The Houston Rockets head into tonight's game vs. the Portland Trail Blazers on a nine-game losing streak. Part of the reason the Rockets are on this long losing streak is their inability to close out games. Recently, games against the Lakers, Nuggets, and Pistons have illustrated the Rocket's need for a closer.
This wasn't an issue for almost a decade when James Harden was a member of the Rockets. For better or worse, Harden had the ball in his hand in critical moments at the end of games. Unfortunately, this current Rockets roster doesn't have that luxury. In several instances, even beyond the last-second losses, the Rockets have let teams go on huge runs in the fourth quarter without anyone able to turn the tide.
A perfect example of the Rockets needing someone to step up as a closer was the latest loss to the Pistons.
This was the Rocket's last five possession to end the Pistons game. The Rockets didn't score in the last 2:30 seconds after Eric Gordon's three-pointer. The Pistons outscored the Rockets 6-0 to end the game. In the loss to the Lakers, Kevin Porter Jr. missed a game-winner, and it was the same result in the loss to the Nuggets, where Porter Jr. missed a go-ahead basket late, and Tate had his shot blocked at the buzzer.
That leads us to the question of who is (or should be) the Rockets’ closer?
Kevin Porter Jr. should be the closer for the Rockets (this year)
When you think of a closer in the NBA, you want someone fearless, can get his shot, and can consistently get to the rim against any defense. Christian Wood is a good scorer but is not the type of player to take defenders off the dribble on a regular basis. Factor in his horrible free-throw shooting, and that eliminates him from this discussion.
Jalen Green is the player who you hope will be the closer in the not-so-distant future, but he is only 19 and still doesn't have the handles to beat elite on-ball defenders. Also, he does not get the calls that established players get in most situations in his rookie year.
That leaves Porter Jr. a player who can get to the basket, has good enough handles to beat his defender, and can finish at the rim. However, Porter Jr.'s biggest issue right now is the lack of consistency from beyond the arc. Currently, he is shooting 30.6 percent from three-point range. That is not ideal, of course, but Porter Jr. can get his shot off from any area on the court.
His ability to get to the basket, as mentioned earlier, is also a huge plus. Once he gets to the basket, he can finish in traffic.
This is essential considering late-game defenses pack the lane even tighter in close games.
Yes, he has struggled with turnovers this year, but the vision is there, and this will come in handy when teams collapse on the drive late in games.
Porter Jr. has a lot of work to do learning how to run the point at a high level, limiting turnovers, becoming a better shooter from beyond the arc, and at the same time getting his shot. The Rockets have lost three close games they could have easily won and will have more as the season goes on. If the Rockets want to have any chance at winning close games this year, Kevin Porter Jr. has to blossom into the late-game closer.