrowly voted as the best player in his class over Ayton, and he also claimed the top spot in 247 Sports’ rankings.
"As best I can predict, I think he's going to have the best career of anyone in this class," said Jerry Meyer of 247 Sports. "The rest of these guys (at the top of the rankings) are fives. Porter is a two, three or four. He's the most versatile player in the class. For his versatility and his length, he’s the most skilled player, too."
Before Porter Jr. goes off to college, he’ll move to Seattle and play one more season of high school ball for a coach who can identify with his talent: Former NBA star Brandon Roy, who spent four seasons at Washington before making his dreams a reality. Anyone who has been paying attention knows Michael Porter Jr. won’t have to wait nearly that long.