The Trail Blazers’ 50-year anniversary season is temporarily on pause as the NBA goes on hiatus to slow the spread of COVID-19. During that break, Blazer’s Edge is counting down the top 100 Blazers: players, executives, and other influencers who made the franchise what it is today.
No. 6 | Terry Porter
Games Played with Blazers: Regular Season 758, Postseason 84
*PTS: 14.9 | AST: 5.6 | FG%: 47.0% | 3PT%: 38.5%
*Statistics are pulled from a player’s time in Portland
Joined Club: June 1985, selected 24th overall in the 1985 NBA Draft
Departed Club: September 1995, departed via free agency
Place in History:
The Portland Trail Blazers were looking pretty good in the Summer of 1985. Clyde Drexler came into his own that year, scoring 17.2 per game. He joined long-time star Jim Paxson, who averaged 17.9 himself. Kiki Vandeweghe led the team in scoring with 22.4 while Darnell Valentine and Steve Colter dueled for the starting point guard position. Every one of those players could make an argument for a bigger role than he had. The small positions were STACKED.
Rookie Sam Bowie had acquitted himself well enough and veteran Mychal Thompson was still providing everything the team could want, but Portland seemed comparatively thin at the big-man spots. They weren’t going to get Georgetown phenom Patrick Ewing picking at the end of the first round, obviously, but if they could just find the right center or power forward, they’d be stacked. Maybe that super-tall Manute Bol guy would do. Or Hot Rod Williams? How about Brad Wright from UCLA or Terry Catledge from South Alabama?
You could practically see the question marks emanating from the collective skulls of Blazers Nation when the news came across the wire. With the 24th pick of the 1985 NBA Draft, the Portland Trail Blazers selected...Terry Porter from the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point.
Terry who??? From where???
OK, wait...how tall is he? 6’3? That’s awfully small for a power forward. He’s a GUARD?!? What the sam jiminy jibberjabber are the Blazers doing taking another guard? Are they just going to carry nine of them now? And where the flibbity-florp is “Wisconsin-Stevens Point”??? Is that a community college or a state park?
(sigh) I guess they’re just satisfied with being mediocre. I’m not sure they know what they’re doing anymore.
Spoiler Alert: They knew what they were doing. The Blazers were about to soar way beyond mediocre, and point guard Terry Porter from Wisconsin-Stevens Point was a huge catalyst for their success.
Porter played in the frontcourt in high school. Receiving little notice, he ended up at a Division III college, where he switched to shooting guard. He made NAIA First-Team All-American at UW-Stevens Point, named NAIA Player of the Year and National Tournament MVP in 1984. He was invited to try out for the 1984 Olympics squad, but was cut in the face of stiff competition (including North Carolina’s Michael Jordan). He returned to Wisconsin for his senior year, this time playing point guard. Then the Blazers scooped him up in the draft.
Porter didn’t get a ton of time as a rookie: 15 minutes per night over 73 games. Even that was impressive for a point guard battling veterans for the position. He showed enough during that season to make the Blazers dump Valentine and Colter right after. In 1986, the team placed the steering wheel of their high-octane offense firmly in the hands of the second-year guard.
They felt confident doing so because the tools Porter brought to the job were obvious and dependable. He was built like a brick, with weight, muscle, and strong legs that looked as powerful in the fourth quarter as in the first. He wasn’t quick as much as he was irrepressible. You could probably guess where he was going to go, but what were you going to do about it?
When defenders bodied up, Porter used his mass to bump them off, creating momentum that nobody south of a power forward was stopping. If a big defender swung over to help, he could pull up for the jumper before he got there. Alternately, he’d pass to his now-open teammate with equal ease. When defenders sagged back to stop all this, Porter could hit jumpers with the best of them, mid-range or long.
Porter also excelled at defense. It took him a minute to clock NBA guards. They were slightly different than their NAIA counterparts. But once he understood the cerebral part of the game, Porter’s body was ready to take him anywhere he needed to go. He wasn’t a flashy defender. He wasn’t among the NBA elite the way Stacey Augmon or Greg Anthony would later become. His defense was like every other part of his game: good and consistent. This characteristic above all earned him minutes and the starting nod far earlier than might have been expected.
Porter’s sophomore season saw him scoring 13 per night with 9 assists on 48.8% shooting. This was just a prelude to his third year, where he really came into his own. He started all 82 games that season, averaging 36.5 minutes, 15 points, and a franchise-record 10 assists. He achieved this while playing beside Drexler, who poured out a career-high 27 points per game.
Playing alongside Clyde was the final hurdle. By that point, everybody knew that the two guards were good individually. ‘87-’88 proved that they could be great together.
The impression was underlined big time on March 18th, 1988 when Porter pasted 40 points on the Golden State Warriors as Drexler added 30. Sparks were turning into flames. Portland’s backcourt was beginning their venture beyond mere stardom into the realm of all-time greatness. And the best was yet to come.
As Porter grew into his prime, two more characteristics came to the fore.
He had ice in his veins during crunch time. He was not afraid to take the final shot, even in the face of long odds and talented teammates. This was doubly true at the foul line. He barely missed anyway. (His career average on free throws in Portland was 84.6%.) “Barely” changed to “never” when the clock got short and the game was on the line. Watching him drive, absorb contact, then get a shot up was a thing of beauty. It didn’t matter if the attempts went in or not. Two points were already in the bank the second the whistle blew.
Porter became an ice dispenser in the playoffs. Year after year, he performed better in the postseason than he had in the regular season. 17 points per game in the 1987 and 1988 playoffs raised eyebrows. 22 points in 1989, followed by 21 during Portland’s long run in 1990, burned them right off.
