Exploring Jontay Porter’s potential offensive outcomes

ST LOUIS, MO - MARCH 08: Jontay Porter
ST LOUIS, MO - MARCH 08: Jontay Porter /

Jontay Porter was an afterthought when the 2017-18 college basketball season started. The younger brother of Michael Porter Jr., one of the most highly touted recruits in the class, he had reclassified into 2018 in the summer, and no one was quite sure if he was ready for the college game, or how talented he would be. But when Michael went down with a back injury early in the season, Jontay stepped up and asserted himself as a clear prospect for the 2018 NBA Draft. While he did most of his damage off the bench, Porter established clear value as a 6-foot-11 big man that can shoot, as he hit 40-of-110 (36.4 percent) from 3 this season.

Porter now sits as the 17th-ranked prospect on The Step Back’s latest Draft Big Board, thanks primarily to the potential he has as a shooter. Some scouts, such as The Stepien’s Mike Gribanov, are even considering him as a lottery-level prospect on the grounds of his offensive ceiling. His skill set right now is raw, but could develop in a number of different ways, which drives his draft value.

Porter’s ability to shoot off the catch is obviously enticing. Having a big to space the floor is valuable, especially if he’s a knockdown shooter with a large shot diversity. He has a pretty quick release and doesn’t have much lower body input, and his shot appears replicable.

A bulk of Porter’s outside shots came on above-the-break 3s like the one above. He hit 35.7 percent on 70 attempts from there putting him at the 60th percentile of college bigs, per shot chart data at The Stepien. While he struggled with NBA 3s on the year (28.1 percent on 57 attempts), he was even more potent in a limited sample from college midrange, hitting 44.4 percent on long 2s (79th percentile). He should enter his NBA career able to pick-and-pop to midrange, with his shooting stroke extending out to NBA 3 with time.

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Most enticing for Porter’s shooting are hints at shot creation, which he displayed in limited chances at the college level. Porter’s handle isn’t at the level of many of his positional peers in this class, but that’s more indicative of their skills, than it is a knock on his. However, he’s shown the ability to shoot off the bounce at a high level, scoring in at least the 90th percentile among bigs in unassisted shooting from 3 and midrange.

Shooting ability as a 5 is a huge factor in providing offensive value at the NBA level. This past year, six of the top-10 centers in Offensive Box Plus-Minus shot at least 200 3s, led by Nikola Jokic and Karl-Anthony Towns, who both were 40-percent shooters. A seventh was Meyers Leonard, who had just 26 attempts but shot 42.3 percent. And an eighth, Jonas Valanciunas, shot 40.5 percent from 3 on 74 attempts as he began to add it to his regular arsenal. As the NBA continues to change into a league heavily reliant on shooting from all spots on the floor, centers who can space and handle are becoming similar in value to classic rim protectors. That makes a player like Porter, who appears to have a jumper that can and should be developed into a more dangerous weapon, more valuable in this year’s draft.

However, shooting ability at the 5 isn’t the only skill needed to succeed at the NBA level. Offensive specialists at the 5 usually contribute in other ways to round out their value, even the more extreme versions like Anthony Tolliver or Channing Frye help the offense in other ways. For Porter to reach his peak value, he’ll need to supplement his shooting profile with other skills. In what ways could that value manifest itself?

The baseline for Porter is likely as a player like Frye, who helped the Cleveland Cavaliers win a title in 2016 with his floor-spacing off the bench. Frye is a great prototype for Jontay because of the similarities between their body type (length and stocky build and lack of agility), and Frye’s development from inconsistent shooter with good form (20-for-70 his first four seasons) to career 38.7 percent marksman. Both players also have great touch from the mid-paint. Frye’s strength in finishing at the rim is a little better, but both have eerily similar moves in getting floaters and touch shots off away from the restricted area. First, Frye:

Porter has that same type of touch, particularly falling away from the basket. The ability to score from that area of the floor will be vital for him at the next level, as he likely won’t have the body to bang and finish against NBA bigs early on.

