More than 10 NBA general managers and high-ranking executives told ESPN they would advise Missouri freshman Michael Porter Jr., a projected lottery pick, to come back and play this season.
The 6-foot-10 Porter has been out since Nov. 10, when he left the court after just two minutes in the season-opener, due to a back injury that required surgery. He was cleared by doctors to practice full-contact last week.
“It depends how he looks in practice,” one GM told ESPN. “If he’s the best player in practice two of three days in a row, then he should play.”
“If he’s healthy, he’s not going to slide down too much even if he doesn’t play well,” added another. “Everyone’s seen him. And if he plays well, I think he could move all the way up to the second spot in the draft.”
Missouri has two regular-season games left – Tuesday at Vanderbilt and Saturday at home against Arkansas – before next week’s SEC tournament. The Tigers are 18-11 overall, 8-8 in league play and projected as a No. 9 seed in ESPN’s latest bracket.
Missouri coach Cuonzo Martin told ESPN’s Jeff Borzello after the loss to Kentucky on Saturday that there’s no specific timeline, but that Porter Jr., went through a limited practice on Friday and shootaround on Saturday.
“I don’t have a timeline, but the most important thing is that he’s healthy and able to play in games,” Martin said. “In his case, he wants to play and I think that the good thing about it but we just have to make sure he’s ready to go from my standpoint, the doctor, the trainer, and watching him through practice and live-game situations.”
One source close to the family told ESPN that no decision has been made whether he will play – and that the decision will ultimately be made by his parents. His father, Michael Porter Sr., is an assistant coach with the Tigers and his younger brother, Jontay, is a freshman forward.
“It will depend how he looks in practice,” the source told ESPN. “There’s no plan, and they will just see how he looks and then make a decision.”
Multiple NBA general managers told ESPN that Porter, who was in the discussion for the No. 1 overall pick prior to his back injury, is now likely on the outside of the top five – behind Arizona’s Deandre Ayton, Duke’s Marvin Bagley III, overseas standout Luka Doncic and possibly behind Texas’ Mo Bamba, Michigan State’s Jaren Jackson and Oklahoma’s Trae Young.
“If he wants to be a top five pick, he should play,” one NBA GM told ESPN. “Right now I don’t think he is.”
The NBA executives said that the medical information they receive prior to the NBA Draft will also be important in where he winds up being drafted.
“Proving he’s healthy will be enough,” added another. “Basketball-wise, people know enough from what they’ve seen.”