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The Phoenix Suns won the lottery and have the first pick in the NBA draft for the first time in franchise history.
USA TODAY Sports

CHICAGO — There might not be more intrigue or mystery surrounding an elite NBA prospect than Missouri’s Michael Porter Jr., the stretch forward who missed the majority of his freshman season due to back surgery.

Porter, one of several dozen NBA prospects taking part in the NBA combine in Chicago, was frank about where he sees himself among the class hierarchy.

“I mean I played against all these guys,” said Porter Jr. “They’re all great players but I’m the best player in this draft.”

Porter Jr., 6-10, 215 pounds, is comparing himself to Arizona’s Deandre Ayton, Real Madrid’s Luka Doncic and Duke’s Marvin Bagley because that’s who he was ostensibly battling to be the No. 1 pick. 

Porter is holding off from on-court workouts this week, but he maintains his health, after returning for two postseason games with Missouri, isn’t a concern. Over a hectic three-day schedule, Porter has met with or plans to meet with New York, Dallas, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Cleveland, Atlanta, Memphis, Houston, Los Angeles Clippers, Sacramento, Charlotte, Oklahoma City and Boston.

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The unavoidable topic? His back, which he says was originally injured when he was undercut going up for a dunk as a sophomore in high school. The pain lingered, and Porter Jr. said he was overcompensating. Then, after playing just two minutes of his college debut, Porter Jr. had a microdiscectomy on in his spine in November.

 “It was a very minimally invasive surgery,” Porter Jr. said. “They just had to take a piece of the disk, like 10% off that nerve, and they said, I got another MRI, they said the site is healed fully. … I feel pain-free, and I feel better than I’ve felt for a long time.

The heralded high school recruit came back for one SEC tournament game and one NCAA tournament game before his college career was over. 

“I knew I wasn’t going to put on a show, or be the Mike that they saw in a few months,” he said in front of a horde of assembled media on the West side of Chicago. “The way I was thinking about it was just, they’ll know the player I am in a few months.”

Projecting as a small forward in the NBA, Porter Jr. is a physical bruiser who bullies his way to the rim and will have ideal size as a stretch forward capable of shooting from the outside. Porter Jr. said his doctors have reassured him there’s no risk for re-injury and he’d have no problem sharing his medical records with teams, though that’s up to his agent. 

Porter Jr. knows his injury undercut the best parts of his college career, and he knows teams have legitimate questions about his long-term health. It likely cost him a chance at being the top overall pick, something he says is secondary to team fit. But the former No. 1 recruit is adamant that his best basketball is ahead of him.

“I was hoping to turn college basketball upside down just like a lot of these players, Trae (Young), Deandre (Ayton), Marvin (Bagley). But this is just a step in my process of becoming the best player I can be.”

Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Michael Singer on Twitter @msinger.

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