NBA Draft

‘I’m optimistic’: Jontay Porter on his recovery and learning from his brother’s rookie season in Denver

Jontay Porter shared details of his recovery from a second ACL tear this summer as well as what he heard from NBA teams heading toward the draft.

A weak 2019 NBA Draft class took a hit March 23 when skilled big man Jontay Porter, brother of Denver forward Michael Porter Jr., tore his ACL for the second time in as many seasons.

Jontay, a sophomore out of Missouri, was actually in Denver with Michael recovering from the first tear when he re-tore the ligament. At the NBA Draft Combine in Chicago, the younger Porter brother said he got off crutches in early May and the MRI he got the week of the combine came back clean. “I’m optimistic,” Porter said.

Porter remains in Denver rehabbing and was happy with the 13 meetings he took in Chicago. Teams wanted to hear about his recovery, and his answer for them was simple:

“It’s basically the same thing, basically the same surgery, just corrective. I’m out in Denver every day doing rehab and hopefully get back here really soon.

“Obviously, I’m only being interviewed by the teams that are interested me and all those teams had nothing but good things to say, so it was a good experience over the week and it’s just a matter of if my knee is healthy.”

Among the teams Porter met with were the Lakers, Knicks, Pistons, Bucks and Nets. As of the writing of this story, ESPN had Porter at No. 42 in their 2019 Top 100. New York could look to take Porter at No. 55, whereas Milwaukee might see Porter as an option as high as No. 29.

The uncertainty surrounding nearly every prospect in this class makes taking a chance on Porter easier. Teams looking for young guys who will be able to contribute in the playoffs early in their careers should take a look at Porter. He faces questions about his mobility and rim protection defensively but is a skilled passer and shooter out of the frontcourt. Many draft sites pegged him as a lottery pick in the stronger 2018 class, and The Ringer’s Jonathan Tjarks still ranks Porter 20th overall this year.

It’s difficult to imagine a healthy Porter not finding a role in the NBA for a long time. He shot 36 percent from 3 and 75 percent from the line in 33 games at Missouri as a freshman before the first injury. He also posted a 19.6 percent assist rate from the center spot and flashed the ability to attack closeouts on the pick-and-pop a la Al Horford. His handle is functional for his age (just 19 after reclassifying to join college a year early).

Porter was likely on track to work out on the court for NBA teams before the re-injury. Now, Porter won’t be able to do any work on the court before the draft, though he said he hopes to play during the 2019-20 season.

“It’s up to the doctors whoever I end up working with,” Porter said “It’s just taking it day by day and doing as much as I can in the moment to speed up the process.”

That process is taking place in Denver as well. He lived with Michael throughout the 2018-19 season as the rookie rode the bench for the Nuggets recovering from a lumbar spine surgery in July 2018, as well as related hip pain. Porter said his brother’s experience helped prepare him to handle himself professionally as a rookie.

Unfortunately, it was that proximity to competition that put Porter in position to re-injure the ligament. Porter told The Kansas City Star that he “felt invincible” one night watching Michael practice at the Nuggets’ facility and joined a pick-up game that got heavy and led to Porter re-tearing his ACL.

The key, Porter said, is “being patient with it. It’s kind of given me a blueprint of how I want to do things and how to live that lifestyle in the NBA and on the court, too.”

Next: Grant Williams’ two-way ability should make him a top-10 pick

In-person at the combine, Porter was slimmer than we last saw him. Weight was one of the concerns experts had about his NBA readiness leading up to the 2018 draft, and though he lost weight since the injury, Porter said bulking up will be part of his recovery.

“When you tear your ACL, you lose a lot of muscle, too, so it’s not all just straight fat, but obviously my body fat percentage has gone down,” Porter explained. “I definitely want to get that weight back up.”

However, the sophomore doesn’t know what his ideal weight will be in the NBA. He said he will base his offseason preparation on what is asked of him by the team that drafts him.

“I just want to be strong enough to guard one through five, that’s my goal,” Porter said.

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