Michael Porter Jr. drops to Nuggets at No. 14 amid concerns about back

Michael Porter Jr.'s name had been linked to the No. 1 pick in the 2018 NBA draft for much of the past 12 months.

As it turned out, Porter's name ended up being the biggest slider in Round 1.

Amid injury concerns about his back, the 6-foot-10 forward out of Missouri fell to the No. 14 pick in Thursday night's NBA draft, where the Denver Nuggets selected him with the final pick of the lottery.

"All I can say is it's a blessing," Porter told ESPN after the selection. "I'm not entitled to this, everything's a blessing. And I'm so excited, you know, my path was different, a little different than everybody else's, but I'm gonna make sure that this pick is this organization's best pick they've ever made."

Nuggets assistant general manager Calvin Booth said the team was surprised Porter was available at 14.

"Coming into this process, we would've never thought that Michael would have been there at that point in the draft," Booth said in a statement, according to the Denver Post. "To come up with him is just unbelievable. ... Here is a guy who had a chance to be a No. 1 pick before his injury."

Porter thinks he shook hands with someone from the Nuggets after his pro day workout. He said the first time he spoke to someone from the organization was when he was drafted, either the general manager or the owner -- he's not sure who it was.

"I'm not going to lie to you, I was stressed out," Porter said. "All that stress was overcome by joy the moment I got called, no matter what number it was. It's been my dream since I was a kid."

Porter suffered a back injury two minutes into his first game for the Tigers and did not return until the SEC tournament. Before his injury, which required surgery, Porter was the second overall prospect, according to ESPN's Jonathan Givony.

"I'm a player that can do it all. I think when I'm on the floor you always have a chance to win," Porter said. "I never disappear on the floor. And you know I'm a winner, I'm gonna help this team win."

Porter could have been the first pick in last year's draft had the one-and-done rule not been in place. Going strictly by the rookie wage scale, the top pick in the 2017 draft would have made $31.2 million over the course of a four-year deal, including the team option. The 14th pick in the 2018 draft is slated to make $12.5 million over that span.

In three games at Missouri, including his two-minute debut, Porter averaged 10.0 points and 6.7 rebounds. His final two games came in an SEC tournament loss to Georgia (12 points, eight rebounds) and an NCAA tournament loss to Florida State (16 points, 10 rebounds).

In addition to the back injury, Porter dealt with a hip strain and back spasms leading up to the draft. However, last week, teams were invited to a medical examination of Porter.

"It was just a little sore, so I told [my agent] my hip was kind of sore and he just wanted to shut it down for a couple of days," Porter said earlier this week. "And then people took that and kind of ran with it, saying, you know, my hip was injured, I couldn't get out of bed. ... None of that was really true. I was just sore and I wanted to take a couple of days off. So that's all that was."

The Nuggets sent two scouts to Porter's workout last week, according to Booth, who said the forward "looked healthy."

On Wednesday he said he felt "close to 100 [percent]" and added that he thinks "most teams are pretty comfortable with the medical information."

Everything Porter knew about the Nuggets was hearsay -- "a great city, a great organization." He didn't invest much of his time prior to the draft getting to know the team.

"Honestly, the teams at the very, very top of the draft told me last week I was their guy, they were going to take me," Porter said. "Then the hip episode happened, and then doctors got involved and they got scared. So once one team gets scared, a lot of them get scared."

Asked if he expected to play next season, he said: "That's my expectation. I'm feeling good. This just gave me an extra pep in my step, so I'm feeling good."

Porter joins a young Nuggets team with a strong nucleus that has missed the playoffs for five straight seasons.

Denver's offense starts with playmaking center Nikola Jokic, who has 16 career triple-doubles, 10 of which came last season for the 46-36 Nuggets. Denver finished a game out of the postseason each of the past two seasons.

In addition to the 23-year-old Jokic, Denver's young core consists of point guard Jamal Murray, 21, and shooting guard Gary Harris, 23, which gives the franchise a foundation on which to build.

That foundation now includes Porter, who turns 20 on June 29. He could immediately fill a need at small forward if veteran Wilson Chandler opts out of his contract and Will Barton, an unrestricted free agent, doesn't re-sign with Denver.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.