Kevin Porter Jr. understands everyone’s criticisms. He knows he was immature for most of his freshman season with the USC Trojans, when he was suspended for about two weeks in the middle of January.
He’s also at least saying all the right things now that he’s more than four months removed from the suspension. Porter is spending the week in Chicago for the NBA Draft Combine, which means he’s had to think a lot about the off-court issues causing him to slip in the mind of some talent evaluators. He’s meeting with NBA teams, although he said most aren’t dwelling on the suspension specifically. He’s talking to reporters and most questions are about what he learned from his personal problems.
“It changed me a lot, more accountable and more responsible,” Porter said. “And I just matured all around, on and off the court.”
If teams believe Porter has changed, they could be getting one of the most talented players in the 2019 NBA draft. The wing arrived in Los Angeles as Southern California’s first five-star prospect since O.J. Mayo and started his career well, scoring at least 12 points in each of his first five games before tailing off.
With the Miami Heat in serious need of an injection of talent, Porter might be a worthwhile gamble with the No. 13 pick in June. He just wants to prove to everyone his off-the-court problems are a blip rather than a definition of who he is.
“I feel like people go through things,” Porter said. “Me being my age, I was very immature and I matured from that, and I feel like it was something I needed and I don’t regret it at all. It was definitely an experiences I needed, just a reality check of where I’m at as a person.”
Now he understands how costly it could have been. After the impressive start to his career, Porter averaged just 9.5 points, 4.0 rebounds and 1.4 assists per game in his lone season at USC. He steadily slid down draft boards to the point where there’s no guarantee he even goes in the lottery.
“Before everything that happened, I was considered a top five, so I feel like I’m still a top five,” Porter said. “After this whole experience and everything I feel like I’m going to be back to where I was supposed to be and what people expected me to be.”
The Heat isn’t exactly in position to draft for need. Miami hopes combo guard Josh Richardson, point forward Justise Winslow and post player Bam Adebayo are long-term centerpieces, but none have sniffed an All-Star Game yet and none have proven themselves to be a reliable late-game scorer because of the way Dwyane Wade handled crunch time this season.
While Porter might not have the highest ceiling at No. 13 and might not even be the best bet to be an All-Star out of the late-lottery prospects, he could fill Miami’s need as a go-to scoring option.
“I get compared to James Harden a lot, being able to create off the dribble,” Porter said. “He’s a Hall of Famer in the making, so just being compared to one of those people that’s unguardable, a player that’s doing historic things for seasons is a blessing. I’m grateful. It’s a blessing.”
Porter is one of the biggest question marks with about a month until the draft because of some of those non-basketball issues. Most everyone has him near the Heat’s range, though. Bleacher Report and Sports Illustrated both pegged him to Miami in their first post-lottery mock drafts. ESPN projects Porter to the Boston Celtics at No. 14. The Ringer has him just falling out of the lottery to the Detroit Pistons at No. 15. If he nails his interviews, he could rise into the top 10. If he bombs them, maybe he’ll get an “undraftable” label by too many teams and fall out of the first round altogether.
Porter met with at least eight teams on the first day of the Combine and most are lottery teams near the Heat’s range. On Thursday, the 6-foot-4 guard met with the Cleveland Cavaliers, Atlanta Hawks and Chicago Bulls, and said he’s scheduled to meet with Miami on Friday.
He also, however, met with the New York Knicks, who are picking third, and the Milwaukee Bucks and Brooklyn Nets, neither of whom are picking in the top 14. Nothing is out of the realm of possibility for Porter — both in the draft and for his ceiling as a player.
“Really, once they get to know me, they’ll see I’m not really a floater,” Porter said. “A lot of people say I’m like one of the most talented guys, but they have a lot of red flags on my character and I’ve just been working on that, trying to improve off the court, prove that they can trust in me.”