Frye also offers value in specific matchups thanks to his understanding of spacing in an NBA offense. Against trapping or hedging pick-and-roll schemes, Frye was a killer as a screener in the Cavaliers offense, taking advantage of opponents’ fear of LeBron James and Kyrie Irving coming downhill by slipping to the perfect spot on pick-and-pops or rolls to the rim.

Porter is smart enough to make these kinds of reads with regularity, and he’ll need to in order to truly separate himself as a pick-and-pop threat. Like many college bigs, he’s too stationary and methodical on his flares to the perimeter, and doesn’t rotate to open space as much as you’d like. Shooting on the move and under pressure is difficult but it’s the next step for Porter’s development as a floor-spacer.

These tools can make Porter an effective role player, and that baseline is why Porter’s a near lottery prospect. But at such a young age, Porter also already has advanced offensive skills hinting at a ceiling much higher. For one, Porter’s passing instincts are outstanding, and might be his most eye-catching skill.

However, Porter doesn’t necessarily bring the same value we think of when we discuss the league’s best big-man passers. Most of the NBA’s best big man passers excel from two spots — the short roll, or the elbow.

Porter hasn’t had much time in either capacity, which is to be expected with the differences between college and pro offenses. He’s an above-average college short-roll passer, although he’s going to need development to improve here. Porter’s passing promise instead is seen out of the post, where it’s an effective counter to his lack of ideal strength on the block. He’s a skilled wraparound passer, and saves himself when he’s pushed off position by finding creative ways to kick out to open shooters.

This skill is routinely used as a selling point for DeAndre Ayton’s post game, but Porter adapts it to suit his needs as a thinner, more wiry post weapon. It shows how Porter’s vision is rare for a big, and even if he’s not the most skilled technical passer, having this ability can drive value as an offensive 5, as we saw with similar play from Joakim Noah with the Bulls.

Porter’s offensive ceiling likely hinges on his handle, though. Shooting and passing traits will help him find his way into a playoff rotation, but to truly provide full offensive value as a modern center, Porter needs to harness his dribble-drive game to open up his outlets and truly harness his passing ability. Results from this past year were mixed. On one hand, Porter’s grab-and-go ability is impressive, and there’s room for him to develop into a skilled open-court ball-handler like DeMarcus Cousins.

However, that skill set hasn’t totally fleshed itself out yet. He can get a little too sped up with the ball in his hands, leading to turnovers, as evidenced by an 18.0 turnover rate. He also doesn’t have the burst to beat smaller defenders off the bounce, and will often settle for questionable shots as a result. He has the touch to finish the floater in the following clip, but it’s off-balance, and getting walled off in the paint by a smaller defender isn’t promising.

The 2018 big man class is top-heavy, particularly with a rare collection of offensively skilled 5s. Porter absolutely deserves to be on that list because of how advanced his skill package is. In past drafts, Porter’s lack of athleticism and strength may have been more pronounced in a negative sense. However, as we’ve seen over the past few seasons, players like Porter, such as Jokic and Kelly Olynyk, can thrive in the right context because their skill sets and understanding of the game overshadow a subpar athletic package.

However, that doesn’t mean Porter has any less work to do to reach his athletic ceiling. While he shows a strong baseline of skills and is incredibly young, having an athletic disadvantage likely will limit his overall ceiling. Marvin Bagley’s burst towards the rim and Wendell Carter’s frame likely will make them higher-ceiling initiators than Porter, and while a skill set bridging the strengths of Noah, Frye, and Jokic may be Porter’s ceiling, he likely won’t be more than a smart team defender at the NBA level.

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Porter needs to develop his more advanced skills to be more than a strong situational role player. But because of his shooting and awareness, he has a high likelihood of at least getting there. We’ve seen more and more players like Porter contribute to winning basketball in the past few years of playoffs because they are able to leverage their skills to expose deficiencies in opposing defensive schemes. Porter may not be on the level of this year’s elite big man prospects, but he should have a strong chance to contribute to winning basketball in the NBA.