Until Michael Porter Jr. plays a full game for Missouri, his injury will be the most important story surrounding this Tigers basketball team. But on Monday against Wagner, the Porter who was on the court, Michael’s younger brother Jontay, showed the versatility that makes him a devastating option for MU to bring off the bench.
The 6-foot-11, 17-year-old forward scored 11 points on 5-of-8 shooting, grabbed a team-high eight rebounds and recorded four assists. He did this just 21 minutes, some of which he likely took in place of his older brother.
“I was thinking about that today … how long it will take him to catch up to me,” the younger Porter said when asked about when his older brother will post up better statistics than him. “I’m sure it’ll happen eventually with as good a player as he is. It might be the next game. He’ll have 50 points and surpass me in one game. But yeah, I’m looking forward to playing with him.”
Jontay Porter looked fine on his own, though. He played 13 minutes in the first half and recorded all of his four assists then, so he led the Tigers in that category at halftime.
Teammates have lauded the freshman’s passing ability — which, along with Porter’s rebounding, allows him to affect the game even when he isn’t shooting well. Forward Jordan Barnett said Porter’s passing is at its best when he’s moving the ball while posting up from the low block, and that’s where Porter’s most impressive pass came from on Monday.
With his back to the basket, Porter bounced a pass to Terrence Phillips, who was cutting down the lane and caught the ball in stride for a layup.
“All of them,” Porter said when asked which assist was his favorite. “I got an assist on all of them.”
A few other plays by Porter during Mizzou’s blowout of Wagner stand out.
Around 10 minutes into the game, he grabbed a defensive rebound, then he ran the floor and grabbed an offensive rebound. During the next MU possession, Kassius Robertson missed a transition three-point attempt, and Porter got his second and final offensive rebound of the game. He passed it back to Robertson, who drained a three when he received a second chance.
In the second half, Porter stripped the ball from a Wagner player, and the Missouri freshman went the length of the court before scoring on a floater layup.
This is not a play many 6-foot-11 men can make, which is why Porter can tantalize crowds almost in the same way his older brother does. Fans inside Mizzou Arena seemed to all gasp at once when it appeared Porter was going to take a three-pointer from near the top of the key, when the defense wasn’t covering him. Instead, though, he passed it into the post to Kevin Puryear, who turned around and scored.
“I think the biggest key with Jontay … is being shot-ready, ready to shoot the ball,” coach Cuonzo Martin said. “Because he’s such a willing passer, I think sometimes he’s not ready to shoot. Even when he gets the ball in the post, you see he’s kind of polling the defense to make plays. We need him to be an aggressive scorer.”
Porter spends most of warmups shooting three pointers. Against Wagner, he made 1 of 3 three-point attempts to bring his total number of makes to just 3 for 11 in the three Missouri games he’s played with publicly available statistics, the two regular-season games and the exhibition against Kansas. He shot three-pointers at a better rate during this past summer’s AAU season, when he made 43 percent of his 88 attempts.
Martin wants him to stretch the floor, even if that pulls the freshman, who is a great rebounder, away from the rim.
“He’s outside shooting them all night long,” Martin said. “He understands when we need him. He … plays where we have him outside because teams aren’t used to defending things like that. So he has a shot like that, let it fly.”
▪ Martin had said if Robertson was going to be successful playing point guard — a position he’d never played in his life prior to this season — the graduate transfer would need to continue to be an aggressive scorer. Robertson did that on Monday, when he led the Tigers with a team-high 23 points. He was 5 of 8 from three after going 3 of 12 from the field in Mizzou’s season opener against Iowa State.
Martin said after the Wagner game that his staff must reconfigure its offense to get Robertson open looks. Missouri coaches had designed sets thinking Robertson would play shooting guard for the Tigers. He became the surprise winner of Missouri’s starting point guard competition.
“I think the biggest key for us is putting him in position to score,” Martin said. “If the shot is there, he’ll take it. What you don’t want to do — you don’t want him hunting shots. … If he goes five, six possessions without getting a shot, the next one’s going up. Whether it’s a good or a bad shot, it’s going up. Our job is to make sure he’s getting shots regularly.”
▪ Missouri has recorded 33 turnovers in its first two games. Martin said his team needs to “settle down” as it prepares for its first road game on Thursday, at Utah.
“We talk about making the right play,” Martin said. “You don’t have to hit a home run. You don’t have to be fancy with it. Just make the right play.”
▪ On Monday, Martin spoke publicly for the first time about Mizzou’s three recent signees: Jevon Pickett, Torrance Watson and K.J. Santos. Pickett and Watson are 6-foot-5, and Santos is 6-foot-8. Martin said all three look to score, and he believes all of them have the length to guard multiple positions.
“More than anything, I think you can help a guy to become a great defender,” Martin said. “But I think the thing is they all have a mentality to score the ball. I think that was the thing we looked for most.”