Talent is no promise of future success or results. While extraordinary talent is clear and obvious for any teen ranked in the top-two of the national high school recruiting standings, recent NBA Drafts prove that being so highly sought after is still only a 50 percent indicator that NBA teams will feel similarly a year later.
The latest proof of that came Thursday, when onetime uber prospect Michael Porter Jr. sat in the NBA Draft’s green room forever, until he was eventually selected No. 14 overall by the Denver Nuggets. If that seems low, it is, until one considers the fact that a top-two prospect in each of the prior four high school classes (and five of the prior six) has also fallen out of the Draft’s Top 10.
The run truly began in 2013, when Shabazz Muhammad, the No. 2 overall prospect in the Class of 2012, slipped to the very edge of the draft lottery, eventually landing with the Milwaukee Bucks. The following season saw the top two prospects picked No. 1 and 2 back-to-back (Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker), but the 2015 Draft returned to form, with the No. 2 recruit in the Class of 2014, Myles Turner, slipping to No. 11 in the first round.
The 2016 Draft had an even more pronounced free fall, with Skal Labissière (No. 2 in the Class of 2015) sliding to the edge of the first round altogether. He was eventually taken by the Suns with pick No. 28 overall, but dealt to Sacramento, where he spent one season and was then sent to the NBA G League Reno Bighorns. The 2017 drop was a tale of Harry Giles III, the exceptionally-skilled 6-foot-10 power forward who was the consensus top high school prospect but too injured to factor much for Duke and fell all the way to No. 10 — again with the Kings — as a result.
Now we have Porter Jr. who is at least as skilled as all his predecessors in this category, and may be more so. Porter Jr. was actually the top overall prospect according to Rivals.com, while ESPN and 247 Sports ranked him No. 2 overall. The USA Today Player of the Year, Porter Jr. was a can’t miss player, then he suffered a back injury so horrid it cost him his entire freshman season.
So what to make of the trend? Obviously there are any number of different factors that lead to these kind of slides. No one doubts the sheer talent of any of these players, but there were serious concerns on different fronts in each case. Analysts doubted Muhammad’s motor and defense after his freshman season at UCLA. There were questions whether Turner’s game was mature enough for the NBA, while Labissière struggled to see the court at all under coach John Calipari at Kentucky.
Obviously, the two most recent super recruits to slide have suffered from serious health concerns, with analysts worried about Harry Giles’ knees (he has had ACL surgeries on both knees) and Porter Jr.’s back — and his family and agent’s reluctance to release his medical data — undermining his undeniable talent and versatility.
Still, the trend is an ominous one for R.J. Barrett and Zion Williamson, incoming Duke teammates who are both almost surefire one-and-dones. Recent seasons dictate that one of them won’t land where they want or expect in the NBA Draft. Which one, and where they do go, is anyone’s guess.