Kevin Porter Jr. has talent but for the Celtics, is he worth it?


BOSTON -- There may not be a more polarizing talent in this year’s NBA draft, than Kevin Porter Jr. 

He is a 6-foot-6 shooting guard that NBA scouts agree has top-10 talent and if that were the only basis for making a decision, Porter Jr. would be a no-brainer as a lottery (top-14) pick. 

An injury-marred freshman season at USC combined with inconsistent and underwhelming play (9.5 points, 4.0 rebounds, 1.4 assists) was bad enough. 

But when you throw in the indefinite suspension he had because of a “personal conduct issue,” you can understand why teams are taking a moment to pause an evaluate whether the potential he has talent-wise, is worth the risk. 

“If this guy was red-flagged because of just his injury (he missed seven games due to a thigh injury which he later said he returned to action too soon from it), or an injury in general, you can see a team late in the lottery or middle of the first round taking a flier on him,” an Eastern Conference scout told NBC Sports Boston. “But a high lottery pick for this guy? I hope the GM who makes that call has good job security.”

Porter Jr. was among the six players brought in by Boston for workouts on Tuesday morning. 

And the Celtics, no different than every team Porter has spoken with through workouts and at the NBA draft combine in Chicago last month, wanted to hear his version of what transpired at USC this past season. 

“We do a lot of discussions with their staff and people around the program,” said Austin Ainge, Boston’s director of player personnel, referring to the Celtics’ process as it relates to all potential draft picks. “You learn about their experience in college. You ask the managers and coaches and stuff about them. And when we bring them into our place we get a chance to sit them down and hear their version, right? Some people have told us this … you tell us what happened! 

Ainge added, “Everyone deserves to have both sides of a story, good and bad. So we can get the kid’s perspective on their season both on and off the court.”

Those conversations have taken place with folks associated with the USC men’s basketball team. 

Here’s Ainge’s takeaway from those conversations as they relate to Porter Jr. 

“He’s really talented. Still young; still has some growing up to do,” Ainge said. “But the upside is legit.”

Which is why the Celtics will have to think long and hard about selecting him if he’s still available at No. 14; and that’s beginning to look more and more like a big “If” due to other teams picking ahead of Boston becoming more intrigued with the talent that’s starting to rise to the top amid the concerns so many have had about him leading up to this draft. 

“A lot of things happened this year at USC,” Porter Jr. told reporters following his workout with the Celtics. ‘I kind of took that as a learning experience. It helped me. I’ve never been through adversity by myself. That’s my first time being away from my family.

Porter Jr. added, “It helped me prepare for bigger adversity.”

Like most NBA players, he will have some adversity to overcome sooner or later. 

But if only his lone season at USC were all that was in question, he would be doing OK. But there are also questions about his motor; specifically if he played hard enough, consistently enough. 

Dating back to high school, Porter Jr. says that has been something he has been criticized about.

“Locally I was always questioned about my motor and stuff like that,” Porter Jr. said. ‘It was … I wouldn’t say it’s too easy or anything like that. But I would … sometimes take plays off which I grew out of.”

And it is that growth that Porter Jr. is trying to sell teams on as they try and get a read on where he’ll go in the draft later this month. 

“I just want them to know that I’m a high motor guy,” Porter Jr. said. “Whatever they ask I’ll adapt to it. My motor has been questioned. But I want to come out and show them I love the game. I’m passionate about it. I work; I work every day.”

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