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Is Michael Porter Jr. “the one” for Memphis?

In a long line of failed wings, MPJ could be the success story the Memphis Grizzlies have been searching for.

NCAA Basketball Tournament - First Round - Nashville Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Forgive Memphis for its hesitance.

The city and their Grizzlies have been hurt many times when it comes to the search for the franchise’s next great wing. It wasn’t always this way, of course - the selection of Shane Battier at #6 overall in the 2001 NBA Draft and the acquisition of Mike Miller during the 2002-2003 season are examples of times where Memphis had talented perimeter players who delivered on their promise. Yet they still were not “stars”, at least in the traditional sense. During that era of Grizzlies success before “Grit and Grind” it was Pau Gasol, to a lesser extent Jason Williams, and others who took up that mantra of “face of the franchise”.

As time goes on, the team transitioned to that aforementioned “Grit and Grind” time frame with Rudy Gay as the next to try to be that premiere perimeter player. Rudy had his moments of fame...

...but he also had some boneheaded mistakes that would lead to most resenting his style of play. Again, instead of the talented wing taking the reins of the franchise it was bigs (Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph) and smaller, less physically gifted perimeter players (Mike Conley, Tony Allen) who made up what would eventually be known as the “Core Four”. Rudy did not fit in. He eventually was sent away in favor of a wing that would “fit in” in Tayshaun Prince (and a future big that didn’t work out in Ed Davis).

The list after Rudy is not overly long, but is also not very distinguished. Tayshaun was never supposed to be “the answer”, but Jeff Green much that a future 1st round pick was given up for him. Green fizzled out for a variety of reasons, and in the summer of 2016 the Grizzlies made a big move for Chandler Parsons, their greatest free agent signing ever. He surely would be the one to become that star for Memphis, that wing scorer, that creator for himself and for all offensively...

So far, that has not come to pass.

Gay. Green. Parsons. On and on, the missed opportunities and wasted resources have mounted. It has gotten to the point where the fan base is genuinely excited about a 2nd round pick, Dillon Brooks, as a key future piece for the franchise. Dillon Brooks is viewed as the best young asset for the Memphis Grizzlies on the perimeter.

Through no fault of Dillon’s, who had a very good rookie campaign, that’s less than ideal.

So even though the sights and sounds of a wing who could swoop in and be the best player in this class that may be intoxicating to some, the back injury that surgery was conducted on seven months ago should still make Memphis pause for a good, long, while.

Stephen F Austin v Missouri Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Michael Porter Jr. was a consensus top three prospect in the class of 2017, and depending on the scouting service was the #1 member of that loaded pack of players. He was at worst viewed as the equal of DeAndre Ayton and Marvin Bagley III, two players who will quite likely be selected in the top five of the 2018 NBA Draft. He made folks think of Kevin Durent with his ability to get a shot off easily from any angle or point on the floor, his combination of size and handle and athleticism. He wasn’t perfect - he needed to improve his defensive positioning/understanding, and he could be a better finisher at the rim when contact was present. But the tools were there.

Then the injury came. And the surgery followed. And his opportunity to shine at the University of Missouri came and went with a whimper.

Now workouts are being conducted where Porter’s exploits are being lauded and his hype machine is attempting to build up his stock again...and it seems to be working in its early stages.

Of course this makes total sense. Rebuilding the legend, so to speak. Regaining the shine and momentum that was lost over a forgotten season...his personal team would be doing him a disservice if they didn’t do that. The private workout should show that his health is at least progressing, and even in that controlled environment it should ease some fears for most teams...

That hopefully is not enough for Memphis.

We have the scar tissue that comes with getting our hopes up about these types of players. Yes, Porter has skill. Yet so did Chandler Parsons. Indeed, Porter has the dreaded “potential” that Jeff Green continues to trick teams in to signing him with. He has the athleticism and frame of Rudy Gay and then some...he’s bigger, and possibly even more talented. He combines it all - the possibilities are endless...

On both sides of the spectrum.

For all the hopes of Porter being “the man” for the Grizzlies, for all the visions of Porter passing to Marc Gasol on the pick and pop for an open three and of MPJ draining a three over top of Kevin Durant for a big win for Memphis, there is the other end of things. There’s the slow recovery angle, the “issues with contact” angle, the “pain when I cut” angle. Then there’s the “fully healthy but never quite himself again” side of things, the part where you used a #4 overall pick on a guy who is more Jeff Green than Kevin Durant, more Shaun Livingston than Ben Simmons...

NCAA Basketball Tournament - First Round - Nashville Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images

You cannot embrace the positive potential without acknowledging the possible disaster that looms. The scariest part? You won’t know for sure until you have him in camp. No amount of medical records or private workouts can fully inform what he can do against the best athletes in the world, especially considering no one has seen him take his physical gifts and apply them against the best competition. Bagley, Ayton, Luka Doncic...they all have thrived in top leagues in college and professional basketball.

All we have in Porter is what he may have been...and what he still may be.

Granted, that would be a home run for Memphis if it were to come to pass. A “healthy” Porter would be a steal at #4 for the Grizzlies. But a “healthy” Chandler Parsons would have made Memphis that much more dangerous in the last season of Grit and Grind. A Porter with fully realized potential will help maximize Gasol and Conley’s end while kickstarting the next era in Memphis...but Green and Gay would’ve done the same if they had panned out.

Is it fair to lump him in with those “failed” experiments? Not entirely. But the scars are real. This organization, if they are to swing for the fence with Porter at #4, must be as sure as possible that he is going to be the player everyone thought he could be. A Porter selection would mean passing on a Jaren Jackson Jr. or Mohamed Bamba, or perhaps even a Bagley or Doncic. As you break down the prospects and read/watch for yourself, you have to ask the question that the Grizzlies are surely asking themselves - are you ready to jump at the chance for a “savior” on the wing again?

The short answer should be “yes”- but only if Bagley and Doncic are off the board. Bamba, Jackson, Trae Young...they all have their own questions about fit and function in Memphis. Bagley and Doncic would be much cleaner additions to the Grizzlies than those names, and again, don’t have the health questions of Porter.

But if Doncic and Bagley are indeed gone? The juice that would come with a Porter pick (the facilitation, the handle, the size on the perimeter) would be worth the squeeze of the fear that comes with it. Imagine a Conley/Dillon Brooks/Porter/JaMychal Green/Gasol starting five...the potential there is real. You can’t ignore his past, though, in blind favor of his future. Hopefully Porter’s prognosis is a good one and he can be what he was supposed to be sooner rather than later if he is indeed the pick at #4.

The rise, and possible fall, of Memphis basketball depends on it.

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