Missouri’s plan for its first NCAA Tournament game in five years will involve fewer plays like one that occurred a few minutes into Michael Porter Jr.’s return.
With about 13 minutes remaining in the first half of MU’s eventual SEC Tournament loss to Georgia, Porter brought the basketball up court, lost his dribble and asked for the ball back from Kevin Puryear, who picked it up off the floor. Puryear pointed across the court, seemingly to tell Porter to swing the ball around the perimeter.
Instead, Porter, a volume scorer, drove past his man and to the hoop, where he went up for a layup that Georgia blocked.
“The last thing to come back with this type of injury is your explosiveness, your pop,” said Porter, who underwent back surgery in November. “ A couple of times, I got to the rim, and I wanted to go elevate, go dunk the ball — but that’s just not all the way there yet.
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“I have to be patient and do what I can do to help without over-exerting myself.”
When Missouri faces Florida State on Friday, the Tigers will want fewer forced drives to the hoop from the 6-foot-10 forward who is used to rising over opponents. They will also want fewer isolation possessions that involve lots of dribbling before Porter takes a contested jump shot.
Porter scored 13 points on 17 shots against Georgia, and coach Cuonzo Martin said he was fine with the freshman attempting the third-most field goals of any MU player in a single game this season.
The types of shots Porter takes must change, though.
Martin said after the Georgia game that he hoped Porter could be a catch-and-shoot player for Mizzou, but foul trouble led to him playing more than expected and taking on a heavier burden. The coach suspected Porter’s legs might not be back at full strength after so much time away from live game action.
According to ESPN shot-tracking data, Porter was 2-of-6 from three-point range and 3-of-7 from inside the paint against Georgia. He was 0-for-4 from mid-range, with all of those shots coming in the first half.
“We knew as a staff, coming back, it wouldn't flow as well unless you got him spotting up in the corner,” Martin said.
The former No. 1 recruit in the country — who admits to being “65-70” percent of the player he was before surgery — must try to play within himself and capitalize on the physical advantages that he does still hold.
He is not going to explode past and above defenders on drives, but his height and shooting ability make him a pick-and-pop threat who can make three-pointers. Against Georgia, the Tigers tried to free Porter for perimeter shots by having him set screens.
Porter’s size and touch also make him capable of being effective posting up near the basket. If he plays near the rim, he won’t have to exert as much energy — which is key for a player who sat out for months.
“Our job is to put him in position,” Martin said. “It’s his job to take advantage of situations, not so much making a lot of dribble moves.”
Often, when Porter was on the floor, the Tigers’ offense looked stagnant. Players stood and watched him. They lacked “synergy,” guard Kassius Robertson said.
Martin didn’t fault the freshman’s playing style or volume of shots for that. He said the Tigers just weren’t used to some of the lineups that foul trouble forced MU into.
Still, he acknowledged there was a Porter’s-first-game-back element to the offensive struggles: “They'll be fine because they've had a chance to play with him,” Martin said. “I'm glad he actually got it out of the way and we can move forward.”
The absence of Barnett — who has played every game this season — will provide a new layer of unfamiliarity. Without the 41.4 percent three-point shooter on the court, the Tigers’ pick-and-pop plays could be easier to guard, as another defender could potentially leave his man to help.
“The biggest takeaway (from the Georgia game) for us is getting in a flow,” Robertson said. “... Just playing the same game we’ve played all season.”
While also adding a scorer who has been absent almost all season.