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Grizzlies Free Agency Profiles: Jontay Porter

A forgotten face could be a hidden gem.

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2020 NBA Restart - All Access Practice Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images

Jontay Porter - Power Forward/Center, University of Missouri

20 years-old, 6’11”, 240 pounds, 7’0” wingspan

DRAFT: undrafted in 2019 NBA draft

NBA EXPERIENCE: None due to injury

COLLEGE STATS: 33 games played, 9.9 points per game in 24.5 minutes per game, 6.8 rebounds per game, 2.2 assists per game, 0.8 steals per game, 1.7 blocks per game, 43.7% field goal percentage, 36.4% three-point percentage, 75% free throw percentage, 52% effective field goal percentage, 21.7 PER

As the 2020 NBA season finally reaches its conclusion, there is one fact that appears to be almost indubitably true going forward for the NBA’s big men: they have to be capable of doing a little bit of everything if they want to be impactful players in the playoffs. The era of the so-called “unicorn” big men who can dribble, pass, and shoot is over. Because if every NBA big man has to be a unicorn to be impact players, then no one is a unicorn.

Calling Jontay Porter a “unicorn” (the last time I use this word, I promise), is probably a hyperbole in the same vein that saying Taco Bell is Mexican food, but I digress. The point is that Porter is unusually skilled for a 6’11”, 240 pound player and possesses a skill-set that would be tailor-made for the modern NBA in a perfect world. Unfortunately, the world is not perfect, and neither is Porter’s physical health, as he has torn his ACL in his right knee twice since his lone season at Missouri.

Porter’s undeniable upside is why the Grizzlies signed him to a two-year, minimum contract right before the season was suspended back in the March. His blend of shooting, playmaking, and size are rare for a player of his size, and it very well could allow him to become an impact player for the Grizzlies’ time. But before he does, the Grizzlies should force him to watch Al Horford film until his eyes start to bleed, all while hoping and praying that his knees hold together.

College numbers that make Porter

NCAA Basketball: SEC Conference Tournament-Missouri vs Georgia Billy Hurst-USA TODAY Sports
  1. 36%: This is the percentage that Jontay Porter shot on an encouraging 3.3 attempts from three during his freshman season. Even more encouraging: Porter was able to make threes off the dribble in similar fashion to his brother on the Denver Nuggets, which is an exceedingly impressive skill for a 6’11” big man. Stretch 5’s have become premiums in the NBA, and Porter would seem to fit that mold.
  2. 2.2: Averaging 2.2 assists per game isn’t going to exactly jump off the page at you, but it was highly intriguing for a player like Porter whom wasn’t the primary source of the Tigers’ offense. He possesses a high basketball IQ and is an excellent passer for his position while being a relatively proficient ball-handler. Bam Adebayo currently has basketball savants salivating over his playmaking ability, so Porter flashing potential as a playmaking big only adds to his allure.
  3. 1.7: Porter showcased excellent defensive instincts and proved to be an effective rim-protector as he blocked 1.7 shots per game. Becoming a two-way threat only increases his chance of becoming an impact player on an NBA playoff team.

A roadblock to a successful NBA career

NCAA Basketball: SEC Basketball Tipoff Vasha Hunt-USA TODAY Sports

Make no mistake: Jontay Porter is a versatile talent that is more than good enough to eventually become a rotation player in the NBA. To be sure, he has flaws in his game, such as his mediocre rebounding and struggles in defending the perimeter. But there’s a reason why he was universally considered a first round pick coming out of college. He has all the tools to be great if he can reach his full potential.

But the NBA is unfortunately filled with graveyards of young talented players who never reached their true potential because of injuries. And the prognosis for Porter wouldn’t historically appear to be very positive. He does appear to have fully recovered from his past injuries, which is undoubtedly a positive sign, but I can’t think of single player in recent NBA history who had two major knee surgeries before even playing in their first NBA game and then going on to have a successful career. Maybe Porter can be the first, but the recent history of the Memphis Grizzlies doesn’t exactly inspire faith in that area.

The Final Offer

NCAA Basketball: SEC Conference Tournament-Missouri vs Georgia Billy Hurst-USA TODAY Sports

The Memphis Grizzlies will have the choice to pick up the team option for the second year of Jontay Porter’s two-year, minimum contract. They can still keep him in the organization even if they choose to opt out; they could offer him a two-way contract instead so that he can get used to the speed of professional basketball in a low-stakes environment. Or they could choose to merely pick up the team option and keep him on the team likely near the end of the rotation in the meantime, as they give him ample opportunity to develop in practice.

Regardless, I absolutely think the Grizzlies both should and will bring him back in some capacity for this coming year. They originally signed him for his upside, and he will have a chance to show flashes in the coming year, especially since Gorgui Dieng looked shaky in Orlando as the Grizzlies’ backup five.

Ultimately, Porter is a clear low-risk/high-reward player. If the Grizzlies discover that his previous injuries keep him from being an effective NBA player, then they can just cut him at virtually no cost. But if he ends up hitting and becoming what many thought he could be coming out college, then they have a player that’s somewhere between Daniel Theis and Al Horford going forward. And that is a good deal for Memphis.

Final Offer: Grizzlies pick up the second year of his minimum team option.

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