Perhaps the most interesting development this season for Kevin Porter Jr. is that he’s still here.
Over the past three months, the USC freshman (3-7 range on my board) has faced drama that no other lottery pick this season can rival.
- He started fewer than half of the games he’s played and is averaging just 22.3 minutes on a team that’s 9-8 on the season and 2-2 in the Pac 12.
- He’s a lesser priority in the USC offense than Jonah Matthews (unranked), a high-usage combo guard who lacks Porter’s innate shot-making ability.
- He missed over a month of action with a thigh injury, and then he was suspended for conduct issues, according to coach Andy Enfield.
Here was Porter’s response to a stint that’s been crazier than anything else a projected lottery pick has faced:
“There has been speculation that I will no longer finish the season as a Trojan, those accusation & what has brought a lot of attention to the Trojan family are all false,” Porter wrote. “I am a Trojan and never once have been put in a predicament from our coaching staff that I was removed and wasn’t a part of this program, I apologize for all the accusation that has been said about me & hope our support and our family stay as one! Fight on #TrojanFamily.”
But apparently his draft stock is picking up even more steam as this has been going on.
Porter is considered to be the “consensus” third-best player in the 2019 draft by many in the league, according to a front office source. It was a surprising message to receive, but several league executives remain extremely high on him. Despite averaging just 10.7 points and 1.7 assists in the seven games Porter has played, his fluid ball-handling, his Doncic-esque step back three and his frame that resembles an NFL wide receiver have captured the attention of GMs.
Compared with Cam Reddish (3-7) and Nassir Little (5-7), who’ve had a similarly difficult transition into the program they selected, Porter’s game is predicated on a solid combination of skill and athleticism, which makes him the most likely player to me of this group who can average 20 points a night at some point in his career.
So how much has the recent tension between Porter and the Trojans impacted what league executives think? Porter could have packed it up in December following his initial injury– an alternative he said he isn’t true– but instead he’s passively subjected himself to as much of an off-court analysis by NBA scouts as an on-court breakdown of his skills.
In other words, those who fell in love with his game in November might be asking themselves if his teammates love him back.
The book on Porter has changed. It’s reminiscent to how we analyzed Ben Simmons at LSU once whispers started circulating regarding his commitment to the program. In a wide-open Pac 12, Porter still has a chance to go full Kemba in the conference tournament, lead USC to the NCAA Tournament and elevate his stock even further.
Or we could spend the next two months analyzing his interactions facial expressions. That sounds like a lot less relevant, a lot less fun.
Markus Howard (60-80) left the game for Marquette last week against Georgetown after three minutes. But aside from that he’s led the team in scoring in 10 of the last 11 games. His pull-up scoring has made such made improvements since last year, when Andrew Rousey was arguable the more important offensive player. His All American case is turning heads, though his skinny frame leaves cause for concern.
Jon Teske (unranked) remains one of the most surprising game changers in the country. After playing such a limited role last season, he’s draining threes all of a sudden (he made three against Northwestern) and he’s the only real rim protector for the toughest defensive team in the country. At the next level, he’d be able to succeed in a drop-back system, though he’s covering more ground than anyone his size should be able to.
Against USC last week (sans Porter), Louis King (35-50), dropped a team-high 19 points on 8-13 shooting and got up seven threes. Without Bol, it’s encouraging seeing him hunt his own shot more, and his combination of length and ball-handling ability keep him intruiging despite early season struggles, especially in a December game against a Baylor team that was in his face and forced the ball out of his hands every time.
You’d think scoring 32 points against the No. 1 team would catapult a player’s draft stock, but Tyus Battle (50-70) hasn’t had that happen. I’ve never seen player drain so many tough contested jump-shots, and by overtime the offense revolved around him doing so. However, with Tre Jones (16-25) out of the game, he wasn’t threatened defensively and did little else to impact the game.
Not the best look for Jaxson Hayes (12-20) fouling out in 17 minutes against a Kansas team that had several perimeter creators but lacked an effective center (Dedric Lawson (60-75) got the start).
Virginia absolutely handed it to Virginia Tech on Wednesday, a sort of statement game for De’Andre Hunter (5-9) as an offensive player. His face-up game was superb, and he made excellent decisions with the ball in the high post off the pass and on the drive. The game was decided early, as Ty Jerome (25-35) drained some deep threes, something he does better than anyone in this class.
At some point, Ja Morant (3-8) is gonna chill, right?
USF guard LaQuincy Rideau (unranked) torched an aggressive Cincinnati defense this week, dropping 26 points on the road. The combo guard is a fearless shooter with off the dribble juice and quickness, and his shoulders are the biggest in the AAC. The six-foot-one guard is one of the best playmakers in that conference, a shorter version of Ole Miss’ Terrance Davis (70-90), and the transfer from Webber State has a chance to be a 25 point per game scorer in his senior season next year, setting the stage for something more.
In theory, Mariel Shayock (unranked) should be a top 60 prospect because of his frame and faceup ability. However, he’s consistently vulnerable when asked to guard the opposing team’s best player, and his shot selection heavily relies on off the dribble shooting.
There’s no wing who burst onto the periphery of the second round out of nowhere at the start of the season like Vic Law (70-90), but he hasn’t produced effectively all month, in large part to an injury he’s been dealing with that has severely been impacting his mobility.
There’s no matchup I’m looking forward to this week than Bruno Fernando (25-35) vs. Nick Ward (unranked). Bruno has been on a tear of late, but this will be a test on how well his post game and energy hold up against a tank of a man.
The other sneaky game of the week is Iowa State vs. Ole Miss on Saturday, a chance for Davis to hang big numbers on a team with multiple NBA-level defenders.
Enjoy Duke vs. Virginia tonight. Talk to you next week.