Scouts: Michael Porter Jr. Injury Leaves 3 Legit Contenders for 2018 No. 1 Pick

Jonathan Wasserman@@NBADraftWassNBA Lead WriterNovember 22, 2017

Scouts: Michael Porter Jr. Injury Leaves 3 Legit Contenders for 2018 No. 1 Pick

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    Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

    Nobody will know how much season-ending back surgery will affect Michael Porter Jr.'s NBA stock until the completion of his three- to four-month recovery and teams review his medicals. But the setback has changed his odds to go No. 1 overall and created a clearer path for others to rise to the top of draft boards.

    Bleacher Report reached out to NBA scouts to get their perspective on Porter and to see which players have become the top draft-eligible prospects for 2018.

    We'll assume that returning for another season at Missouri would be too risky for Porter, and that he declares in 2018 despite playing two minutes as a freshman.

Down to Three No. 1 Overall Contenders

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    Lefteris Pitarakis/Associated Press

    Since the Porter news broke on Tuesday, scouts have brought up three No. 1 overall candidates: Duke's Marvin Bagley III, Arizona's DeAndre Ayton and Slovenia's Luka Doncic.

    "All three are legitimate, with the upper hand going to Doncic," one NBA executive told Bleacher Report.

    After helping Goran Dragic and Slovenia win gold at EuroBasket over the summer, Doncic leads Euroleague in scoring (19.8 ppg). His success has come against pros, and he's distinguished himself with playmaking, shooting, IQ and competitiveness.

    "Probably Doncic," said a scout when asked about the No. 1 favorite. "I really like Bagley and Ayton, though. Not sure I'd put Mohamed Bamba in the No. 1-slot pool."

    Bagley has been a force in four games against weaker, mid-major competition, averaging 23.0 points and 9.8 rebounds in those contests. He's wowing with athletic, high-energy plays and flashes of versatility fueled by ball-handling skills and shooting range. 

    However, during his one opportunity against a quality opponent (Michigan State) and a projected lottery big man in Jaren Jackson Jr., Bagley lasted 10 minutes before hurting his eye in an 88-81 win. And since he reclassified after his junior year in high school, scouts haven't had the chance to see him nearly as much as they've seen Porter and Ayton. 

    The numbers and eye test on Ayton have been convincing. A 7'1", 250-pounder with 7'5 ½" length, he's made the basket appear small. He's looked improved out of the post and confident shooting jumpers.

    Questions have been raised about his motor and body language in the past. Last year, he fell behind Porter and Bagley in the recruiting ranks. But Ayton has quickly begun to win back support through two weeks, and it may not have anything to do with his Porter's ailing back.

Dark Horse Gaining Steam for No. 1 Pick

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    Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

    Before the season, Porter, Bagley and Doncic were the most popular answers from scouts when asked about the player they liked most at No. 1.

    But Ayton was gaining steam even before it was announced Porter was done. 

    "Ayton is the dark-horse No. 1," said a Western Conference scout. "Kid is a freak."

    "I'd take [Mohamed] Bamba over Bagley, but there is one more out there I'd take hands down over either," said another West Coast-based scout earlier in the month when referring to Ayton

    A third scout pegged Ayton as his new, temporary No. 1 through three weeks of November. 

    Arizona's star freshman has been an eye-catching standout, from his early dominance to his immaculate physical tools and inside-out scoring versatility. 

    He'll have to keep it going once the competition picks up, but Ayton is making an impression on scouts.

The Situation for Porter

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    Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

    Between the unsettling nature of the injury and Porter's inability to strengthen his case from the sidelines (while others are out building theirs), it's now unlikely a team could take him over Bagley, Ayton and Doncic. 

    The question is how far he'll fall. 

    That will come down to what the medical reports say once he's recovered, which should be before predraft workouts. If doctors put him at 100 percent, teams will have a tough decision. 

    Most of them will already be familiar with Porter, given all the chances they've had to evaluate him before college. FIBA tournaments, the Nike Hoop Summit, McDonald's All-American Game, Jordan Brand Classic, Eurocamp—Porter has been playing in front of NBA scouts since he was 16 years old.

    That works to his advantage in this situation. Some general managers may already be comfortable with a healthy Porter and confident in his potential, regardless of how little he played in college.

    Since he isn't going No. 1, it's more important for him to land with a franchise that gives him the most suitable environment to develop.

