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Don’t judge Michael Porter Jr. too harshly off his return to Missouri

The freshman was rusty, but that was expected.

NCAA Basketball: SEC Conference Tournament-Missouri vs Georgia Joe Puetz-USA TODAY Sports

In the first minutes since his return from a major back injury, Michael Porter Jr. grabbed a rebound, passed up court to his brother Jontay, then cut straight to the hoop for a give-and-go bucket. It was 118 days ago that he scored his last points.

NBA draft lottery-bound Michael Porter is back just in time for Missouri to make a March Madness push, though the team fell, 62-60, to Georgia in the SEC Tournament.

Porter had a fine debut, especially for someone just coming back from major surgery.

He had played all of two minutes in the Tigers’ season-opener before he was pulled for the entire regular season. He had microdiscectomy surgery of the L3-L4 spinal discs, which kept him out until Thursday.

Missouri and Porter waited four long months for this moment, and it’s important to remember all he’s gone through before playing just his second collegiate game ever. It was also on a huge stage in the SEC Tournament. The odds for him to play well were stacked against him.

The freshman had 12 points on 5-of-17 shooting, eight rebounds and one assist. He was clearly rusty, missing the explosiveness his hype was so often paired with. His shot was swatted twice at the rim because of his lack of lift, and he was short on most of his jumpers.

That didn’t stop him from firing, which is a good show of his confidence, but unquestionably hurt his team’s chances of winning this game. He took seven more shots than the second-most prolific shooter on his team. Porter’s only makes were off layups or tip-ins aside from one three-point make in the first half, and a clutch one with less than a minute left in the second.

Porter did play well on the defensive end, notably making a few gutsy steal attempts which worked in his favor. He played bigger than what some thought, shifting into a power forward position rather than a wing. He 6’10 frame was steady and forced a few difficult looks at the rim.

Playing big opened up the game a bit for his brother Jontay, who finished with 20 points and eight boards. He was clearly the more effective Porter in this game. Jontay was also a top-100 recruit, and could have an NBA future ahead of him too.

Michael Porter’s name is expected to be called somewhere in the top 10 in June’s draft, and with nothing set yet, it’d be unfair to rule him out of a top 3 pick. The potential for him to thrive in the league as a near-seven-footer who can shoot from behind the arc and drive to the cup is obvious. His length will help him too.

Porter Jr. was ESPN’s No. 2 overall prospect coming into college behind Duke’s Marvin Bagley. Our Ricky O’Donnell slotted him as the No. 5 overall pick in his most recent mock draft.