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Houston’s backcourt tandem is still a work in progress

Jalen Green and Kevin Porter Jr. have had rough start to their season but have gained respect from their opponents that know the future is bright for the young backcourt.

Houston Rockets v Golden State Warriors Photo by Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images

Kevin Porter Jr. and Jalen Green have a strong mutual bond before and during the season. They started communicating with each other on Instagram. Green would always notice Porter on his Instagram live story because of simple remarks. “KP, you know that’s a scary backcourt,” Green said. Which Porter responded back with “Don’t say too much ha-ha.” It became noticeable that both players wanted to play with each other. These two had an incredible battle when they went up against each other in the G-League, as Porter had 28 points to Green’s 22.

When Green was drafted by the Houston Rockets, Porter immediately called him on facetime cheer in excitement. The excitement in the front office became evident with the expectation that this backcourt will compete for years. They foresaw speed bumps in the young back court before the season started, as Porter is 21 years old, while Green is just 19. This is the first full-time year that Porter played point guard while Green gets adjusted to the physicality of the NBA.

During introductions, Green and Porter always do a brotherly handshake, as they love eating dinner together, and sometimes Kenyon Martin Jr. joins them. Green said:

“Me and J talk more than the common two I would say. I just want the best for him. I see so much in him, so we got the same level of respect of each other. Me being more experienced in my years in this league helps me become a more of a leader because I go to lead him. He’s my little brother and I want to set him up for success. So that bond is never going anywhere off the court and that bond that is off the court, put it on the court.”

Phoenix Suns v Houston Rockets Photo by Alex Bierens de Haan/Getty Images

Despite the great relationship on and off the court, the struggles are there. This season has not been easy for the backcourt tandem, as turnovers are their nightmare. As a duo, Porter and Green average 11.1 turnovers a game on fumbled and forced passes. These two are not letting the plays develop, so it causes them to play way too fast without analyzing the court. Since these two are young, playing fast and making the big play is ideal. Green and Porter are very electrifying in transition, as they throw lobs to each other. Damian Lillard sees the excitement in Porter and Green while they play in the open court.

“Honestly, he [Green] is a super athlete. He loves to play in transition. Like a lot of young players, they like to play in transition.” - Lillard

Yes, transition is fun, but making the right pass and play is better. The game of basketball becomes easier if they make the correct reads instead of forcing. Porter and Green are extremely fast, but it’s important to play smart, so turnovers are avoided. Dribbling in traffic is another issue that both players struggle with. Porter and Green dribble into the defense’s zone coverage, which block site of their teammates.

I cannot forget about the rush shots too. Seeing Porter and Green force difficult shots can become frustrating, as they both have incredible shot diversity. Although step-backs and contested shots are their favorite, sometimes it becomes wiser to take the easier shot.

First example: Green passed up an easy midrange after creating great separation on a crossover.

Second example: Porter ignores the double action flare that he set up to take place and forces a bad shot while being blocked in the middle of the lane.

Third example: Green dribbles into a swarm off Blazer defenders amongst the baseline and throws it away.

In a combined effort, Porter and Green are shooting 42.8/32.6/71.5 from the field while averaging 42.2 points per contest. Green has gotten great looks off open space and curl actions amongst the perimeter. His shooting diversity on-and-off the ball has looked great. Hopefully, his shot falls from three, as he is shooting 27.4 percent at the three-point line on 6.8 attempts per contest. Green is finding great looks but has struggled making them. Honestly, it’s a part of the rookie speed bumps when it comes to his shot making. Green will eventually find that stride in his shooting because of his confidence. Lillard mentioned keys for Green to be successful. He said:

“Obliviously, I think he [Green] is very super talented. Don’t listen to what people tell you. You’re this pick, you go to be the man, and take over. Just show up, work hard. Stay humble. Be coachable. Listen to your teammates. Your talent is going to allow you to be the starter you’re supposed to be. Just make sure that foundation is right when...you come into the league.”

Porter is struggling at the point guard position. He is a terrific athlete and scorer, but Porter’s biggest faults are his decision making at the new position. Porter hesitates and over analyzes every situation, which causes most of his turnovers. He doesn’t let his reads fully develop in half court sets. Porter is a natural scorer and needs to rely on that accolade first, so the passing comes next. Opposing teams will adjust their defense to his scoring, which allow open teammates in the dunker spot, corners, and inside the paint.

The spacing for the Rockets hasn’t been good, but Porter can control that by communicating with his teammates. He oversees the five-out offense, which allows open shooting, driving lanes, isolation, and pick-and-roll. Porter should be putting Green in position to score because he can drive and kick the ball out to a teammate. I would rather see Porter run pick-and-roll with Christian Wood or Alperen Sengun 20-times a game so it could generate the “short roll offense”, which allows open shooting in the corner or a player to cut along the baseline for dunks or layups when the big man rolls to the basket. If Porter relies on his scoring first, it will allow him run and see the offense better.

Coach Chauncey Billups believes Porter has the talent to play in the NBA, but the point guard position takes time to learn because of the studying and patience, as he was a great point guard with the Detroit Pistons and Denver Nuggets. Billups said:

Like Green, Porter has struggled shooting the ball this season, as he loves taking pull-up and step-back threes. This season, he is shooting the pull-up three at 29.3 percent and step-back three at 25.9 percent, which is atrocious. For a point guard, Porter must be a decent threat from the three-point line. Including being better at scoring the basketball inside-and-outside. He has also struggled from midrange after creating great separation. Porter is shooting 22.2 percent from midrange this season, which is unbelievable for a player of his stature. It is not difficult for Green or Porter to find their shooting spots on the court.

Green and Porter are still trying to find that dynamic gel together. Both can have enormous nights but together is the biggest question. The scoring between the two on a given night is not balanced yet. Lillard mentioned that his cohesiveness with CJ McCollum took time in the NBA. Lillard said:

“Caring about each other. You got two young players in the league, and you got to coexist with each other and care about each other’s success. When one guy is having a night, cheer him on. You got to contribute to that. You’re not competing him. Also get know one another. It’s easier to become friends with him. Easier to be a supporter to him and care and have their best interest. Me and CJ established really early, and it’s a huge reason why we have been able to have success with our team and without getting in each other’s way.”

“We were at each other’s house all the time. We became closer like brothers, and that made everything much easier on the court.”

Like I said earlier, this dynamic tandem is going through a tough season. The Rockets have lost 12 games straight after blitzing the Oklahoma City Thunder on opening night at Toyota Center. They are on pace to have another nasty season, which allows the Rockets to be in the lottery discussion again. Devin Booker had a good conversation with Josh Christopher, Green, and Porter on rough starts in the NBA. He experienced five bad seasons with the Phoenix Suns and made the NBA Finals last season with former Rocket Chris Paul. The Suns lost to the Milwaukee Bucks, but Booker went on his first trial period inside the playoffs. Booker offered great advice to the Porter and Green. He said:

“I mean, I talked to Jalen a little bit and KP and Josh Christopher that I been through it before, and you just want to speed up that process, and it’s an everyday battle to get better. The talent is there, but its going to take chemistry, and it’s kind of hard to figure that out when you’re a young player trying to figure it out on the court, and it can change at any moment. Just an everyday grind. It’s an everyday approach. It’s not always in the game, it’s how you practice it. It’s how you get your extra work in. Everything adds up.”

Green and Porter will eventually figure out their position in the NBA. Although it’s an ugly season, they still have respect of their opponents because they compete. They cannot lose confidence on what skillset and accolades got them into the NBA.