Jontay Porter will miss the college basketball season with an ACL and MCL tear. While it shouldn’t hurt his draft stock, the injury dampens an already weak 2019 NBA Draft class.
The 2019 college basketball season was dealt a big blow on Sunday night, as the Missouri Tigers’ basketball team announced that sophomore center Jontay Porter tore the ACL and MCL in his right knee during a scrimmage against Southern Illinois. The injury means that Porter’s second season, which he came back for after being a projected lottery pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, is all but over.
The injury is an obvious downer for college basketball fans and NBA Draft geeks. Porter was by far Missouri’s best player last year after his brother, Michael Porter Jr., went down early in the season with a back injury. Without him, Missouri is likely to really struggle in what is the deepest conference in the country in terms of NBA prospects. He also was projected to be a potential top-10 prospect for many draft scouts entering the season. In a weak class, Porter’s high-level skill and potential as a stretch-5 stood out and losing the chance to see expected skill progression as a shooter, defender, and passer is very disappointing.
The fact that Porter tore his MCL in addition to his ACL isn’t particularly concerning, as this is a common secondary injury stemming from an ACL tear. The MCL stabilizes the inside of the knee and is commonly torn due to the buckling mechanism that occurs when the ACL gives out. The MCL typically heals more quickly and reliably than the ACL — usually in about six weeks — so its impact in overall healing likely will be minimal.
The one area that it could impact is the timing of Porter’s surgery. The MCL usually isn’t repaired because it heals well, but surgeons often want to let the MCL heal prior to ACL surgery to offer better stability in the initial phases of rehabilitation. Every case is different, but don’t be surprised if Porter doesn’t have immediate surgery for this reason.
There will be some debate on whether the injury should hurt Porter’s draft stock or not. We have definitely seen this occur in the past, most recently with O.G. Anunoby slipping from potential top-10 pick to 23rd overall in the 2017 NBA Draft in part because of his medicals after an ACL tear at Indiana. Porter definitely could see a slide in his stock, especially if another center like Daniel Gafford of Arkansas or Simi Shittu of Vanderbilt (who, incidentally, is coming off an ACL reconstruction as well) show strongly in 2018-19. Teams are tasked with trying to project long-term health and production without seeing how the injury has healed in real gameplay, and are very likely to take the cautious road.
However, at least early on, projecting minimal impact on Porter’s long-term outlook is probably safe. Medicine is advancing to the point where many players have been able to rehabilitate from this injury without much negative impact on their eventual outcomes, and the tear occurring early this year should mean that him being ready early next year is more probable. Anunoby provides another good test case here, as he looked to have made good progression as a rookie despite the tear and has a skill set far more predicated on athleticism than Porter’s is. Every case is different, of course, but it’s becoming more and more likely that Porter will be able to return to near his baseline after he comes back to the court.
Helping Porter along the way is his skill set, the main reason to have optimism about his long-term value as a prospect. Porter’s athleticism was already a question already, and he was considered a high-level prospect despite it thanks to his high level of skill on the offensive end. Porter is a potential lottery pick because of his decision-making and instincts coupled with his shooting touch as a pick-and-pop threat. He is certainly more Nikola Jokic than Anthony Davis, and we have seen that in recent NBA classes, skill and smarts have translated more predictably than athleticism-predicated skill sets. If he can get back to an admittedly low baseline of athleticism, he should be fine as a prospect.
Porter’s loss is a difficult one for this draft class, which wasn’t deep on bankable skill sets outside of Porter. Because of that, and the advances made in ACL rehabilitation and surgery, this injury shouldn’t impact Porter’s draft stock. He is still a top-ten talent in this class, original ACL or not.