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Pistons’ best wing option in draft comes at a risk

Rod Beard
The Detroit News

Chicago — Picking at No. 15, the Pistons will have a conundrum of what to do with their first-round pick in next month’s draft. They have needs at wing and backup center, and if they go for the best wing available they could land on Southern California’s Kevin Porter Jr.

Kevin Porter Jr.’s one season at Southern California included a suspension.

After just one tumultuous season with the Trojans, Porter is one of the most enigmatic figures at the NBA Draft Combine. His stats don’t point to him being a top-level prospect: 9.5 points and 4 rebounds, but his shooting 41 percent on 3-pointers stands out.

That’s much of the debate on Porter — and why the Pistons will have to do their homework to figure out whether Porter is worth the gamble at their spot in the draft. Porter drew a big crowd of media Thursday, including some questions about his suspension in his only college season at USC.

“A lot of people say I’m one of the most talented guys but they have a lot of red flags on my character and I've just been working on that, trying to improve off the court and prove that they can trust in me,” Porter said. “I have a lot of room for growth left. With everything that’s happened and the experiences I’ve been through, I’ve been growing as a person.” 

In reality, the Pistons might not get the chance to select Porter. He’s regarded as one of the best wings in the draft and the questions surrounding his personality are what’s driving his draft stock downward. Even still, he could be picked in the top half of the lottery — or fall down to the Pistons’ spot.

The Pistons have a team option on the $4.3 million in the final year of Glenn Robinson III’s contract and could be leaning toward revamping their wings on the roster as a whole. They would like to have bigger, more versatile wings, with Luke Kennard, Bruce Brown and Khyri Thomas all around the 6-foot-4 to 6-6 range.

After dealing Stanley Johnson and Reggie Bullock, both of whom are 6-7, at the trade deadline, the Pistons are left with smaller options and will look to fill that void in the draft. At 6-4 without shoes, and 212 pounds, Porter has good size for a wing but fits in the same mold with the wings already on the roster. 

How teams work through the red flags and questions about his character will tell where Porter ends up. For his part, he says that he’s benefited from the experience and how it will help him work through the next difficulty.

“People go through things. Being my age, I was very immature and I matured from that,” Porter said. “I feel like it was something that I needed and I don’t regret it at all. It was definitely an experience I needed, a reality check of where I am as a person.

“I’m more accountable and responsible and I matured all around, on and off the court.”

Given his mediocre stats and the suspension, there are questions about whether Porter can put things together for a full season and maintain the grind of a long NBA season. While they’re valid questions, there also is the balance of getting things to work on the court as well as off.

As he goes through more interviews and is questioned about all the details of his college career, things will become clearer.

“What I've been working on in the pre-draft is my consistency and that’s been a key factor this offseason, in the predraft experience and the workouts,” he said. “So, I feel like I'm good shooting the 3. I’ve always been able to shoot; I’ve just been getting my reps in, trying to make it more consistent.”

Porter said he hasn’t met with the Pistons yet at the combine, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that he won’t have an interview at some point or even have an individual workout after the combine.

Teams routinely request a limited number of interviews during the combine period and then expand that list with more workouts. They did meet with North Carolina’s Nassir Little and Stanford’s K.Z. Okpala.


Twitter: @detnewsRodBeard