It has been a long time since the Houston Rockets have been in this predicament. Nearly two decades, to be exact.
The Rockets are in the midst of a nine-game losing streak, their longest since the 2002 season — where Houston dropped 15 straight games. And with rumors that P.J. Tucker, Victor Oladipo, and possibly more veterans could be on the move ahead of the March 25 trade deadline. The Rockets could be heading towards a youth movement in their attempt to rebuild for the future.
There are several different routes the Rockets can go to acquire additional young talent. The hashtag #CrashForCade has become a popular trend on Rockets Twitter, as fans express their aspiration in drafting Oklahoma State standout Cade Cunningham in this year’s NBA Draft. Or by trading for a raw talent like Michael Porter Jr. or Tyler Herro.
But the one route the Rockets should not avoid is the talent they have right under their nose in the G-League.
The Rio Grande Valley Vipers have been one of the most intriguing teams in the G-League bubble, despite their 4-6 record. They currently have a player ranked in the top-five in four of the eight main statistical categories. Thursday morning, the Vipers’ talent was on display, as they recorded their best victory of the season in a 124-113 win over the 8-2 Erie Bayhawks.
Leading the way for the Vipers was the standout play of Kevin Porter Jr. He totaled 27 points, 11 rebounds, and 14 assists in recording the G-League’s first triple-double of the season.
It’s no secret Porter has established himself as the G-League’s most elite scorer. Drawing several comparisons to James Harden, Porter is second in the G-League in scoring, averaging 23.7 points through the first 10 games of the season. The Rockets can use all aspects of his offensive repertoire. But Porter has left his most significant impression on Stephen Silas and staff with his gift as a playmaker.
“I think he is coming into the understanding of the amount of attention he draws night in and night out. He has seen everything from traps to switches. For him to be able to understand how to attack different defensive coverages will help him drastically at the next level. The progress and steps he has taken have been unbelievable.” — Vipers’ head coach Mahmoud Abdelfattah
Against the Bayhawks, Porter’s season-high 14 assists prove he is more than one-dimensional on the offensive end. His best pass of the day took place early in the third quarter to give the Vipers a double-digit lead.
With the possession starting with a steal, Porter had an opportunity to attack downhill in an attempt to draw a foul. Instead of forcing a play, he slowed down in transition, giving his teammates time to fill in the lanes. Porter noticed Josh Reaves cutting to the basket, which resulted in him threading the needle between two defenders, rewarding his teammate for running the floor.
Similar to most guards in 2021, Porter excels in the pick-and-roll game. His presence as a scoring threat puts defenders in a conundrum once a screen is set.
Porter drew two defenders his way on this possession once Anthony Lamb set a pick on Justin Wright-Foreman. The Bayhawks tried to trap Porter to force a turnover, but their plan backfired once the Seattle native immediately connected with Lamb rolling to the basket for an easy bucket. Lamb finished the night with a game-high 32 points and 12 rebounds.
Porter’s playmaking and basketball IQ will be extremely beneficial to Houston. John Wall poses as the Rockets’ lone facilitator, and the team has suffered because of it.
“He is moving in the right direction playing the point exclusively, making plays for his teammates. He is super skilled in his ball handling. And when he gets back, he is going to be a huge part in what we are doing. Him getting in shape and the success he is having down there is important to build on that. When he gets back, hopefully, he will be able to fit right in.” — Silas
Absent from the Vipers’ huge win due to an injured ankle was Kenyon Martin Jr. The Rockets received a small dose of what Martin can do on the NBA level, while the G-League became a haven where the son of a former NBA All-Star can display his full potential.
In his first nine games, Martin is averaging 19.4 points, 12.4 rebounds and 2.1 blocks while shooting 49.3 percent from the field. The Vipers’ forward is third in the league in rebounding and fifth in block shots.
Martin’s time in Orlando has given him the chance to learn how to utilize his athleticism against bigger and stronger competitors.
He’s a tough matchup for opponents, given not too many players can match his vertical leap. Martin’s ability to play off the ball by utilizing backdoor cuts or filling in the lanes in transition creates easier scoring opportunities for the Vipers. His efficient playstyle is something the Rockets can use to help prevent their offense from becoming too stagnant.
Clint Capela, Montrezl Harrell, Gary Clark Jr. and Isaiah Hartenstein have become the epitome of the Rockets development system. All four have found their footing in the NBA, but not before spending time with the Vipers. It’s a bit unfortunate because each player hit the pinnacle of their careers donning a different team’s jersey.
But that was when the Rockets were on an endless pursuit trying to win their third Larry O’Brien trophy in franchise history. The course of the team has since changed following the jettison of Harden. And perhaps it will ensure that the Rockets will reap more of the benefits from their minor league team with a youth movement on the horizon.