Michael Porter Jr. has returned. On Thursday, he scored 12 points on 5-of-17 shooting in a 62-60 loss to Georgia, but the bigger story is that suddenly each Missouri game in the NCAA tournament is a must-watch for NBA scouts.
They originally viewed him as a top-three or even No. 1-pick candidate early in November. But that was before back surgery.
And it was before Deandre Ayton and Marvin Bagley III were averaging about 20 points and 10 rebounds. Or Trae Young was leading the country in scoring and assists, and Luka Doncic had the highest player efficiency rating in Euroleague. Or Jaren Jackson Jr. was on track to be the only college player in 25 years to average three blocks and a three-pointer in fewer than 30 minutes per game.
Teams must now reassess how Porter stacks up with a field that's seemingly gotten stronger since opening day.
So what will it take for him to re-establish his credibility with scouts as a can't-miss top pick in the draft? Two viewpoints are being expressed.
"Porter wins just by playing again," one NBA scout told Bleacher Report.
Some feel that showing he's healthy will be enough, given his well-documented talent and achievements during high school, plus the fact he's jumping right into the postseason fire without time to adjust. Scouts have already had plenty of opportunities to study Porter prior to his arrival at Missouri, including at USA Basketball, Adidas Nations, the McDonald's All-American Game and Nike Hoop Summit.
But then there are scouts who still need convincing, particularly given the other appealing options teams can choose from in this year's top 10.
"He needs to go crazy in the tournament and prove his high school flaws are fixable," a second scout answered. "I didn't think he defended at all, for instance. And I thought he played small around the rim."
"Porter has ground to make up if he's going to be a top-three pick," added a third scout.
Porter unsurprisingly looked rusty most of the game against Georgia on Thursday. He didn't have his legs fully under him, as he air-balled a three-pointer early and got blocked at the rim on two separate drives.
It was a reminder why choosing to play was risky. Had he decided to sit out the year, the right team may still have taken him with a top-three pick based on his mix of tools, skills and high school dominance.
Two or three rough games from Porter and an early tournament exit for Missouri could allow teams to detect weaknesses that give them reasons to think twice.
But you could see why there is so much buzz surrounding the 6'10" combo forward who still made two threes against Georgia and showed the ability to get himself looks by spacing the floor, rising over his man in the mid-range and beating defenders down the court.
He missed makeable field-goal attempts on Thursday—shots around the perimeter defenders had trouble contesting and shots he appeared confident he should convert.
But in the NCAA tournament (assuming Missouri secures an at-large berth, which seems likely), Porter could have some questions to answer, from his shot selection and effectiveness inside to his ability to chase wings around on defense.
It sounds like he'll have to make an impression next week for some teams atop the draft board to consider him over Ayton, Doncic, Bagley and Jackson and maybe even Young, Mohamed Bamba and Mikal Bridges.
However, there are others who surely like what they see through the long-term lens—regardless of what he does in March—as long as he's healthy.
Where he goes in the draft will come down to its order and the eye of the pick's beholder.
One detail working for his stock: Most lottery teams have a serious need for a player like Porter, a versatile 3 or 4 who can create for himself and convert from every spot on the floor. The Memphis Grizzlies, Atlanta Hawks, Sacramento Kings, Dallas Mavericks, Orlando Magic, Chicago Bulls and New York Knicks should love to add a scoring forward to their core.
Porter's return should ultimately spark widespread conversation among front offices prepping for a top-heavy draft.