    What will be interesting is if he and his agent choose not to share his medicals with certain teams. It's up to them what information they want to hand out. And assuming general managers won't take a chance on Porter without seeing his medicals, he could have some control over where he's drafted.

Lottery Order and Fit Could Play Big Role in Who Goes No. 1

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    Gerry Broome/Associated Press

    At this stage, there isn't a consensus No. 1, and it's possible there won't be one on June 11. Who goes first could come down to his fit with the eventual lottery winner.

    "It will depend on who has the pick and what they need," said another scout. "Bagley or Ayton should get the nod, but Doncic is in the discussion."

    Typically, team needs aren't factored into the equation at No. 1. General managers ignore position and take the best player available that high, since at No. 1, the best player available is generally a potential franchise-changer. But in this year's case, when there appear to be multiple No. 1 overall talents, each of whom are different, it's easier to envision a front office could split and wind up using fit to break a tie.

    The Sacramento Kings, who rank No. 29 in offensive efficiency, per ESPN.com, and need a center, could favor Ayton over Doncic. The Chicago Bulls, who shoot 33.5 percent from three and need a lead guard or wing, could take Doncic over Bagley. 

    The Dallas Mavericks and Atlanta Hawks just need talent and aren't likely to rule out anyone based on position. 

    Still, given the parity among elite prospects, each of the top three teams on the draft board could have a different No. 1.

Bleacher Report Updated Big Board Following Porter Injury

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    Alabama's Collin Sexton
    Alabama's Collin SextonButch Dill/Associated Press

    We've moved Porter down multiple spots on the 2018 draft board. The following eight prospects make up the top two tiers.

           

    1. DeAndre Ayton (Arizona, C, Freshman)

    Ayton's upside was always compelling, but his quick start has been convincing. Questions may pop up about his defensive awareness and urgency. However, his interior presence and expanding, and inside-out offense are tailor-made for the center position in today's NBA. That points to a Karl-Anthony Towns-type package.  

            

    2. Luka Doncic (Slovenia, PG/SG, 1999)

    Doncic will make a franchise and its players better. The only question is whether he can be future NBA star without great speed or explosiveness. His tools, passing, shooting and intangibles still create unique, enticing versatility and potential. Doncic's resume and track record help create a sense of safety.

              

    3. Marvin Bagley III (Duke, PF, Freshman)

    Bagley's ceiling is arguably higher than anyone's based on his athleticism, ball skills and motor. He's still raw, learning to create his own shot and make the open ones outside. However, at 18 years old, he's capable in every aspect of the game, and he has an enormous amount of room to grow in each.

            

    4. Mohamed Bamba (Texas, C, Freshman)

    The draw to Bamba stems from his 6'11", 225-pound size, mobility and unprecedented length (7'9"), which should translate to game-changing defense and rim protection. Flashes of shooting touch and post footwork may lead to unicorn upside, though he'd have to put on serious muscle and continue polishing his offense to get there.

    5. Michael Porter Jr. (Missouri, SF/PF, Freshman)

    Porter was No. 3 on our board before he went down. It's tough to feel comfortable with this particular injury while others, including Bamba and Sexton, have become almost equally attractive when healthy. Still, Porter's size (6'10", 215 lbs), scoring skills, shooting and reputation will prevent him from plummeting—assuming doctors determine the back problem is only temporary.

                  

    6. Collin Sexton (Alabama, PG, Freshman)

    Sexton goes from No. 9 to No. 6 and may not be done climbing. After combining for 47 points and 10 assists through two games, he took it up a notch, going for 29 points, which included the game-winning bucket, in a 77-76 win over UT Arlington on Tuesday night. Athletic and competitive with a relentless knack for scoring, Sexton could already be a target for rebuilding teams searching for their next lead guard.

            

    7. Robert Williams (Texas A&M, C, Sophomore)

    Through two games against Oklahoma State and Penn State, Williams has looked like an NBA veteran among students. Eleven of his first 15 made field goals have been dunks. He didn't add any skill, but Williams looks poised to follow Clint Capela and DeAndre Jordan by becoming an elite finisher, rim protector and overall defensive presence.

               

    8. Jaren Jackson Jr. (Michigan State, PF/C, Freshman)

    Jackson started in our top 10 and validated his ranking with a terrific showing against Duke (19 PTS, 7 REB, 3 BLK) in front of dozens of NBA scouts. He'll enter the draft at 18 years old under the "project" umbrella and entice teams with 7'4" length, defense and shooting.

              

    Recruit rankings via 247Sports unless otherwise noted.