Bulls

With help from a silent partner, maybe the Bulls can nab Michael Porter Jr.

If there’s any way for the Bulls to take Michael Porter Jr. aside and tell him to ease up on the bravado, that would be a good thing.

Porter announced Thursday he’s the best player in the NBA draft, which was probably news to several college basketball stars and several teams picking ahead of the Bulls.

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Hey, kid: Shhhhhhhhhh.

Missouri's Michael Porter Jr. speaks with reporters during the NBA draft combine Thursday in Chicago. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

The Bulls’ best chance at getting a potentially great player might rest with a guy whose stock has dropped because of health issues. Porter was a college player of the year candidate at Missouri before he had back surgery that kept him out for most of his freshman season.

The Bulls don’t need Porter reminding everyone how good he is. They need him to make himself invisible. You think I’m being paranoid? You think it’s impossible for Porter to be a secret? Or you think it’s unlikely he’ll shoot to the top of the draft?

Strange things happen. We see it all the time in the NFL. A quarterback who wasn’t considered worthy of being the No. 1 overall pick suddenly starts moving up in mock drafts and, before you know it, he’s the first player hugging commissioner Roger Goodell. We saw it with Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield, whom the Browns took first overall last month. Sometimes all it takes is one whisper by the right team for a number of other teams to start galloping in the direction of a player who had “mid-first-round pick” written all over him.

The Bulls didn’t tank well enough, which is why they have the seventh pick in the draft. It’s a little like being a seventh seed in the playoffs. It’s true that players selected seventh overall in the past have succeeded. It’s also true that players selected first overall have failed.

But would you rather have the first pick or the seventh? That’s what I thought. Unfortunately, this past season, Nikola Mirotic gave the Bulls a boost they shouldn’t have wanted any part of, and here they are, choosing seventh.

That’s where Porter comes in. He’s a 6-10, 215-pound forward who has all the skills to succeed in the NBA. He had a microdiscectomy procedure in November, a spinal surgery he described as “very minimally invasive.” It’s used to relieve pain caused by a herniated disk. He said he first injured his back as a sophomore in high school.

All of that might scare off the teams picking ahead of the Bulls. But if he keeps talking about how great he is, some of those teams might remember how much they coveted him a few years ago. He was USA Today’s national player of the year out of Nathan Hale High School in Seattle. If he’s as great as his billing was when he entered college, he’d be the steal of the draft at No. 7.

The concern — the fear — is that Porter will be gone by then and that the Bulls will find themselves staring at Oklahoma’s Trae Young. I see an undersized, shoot-first point guard who wouldn’t do much to help a team that already has a solid point guard in Kris Dunn.

There’s debate about this. Rick Telander, my partner on “The Two Ricks: Unfiltered” podcast, said on the most recent episode that people said the same sort of unflattering things about superstar Stephen Curry when he was coming out of college. It’s true. And people said a lot of things about Michigan quarterback Tom Brady that they later regretted. But it doesn’t follow that there have been other Tom Bradys.

I’m hoping there’s only one Michael Porter Jr. and that he’ll still be around when the Bulls pick. I’m hoping he doesn’t jump ahead of Arizona’s Deandre Ayton, Duke’s Marvin Bagley III or Real Madrid’s Luka Doncic.

“I played against all these guys,” Porter said Thursday at the NBA combine in Chicago. “They’re all great players, but I’m the best player in this draft.”

It was a shrewd move. He was reminding teams how good he is. He was telling them they might not want to fall too quickly in love with Ayton, Bagley and Doncic. Don’t forget me, he was saying. For good measure, he also said his medical records are an open book.

Porter planned to meet with 13 teams while at the combine, but not the Bulls. I wouldn’t read too much into that, other than the Bulls might be trying to play their interest in him close to the vest. While they’re at it, they might want to subtly raise an organizational eyebrow at his back issues. Scaring off other teams is one of the first class lectures in Draft 101.

Porter missed a season of basketball. He might need more time to develop than some of the other lottery picks. I know a young, rebuilding team that would give him room to grow.

Sounds like a plan.

Mum’s the word, Michael.

Sun-Times sports columnists Rick Morrissey and Rick Telander are co-hosts of a new podcast called “The Two Ricks: Unfiltered.” Don’t miss their candid, amusing takes on everything from professional teams tanking to overzealous sports parents and more. Download and subscribe for free on Apple Podcasts and Google Play, or via RSS feed.