'Most Talented Player We've Ever Had': USC Frosh Soaring Up NBA Draft Boards

Jonathan Wasserman@@NBADraftWassNBA Lead WriterNovember 19, 2018

LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 11:  Kevin Porter Jr. #4 of the USC Trojans handles the ball against Joe Toye #2 the Vanderbilt Commodores at The Galen Center on November 11, 2018 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Cassy Athena/Getty Images)
Cassy Athena/Getty Images

NBA scouts had been hoping for a surprise prospect to emerge and spice up the 2019 draft. Now word is spreading about USC freshman Kevin Porter Jr.

While the spotlight has focused on Duke's big three of Zion Williamson, RJ Barrett and Cam Reddish, Porter is subtly creating waves and affecting scouts' travel itineraries.

The first one we spoke with told Bleacher Report he'll be flying to Kansas City, Missouri, for his first look Monday night. Porter faces Texas Tech sophomore 2-guard Jarrett Culver in what's become a high-profile scouting matchup early in the season.

"Yes, I've seen him," a West Coast-based scout said. "Next-level moves in his bag. He needs polishing, but his God-given gifts in talent are impressive."

"Most talented player we've ever had," USC associate head coach Jason Hart told B/R.

"I'd agree with that assessment," the West Coast-based scout said in response to Hart's claim. "If Porter is humble and wants to be good, he needs to obviously put in the work to refine his game. He can be an elite player. He's playing off pure talent right now, which is scary."

Snubbed from 2018's McDonald's All-American Game, Jordan Brand Classic and Nike Hoop Summit, Porter had gone somewhat hidden during last year's all-star circuit (though he generated buzz following a scrimmage against the USA team at the Summit).

He's turning heads in college with a flashy, persuasive mix of physical tools (6'6", 218 lbs), athleticism and scoring skills.

Porter has a pro's frame, plus a quick, explosive step. But it's his advanced shot creation that pops most when watching the tape.

He's separating off advanced footwork and ball-handling maneuvers, mirroring NBA star scorers by executing various step-back moves and hang-dribble crossovers. Porter is getting into his shot with space and balance, and he's converting with convincing fluidity and comfort.

The exciting natural talent has shown when he's been forced to react and improvise. He's finished a handful of eye-opening dunks and acrobatic layups fueled by quickness, coordination, bounce and instincts.

Per 40 minutes after three games, Porter is averaging 23.1 points on 61.5 percent shooting, demonstrating a well-rounded attack through eight possessions as a pick-and-roll ball-handler, seven spotting up, seven in transition and four out of isolation, per Synergy Sports.

It's still evident that Porter is only 18 years old, though. He fouled out with just under six minutes left in a four-point loss to Vanderbilt. And he's gotten carried away with hero shots that hurt ball movement and aren't high-percentage.

The scouting focus now is determining whether his early success represents a level of offense that Porter can sustain and execute with consistency.

Unlike Duke's Zion Williamson and RJ Barrett, USC's star freshman isn't the focal point. Five of his teammates are taking more shots. Given Porter's shot selection and USC's veteran depth, there will be days when he fails to get into the flow of a game. But at his age, the flashes of talent and skill should outweigh the inevitable lapses.

His role and stage of development resemble Zach LaVine's when he was at UCLA. LaVine was drafted in the lottery despite averaging just 7.8 field-goal attempts per game.

Porter's scoring potential has been similarly easy to detect, only his body is notably stronger, and after Williamson, Barrett and maybe a few others, there doesn't appear to be a no-brainer tier of surefire top-10 picks. That could further enhance the appeal and value tied to Porter's upside.

Assume teams are already doing their homework as he continues to light up and become a higher priority.

"When you see so much talent in one player with a ceiling sky-high, you really want them to embrace what it takes," the West Coast-based scout said.

Porter hasn't made it yet and now needs to perform above the radar, where there's more pressure and zoom on the microscope. But he's earning attention fast and rebranding himself as one of the country's potentially elite prospects.

Initially No. 22 on our preseason big board, Porter is the top candidate to become 2019's Trae Young and unexpectedly soar into the top-five mix.