When, in his fourth year, Porter began taking the three-pointer seriously it seemed unfair. That shot made him all but unstoppable. In the 1990 NBA Playoffs he attempted 4.9 triples per game, hitting at a 39.2% average. That’s not quite CJ McCollum-level frequency, but it’s close. The percentage would make even Damian Lillard proud. This was 25 years before modern guards would come on the scene, though. Porter was everything his team needed at the moment, plus everything they could imagine needing in perpetuity.
Had he grown with a team centered around him, Porter might have been considered an even bigger deal than he was. People often talk about Drexler pulling back his scoring for the good of the team when Portland set their sights on a title. That absolutely happened. Less trumpeted, but just as true, is that Drexler’s teammates altered their game for him. Chief among those was Porter.
As a college star and a point guard pro, Porter was accustomed to having the ball in his hands all the time. Playing alongside one of the best guards in the league, that wasn’t going to happen. Instead Porter developed a give-and-take style, moving as comfortably off the ball as with it. He could drive and dish to Clyde or he could hang at the arc in order to receive from him. At no point was it either-or...not even in crucial possessions.
Drexler definitely scored more. He was the better overall player. Even so, when the Blazers needed a last-second shot, whether in the regular or postseason, Porter was often the one to take it. Famously, he attempted the last shot of Game 6 of the 1991 Western Conference Finals. Portland was down 2-3 to the Lakers in the series, behind 90-91 on the scoreboard, bare seconds left, do or die. It was one of the few times the ball didn’t fly true for TP. His attempt bounced off the rim and into the hands of Magic Johnson, who hurled it in the air to seal the victory and the series. It was one of the most agonizing moments in the history of the franchise, but that shouldn’t obscure the fact that Porter was the person taking it. Everybody trusted Terry.
Though Porter was twice named to the All-Star team (1991 and 1993), his greatest glory came as part of the iconic teams that went to the 1990 and 1992 NBA Finals. He found the magic formula of being able to produce his own stats (18 points, 8 assists, 2 steals, 48% shooting, 40% from the arc from 1989-1992) without inhibiting his teammates a bit. His playoffs averages during those years seemed like a dream: 20 points, 7 assists, 49% shooting from the field, 41% from the arc over 58 total games. The dude from tiny Wisconsin-Stevens Point achieved that playing against the best teams in the league.
Despite playing second-fiddle on the marquee, Porter willed his team to victory on several occasions. In Game 5 of a tied series against the San Antonio Spurs in the 1990 Playoffs, he scored 38 points on 13-19 shooting. He’d score 36 in Game 7, powering the Blazers through the most perilous stretch of their Finals run that season. In 1992 he’d help his team win Game 2 of the conference semi-finals against the Utah Jazz, scoring 41 on 12-14 shooting.
Let’s stop and think about that for a minute. The 2015-2019 Blazers have shown what playoffs-caliber opponents can do when they have a couple weeks to prepare for your team without any other agenda interfering. Regular season success melts away in the face of eager defenders shutting down your pet plays. The Jazz didn’t just have two weeks to prepare for Portland in 1992. They had three years of warning that the Blazers were the team to beat and that Porter was a major key to doing so. This was the John Stockton-Karl Malone-Jerry Sloan version too...hardly slackers. Porter still came in and put 41 on them. He averaged 26 points and 8 assists for the series, which Portland won handily. That...is something.
The Blazers declined steeply after their Finals loss to Michael Jordan and the Bulls in 1992. Drexler and Porter were aging and fighting against injuries. Porter scored 18 per game in 1992-93, his last fully productive year. He played 77 games in 1993-94 but his minutes dropped to 27. He split time between the 1 and 2 positions as Rod Strickland assumed the starting point guard role. Though he remained strong from the arc, Porter’s overall shooting percentage dropped precipitously. Neither he nor the team were the same.
Porter would appear just 35 times in 1994-95, the season Drexler was traded to the Houston Rockets. At the end of the year, the Blazers let him go.
Porter spent seven more years in the NBA after that. His body may have worn down a bit, but his coach-level brain and veteran experience made him valuable still. He played 82 games for the Minnesota Timberwolves three straight years after he left Portland. Then he made a 50-game stop in Miami. He finished his career in San Antonio, playing three seasons between 1999 and 2002.
After he retired, Porter joined former coach Rick Adelman in Sacramento as his assistant. Then he became the head coach of the Milwaukee Bucks for the ‘03-’04 and ‘04-05 seasons. That appointment came at age 40, a single year removed from playing. People still trusted Terry. After Milwaukee, he took other assistant coaching jobs, most notably with Adelman again in Minnesota. In between, he filled the lead position for the Phoenix Suns in 2008-09. He left the NBA in 2014 at age 50. He has served as the Head Coach of the University of Portland Pilots since 2016.
In the end, the guy that nobody knew spent 10 seasons playing for the Blazers, 17 total in the NBA. He ranks first on Portland’s All-Time assist list with 5319. Drexler is second with 4933. They were contemporaries. You can only imagine how many potential Porter assists Clyde ate instead. Porter also ranks 2nd in steals, 4th in points scored, and 2nd in minutes played in franchise history.
Of all the Portland players who did not lead their era, Porter stands alongside Maurice Lucas as the best of the best. He is, in every way, a franchise legend. He is one of the most complete point guards the Blazers have ever fielded, gift-wrapped in a unique package that’s almost impossible to duplicate. His extended tour, his winning percentage, his marksmanship, and his incredible playoffs performances all make him more than worthy of the 6th spot on our Top 100 List of Trail Blazers players and influencers.
Share your memories of TP below, and stick with us through the coming week as we finally mount the summit to #1!