What Jontay Porter does well and how he fits with Grizz

The Memphis Grizzlies signed 20-year-old Jontay Porter (6-10, 210 lbs.) for the remainder of the season with a team option for next season, according to The Athletic.

Porter, the younger brother of Denver Nuggets forward Michael Porter Jr., is recovering from two ACL injuries–one suffered in October 2018 and the second in March of 2019 while rehabbing. The injury caused Porter–projected by some to be a lottery pick–to go undrafted last June. He finished 12 on my final board, sandwiched between De’Andre Hunter and Cam Reddish.

The plan for Porter, according to The Athletic, is for him to sit out the remainder of the season, continue to rehab and get ready for the 2020-21 season.

Porter, who gives the Grizzlies another shot at a young piece to pair with their burgeoning core, was highly rated among analytical draft pundits, despite the injury. The Grizzlies’ plan is becoming incontrovertible–collect as many young, low-cost, high-yield-potential assets as they can. That’s how you rebuild, and do it quickly. As for what they will do with all the young players they’ve acquired–let them grow together, which seems difficult on several levels*, or package multiple assets for the next disgruntled star**–only time will tell.

(*It’s difficult for multiple reasons, such as there are only 240 minutes available per game, at some point these guys want to get paid and there’s a salary cap/tax threshold, etc. Some can and will grow together but the idea that all–or even most–of the 11 Grizzlies 24 years old and younger will be on the team even two or three years from now seems far fetched.)

(**Wow, the Grizzlies have the young players (and draft capital!) to pull off a 3-for-1 or 4-for-1 type deal that nets the a star-level player is wild. This was basically unfathomable 365 days ago.)

Let’s take a look at what Porter brings to the table and how he might fit with the Grizzlies as early as next season.

3-point Shooting:

Porter made 40/110 from three (36.4 percent) during the 2017-18 season at Missouri–the only season he played college basketball.

Porter’s release is good, not perfect, but good. The best aspects are it’s fluid, it’s consistent and it goes in often enough. His gather is fairly quick for a guy his size. He does a nice job of getting his feet under him, though his toes are usually pointed right. He leans back slightly as he shoots instead of standing upright. He does a good job keeping his elbow in and staying fluid through his release.

Here’s a different angle of Porter’s shot:

Porter’s ability to knock down threes within the flow of the offense, especially in pick-and-pop situations, will fit well into the Grizzlies heavy ball-screen offense. Many Grizz possessions start with the bigs in the high post and the man bringing the ball up the court throwing to one of them. The big can then either pass over to the wing on his side and initiate a ball screen or take a dribble toward the wing and hand the ball off (examples from a game against this Bucks this season below where Porter could play the Jaren Jackson Jr. or Jonas Valanciunas role). Porter can pop whether passing to the wing and setting the screen or handing the ball off. Plus, he’s an excellent passer and decision maker who should be comfortable with the ball in the high post.

Passer/Decision Maker/Basketball IQ:

One reason I’m bullish on Porter fitting into Taylor Jenkins’ offense was briefly explained above. Jenkins asks his bigs to operate out of the high post frequently, which benefits two of Porter’s strengths–shooting and passing.

The Grizzlies have put together a group of high basketball IQ players who know where to be and how to find the open man. It’s one thing to know where the open man is, and it’s another to be able to actually recognize him and deliver the pass before the defense can recover. Porter did that as well as any big in the 2019 Draft. Once he understands the nuances of Jenkins’ offense, Porter shouldn’t have much trouble fitting in and making an impact within the flow of the offense.

Defense:

One of the main knocks on Porter is his lack of athleticism. He’s not particularly fast or quick, and he does not offer much of a vertical jump. However, he’s not a liability on defense like others with athletic limitations. Porter moves his feet well and consistently does a good job of making himself big, especially on pick-and-roll switches.

I would be surprised if Porter is ever an impact defender, but he does enough to not be a liability. The fact that Porter will often be flanked by either Brandon Clarke or Jaren Jackson Jr. helps tremendously. It means Porter can guard the least mobile opposing big when he’s on the court. Generally, Porter seems to have a good understanding of team defense and when it’s appropriate to help off his man for a weak-side block attempt. It’s not too often you see him caught out of position, though defending in the NBA requires much more awareness of offensive spacing than the SEC does, so an adjustment period should be expected like it is with almost all rookies.

When evaluating prospects, I always ask myself, “if all else fails and none of his potential skills pan out, what can he fall back on to make himself stick in the league?” For Porter I think it’s two things: his shooting and his overall understanding of the game. Simply put, I believe in not only his shooting production but his mechanics. His shot is legit, and I’d be shocked if it doesn’t become a weapon defenders have to respect in the NBA. As for the latter skill, Porter just understands basketball. He always makes the right play, whether it’s a pass, shot, screen, help defense or just being in the right spot because of his understanding of offensive spacing. Couple that with his high skill level and it’s easy to envision Porter making an impact in the NBA, as long as his body doesn’t fail him.

And on top of that he’s a really nice long term fit with both Brandon Clarke and Jaren Jackson Jr. The Grizzlies frontcourt is crowded next season with Jackson, Clarke, Jonas Valanciunas and Gorgui Dieng all under contract next season, plus Kyle Anderson and Justise Winslow are candidates to get minutes at the four. There’s not a direct path to get Porter minutes, but Jenkins and his staff have proven if you put in the work then they’re willing to give you can opportunity (see: John Konchar, De’Anthony Melton and even Josh Jackson to a degree). The culture and makeup of the team seems to fit Porter. He’s 20–the same age as Ja Morant and Jackson–and the majority of the locker room can’t rent a car without the added under 25 fee.

Zach Kleiman and the Grizzlies front office have done a great job since taking over. They’ve maximized every asset they were given, and Jontay Porter has a chance to add to the growing list of wins for Kleiman in his early tenure.

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