Michael Porter Jr. Is Back, and It’s Time for a Day Dream

Except for two teaser minutes in the first game of the season, Michael Porter Jr., has existed in our dreams.

We’ve seen him smiling on the bench.

We’ve seen him horsing around with teammates.

We’ve seen him shoot the ball in pregame, working cautiously as he progressed in his rehab from lower-back surgery.

We’ve heard broadcasters from SEC Network and ESPN speculate on his potential return date.  We’ve been on standby for medical updates. We’ve wondered: who would ultimately make the decision to play … or not play? We know that the NBA Draft will be calling out Porter’s name, and that it’s risky business to expose his back to a physical hit,  an awkward body twist in the lane, or a take a hard fall after a collision.

The back… my goodness, how much have we’ve talked about MPJ’s back?

Or just used many words that contain the word “back?”

How’s the back?  When is he coming back? Will he ever be back? He’s back at practice. He’s back in the sweat suit, not quite ready to make the comeback. Maybe he can be a backup. If he makes it back, can he play back-to-back games in SEC or NCAA Tournament? Maybe we should back off, back up, and back his decision even if he decides against coming back.

Forget the one-and-done; is MPJ going to be a one-game and done?

Well, he’s back. It’s going to happen this afternoon when Missouri plays Georgia at 2:30 p.m. in the second round of the SEC Tournament at Scottrade Center.

A major event in downtown St. Louis has now turned into a main event and the most compelling story in college basketball at the moment.

The reappearance of Michael Porter Jr. is exciting. It’s full of drama, suspense and mystery. The anticipation is exhilarating, scary or maybe both. It could be a wild ride, or the last ride.

Buckle up. Hold tight. The show is about to begin. Adventure time.

The SEC Tournament, with a special appearance by Michael Porter Jr.

What can we expect to see from the nation’s top recruit, who put Mizzou basketball on the national map again by by committing to play for coach Cuonzo Martin … then as a bonus, bringing younger brother Jontay Porter with him?

Here’s the truthful answer: No one really knows.

There are questions … so many questions about the 6-10 freshman and what he’ll do for Mizzou … or not do for Mizzou:

1-How much will Porter play? Maybe 20, 25 minutes, Coach Martin said.

2-Will Porter be tentative, or physical? Will he brace for contact, or go hard to the basket? Will he take stand his ground and take a charge?

3-What is Porter’s role upon reentry? Martin pretty much described it as all-purpose. He can go inside. He can go outside. He can handle the ball. He could play the two guard. He could play some point guard. He can defend Georgia’s taller players. So much for easing him in, eh?

4-Porter hasn’t played in a real game in 118 days. On Nov. 21 Porter underwent surgery in Dallas, a microdiscectomy of the L3-L4 spinal disks. The official Mizzou release said the procedure would “likely cause him to miss the remainder of the season.” If we’re being reasonable about this, how much should we expect now. Is it fair to portray Porter as an instant catalyst that will transform a good Mizzou team into a great team and make the Tigers a dangerous threat in the NCAA Tournament?

5-Coach Martin says Porter is game-ready despite not being 100 percent. Porter put on a spectacular display of three-point shooting during a casual session Wednesday, causing media eyewitnesses to wobble toward the nearest fainting couch. But after such a lengthy absence, would you be shocked if Porter struggles with his timing and spacing and getting into a flow with teammates that have played all but two minutes of 31 games without him on the floor? Are we

6-Is Mizzou automatically a better team because of Porter’s presence? Or will this make Mizzou a confused team? Will the other players defer to MPJ because he’s MPJ — a star, a pending NBA lottery pick. The comeback will feel like a thrilling spectacle; will the players get caught up in the theater of at all? Porter Jr. isn’t a selfish teammate, but it will be a challenge to find a smooth fit. It could be an awkward situation.

7-It’s reasonable to wonder about Porter’s stamina. He isn’t out of shape, per se. But he hasn’t gone through the physical demands of competing in games. The competition is especially intense at this time of the season. And the schedule can drain energy. A hypothetical: If Mizzou beats Georgia, upsets Kentucky, wins in the semifinals, and then plays for the SEC title on Sunday, that’s four games in four days. No break. What about playing two or three consecutive days this weekend? This is a test he hasn’t been through.

8-Since the news of Porter’s imminent surgery came out, the Missouri players used the adversity as a deep motivation-inspiration source. They never have resented Porter. He’s a friend. And he’s supported his teammates all season. But the MU players understandably resented how the media and fans downgraded their chances of having a successful season. MPJ was was gone …  and so was Mizzou’s season. The players turned the slights into something positive. It strengthened their resolve.

With MPJ rejoining the band,will Mizzou lose its sharpened underdog teeth?

9-This quote may provide some insight: “It’s somewhat baffling to people that we actually got scholarships to play Division I basketball here,” Mizzou junior forward Kevin Puryear said, with obvious sarcasm, in speaking to  reporters Wednesday. “But I think we’ve been counted out my whole career here, so it’s nothing new to me and the returning guys. It was just time for us to put our hard hat on and go to work.”

10-Let’s wrap this up. I’m trying to maintain the even-keel attitude here. But from a practical standpoint, where can Porter help, even if he’s below peak form? Yes.

Here’s how:

11-Depth. Mizzou needs depth. With Porter Jr.’s addition, the Tigers have only eight scholarship players. Maybe. Point guard Jordan Geist was sick with flu symptoms Wednesday. Even if he plays, will Geist have full energy? Porter’s minutes will be important for a simple reason: the Tigers need to spread the minutes around to reduce fatigue. And Porter’s availability gives MU protection against foul trouble.

12-Mizzou has turned the ball over on 21 percent of its possessions this season, which ranks 324th among the 351 teams listed at KenPom. Porter should be able to settle things down.

13- Just having Porter Jr. on the forces opponents to account for him. That’s good. Gives more room to other Tigers And he also gives Mizzou flexibility. At 6-10, Porter is agile and athletic. Whether Mizzou goes with a big or small lineup, MPJ fits. With Jeremiah Tilmon (6-10), Jantay Porter (6-11) and Michael Porter Jr. (6-10)  the Tigers can throw a lot of length at opponents. And Barnett and Puryear are 6-7.

14-Porter Jr. has formidable shooting range. If he’s on with the threes, Georgia and other opponents would be confronted with the challenge of defending four Tigers, all on the floor at the same time, who can make threes. Kassius Robertson shoots 43 percent from the 3-point line, Barnett is at 42 percent, and Jontay has made 15 of his last 33 threes. Porter Jr. makes it four threats from three-ball range. How do you defend that?

15-Porter Jr. is capable of creating his own shot. Those guys are hard to find. He can dribble to and shoot. He can win one-on-one matchups by driving to the hole. And if double-teamed MPJ can kick the ball out to set up a teammate for a three-pointer.

Again, all of this depends on the state of MPJ’s game: the sharpness of his skills, the stamina in his fuel tank, and how his body will respond to getting knocked around. And he’ll have to establish fast chemistry with his teammates.

That’s a lot to ask for. Too much, probably. But if Porter Jr. is more advanced than we anticipate … yeah, it’s easy to become a daydream believer.

You go back in time and think of how Porter Jr. played in a preseason scrimmage with Kansas. In 19 minutes he scored 21 points and pulled eight rebounds.

You think of the possibilities …

“The possibilities are endless,” Kassius Robertson told reporters. “I can’t exactly tell you how, but with a talent like that … the ways for him to help us are endless.”

Thanks for reading …


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