The Los Angeles Lakers have recently begun the first stages of what projects to be a whirlwind of an offseason by getting their initial rounds of pre-draft workouts underway. The front office, who now have two picks in this year’s draft after a pair of trades, will look to once again take advantage of what has been an area of strength in recent seasons—scouting.
After last year’s tremendous haul of Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma, Josh Hart, and Thomas Bryant, the team's scouting department — led by Jesse Buss — turn their heads to this year’s class in search of the next crop of difference makers.
One name the team should and will most likely have in for a workout at some point in the pre-draft process is Missouri big man Jontay Porter, who is currently projected to be a middle to late first-round pick in this year’s draft.
Often referred to in connection with his older brother and probable lottery pick, Michael Porter Jr, Jontay arguably proved to be more impressive this season when considering his brother’s injury and dissapoiting on-court production for the Tigers.
After reclassifying in order to team up with his aforementioned sibling and father (Michael Porter Sr. served as an assistant coach) at Mizzou, the 18-year-old played a large role on what eventually was a tournament team.
At first glance Porter’s 6’11” and 240 pound frame does not look overly impressive or well defined in comparison to what is typically associated with centers in the NBA or even in regards to the rest of the centers in the draft. In reality, this is a fair criticism considering he is also not specifically helmed as a plus athlete, rim protecter, and lacks an overall oomph in the paint.
His physical measurements also don't resemble someone who is chiseled out of stone like DeAndre Ayton, or sport a ridiculous 7’9” wingspan like Mo Bamba, but what Porter has — and would hypothetically fit in tremendously with the Lakers — is his undeniable “feel” for the game.
The clip above encapsulates what Jontay Porter’s offensive strengths are in a nutshell from the center position: A smooth and simple pick and pop operator who immediately recognizes the help defender cheating over and swiftly looks for his teammate on the right wing. When the help recovers he proceeds to fake the swing pass to create enough space to bury a deep three.
A near 36.5 percent shooter from behind the arc on 3.3 attempts per game in his freshman year, Porter’s spacing upside is an insanely valuable asset from the five spot in the modern game, which the Lakers experienced firsthand this season with Brook Lopez’s ability to spread the floor for his teammates.
Porter’s repeatable and clean release, as well as his sound shot mechanics (75 percent free-throw shooter) can in theory replicate what Lopez offered the team offensively at a fraction of the cost if he does not return next season, or simply down the road as a matchup-based bench option.
What is also so enticing about Porter’s spacing ability at his position, besides the obvious need it fills on the team, is the amount of advantageous opportunities that can be had from it as exemplified in the clip above, which showed the opponent’s big man caught scrambling around the perimeter, disarming his rim protecting capabilities.
Despite the off-and-on season of Lopez’s shooting, the spacing and driving lanes he provided through similar gravity of drawing out the opposition’s center arguably paved the way for breakout years for Brandon Ingram and more specifically for Julius Randle, who thrived playing as the sole man in the paint in a four out and one in offense.
Porter could theoretically seamlessly slot in next to Randle and create opportunities both through his spacing, and also arguably with his most impressive attribute: His court vision.
Here Porter, simply put, kills it.
First, he perfectly re-navigates behind the line after the phantom screen to create both space and a passing outlet for his “pnr” partner. He then uses the threat of his shot to attack the aggressive closeout from the opposing big by putting the ball on the floor, avoids the charge, and has the court awareness to find his cutting teammate for the easy flush. A helpful reminder to properly put this sequence in it’s proper context. Porter is 18 years old.
Once again in this sequence Porter shows off his basketball IQ in two manners: First by recognizing the mismatch he would obtain off the defending switch which he eagerly signals to his ball-handler and exuberantly rushes to the post once he indeed gets it.
Yet, what makes this play so compelling is the fact that Porter recognizes not just as an expected individual scoring advantage, but instead comprehending what it means in context for his team.
With almost Matrix level anticipation, Porter recognizes where the expected help defense comes from and precisely finds his cutter for the layup with a sense of confidence. That level of creation from the center position is simply as rare as it gets, especially for a player so young.
Porter’s duel skillset of shooting and playmaking showcased above theoretically checks off two areas of weakness the Lakers exhibited this season, as the purple and gold ranked 29th in terms of three-point percentage, and often found their offense stifled in terms of creation when either one of Lonzo Ball or Brandon Ingram were off the floor.
Porter’s projectable role in the NBA would most likely boil down to that of a secondary playmaker and stretch five, which in these current playoffs showed to be extremely valuable.
The likes of Kelly Olynyk, Ersan IIyasova, Kevin Love, and the more extreme example—Al Horford, all helped dictate their team’s offense and in most cases negated the opposing center’s defensive abilities. Centers who can simply catch the pass off the short roll and make a play for others out of it immensely pays offensive dividends, and Porter expects to be one of these players.
In terms of concerns or weaknesses in Porter’s game, they mostly tie back to his physical make-up. He is not an explosive athlete and does not project to be a center who can anchor a defense. Porter might not even be an above-average defender individually or in space, and lacks overall polish finishing around the rim.
Those defensive limitations are worrisome to an extent, and possibly make Porter an awkward fit alongside the Lakers’ current power-forwards, who are not commonly considered rim protectors. Also worth noting is that although he’s nimble for his frame, Porter may prove to be exploitable in the Lakers’ switch schemes as this current stage.
With that being said, Porter has shown to be a capable and even solid team defender with his good instincts on that end. He has even flashed optimistic individual moments like this when caught on a switch:
Porter’s body is still on the soft side and although that should be expected as one of the youngest players in the draft, it does result in him getting pushed around a bit in the post and correlates with his low rebound numbers.
There is the genuine concern Porter strictly will not be able to keep up in a league filled with thoroughbreds and the likes of a spread pick and roll, but his basketball IQ has shown enough flashes to believe he will be a player with enough basketball “feel” to get by.
Uber-athleticism and mulit-positional wings are the name of game currently, yet intelligence and general basketball wherewithal should not be overlooked.
It is a safe assumption Porter’s body and motor will improve as he ages, and with proper time integrated within professional training staffs. If this is the case there is no reason to believe he will be at the very least a rotational big with an attractive offensive skillset.
The compelling attributes coupled with his age would make him a tremendous fit for the Lakers, who despite having the likes of Ivicia Zubac, Thomas Bryant, and possibly Randle and Lopez going forward, have had no one quite like Jontay Porter. That in and of itself makes him someone worth considering.