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Rockets 2021-2022 player previews: Kevin Porter Jr.

Last season he became a fan favorite. What will he do this year?

NBA: Preseason-Miami Heat at Houston Rockets Erik Williams-USA TODAY Sports

There wasn’t a bigger splash by a Houston Rocket last year than the one left by Kevin Porter Jr. when he cannonballed onto the scene and became their sunshine through many, many cloudy days.

As bizarre as it may sound, Porter Jr. only spent 26 games in a Houston jersey, where he averaged 16.6 points per game along with 6.3 assists and 3.8 rebounds. The reason it sounds strange is that although he’s been around since January 21st, 2021, his debut didn’t come until March 11 due to him spending time in the G-League bubble with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers where he became a sensation amongst Red Nation.

Since joining the organization, the future of the franchise has been the most reoccurring declaration by those that mention his name; the second-coming of James Harden has been what followed.

Initially, people may roll their eyes with the suspicion that Houston fans are clinging to the past by comparing the 21-year old to one of the greatest scorers to walk the planet. But then they see the step-back jumpers, the knack for drawing fouls, the excitement and flair, the floor awareness, and creative passing which makes them start to look just a little deeper into those claims.

Of course, hoping that Porter can become Harden is an incredibly lofty dream and maybe he can accomplish it with time, but right now, Houston needs someone to be that guy for them and the first step towards making those comparisons becoming a reality is by filling the star-studded shoes that the Beard left behind — and it all starts with consistency.

Whether we’re a coach, a friend, a significant other, or anyone with meaning in life, we all just want consistency. But in the NBA, that can take a while to form; last season, Porter Jr. had nights where he shot 10-15 and then ones where he shot 4-13, which is a common trend amongst young scorers. Because of that, there’s a never-ending amount of work that they have to put in and hardships that they have to experience to adjust to the different styles of defenders, physicality, and just overall feel for the game.

Due to how rough of a year the Rockets had, KPJ was able to experience what life is like as the number one option and it allowed him to take strides towards the role he’ll be in this year. There were only four games when he took less than double-digit shot attempts, in two of those games he played under 20 minutes, and in the other ones he took 9 shots - as weird as it is to track how many times a player put up a shot rather than made one, it’s an incredibly easy way to identify what type of load a player is taking on and the offensive aggression they are exerting while on the floor.

During the pre-season, he pitched in 25 points against the Toronto Raptors while taking 16 shots, but the final three games weren’t as flattering. He shot 30 percent against Miami and scored 12 points, scored 12 again against the Raptors while shooting 27 percent, and then scored 16 on 30 percent efficiency against the Spurs.

To be that franchise guy, he has to be more consistent. But he also has to continue to do what he did in each of those games and that’s having the mentality to keep shooting even when looks aren’t falling for him — in those outings, he had an attempt total of 16, 11, 10, and 20 while playing with those typically shortened pre-season minutes.

While continuing to trim down his turnovers and improving his tenacity on the defensive end are both improvements that he’ll need to make, the highest priority is undoubtedly to put up attempts while also hammering consistency into his game. This will mean improving his shooting touch, which will allow him to sink more free throws, hit soft mid-range jumpers, and knock down shots from beyond the arc. It’ll also mean staying engaged when things aren’t going his way.

Kevin Porter Jr. has the tools to be great. It was most evident when he exploded for 50 points against the Milwaukee Bucks and hit 9-15 threes but it also was riddled throughout his 20-plus point outings in his inaugural season in Houston.

Those tools aren’t enough to build him into a star; it comes down to him and his approach and mentality, but if you are a Houston fan or even just a KPJ fan, don’t worry, his journey suggests that he’s built for this opportunity, and because of that, it’s only a matter of time until we see this Rocket takeoff.