A year ago, the MVP duo of James Harden and Russell Westbrook and the rest of the Houston Rockets were sitting around waiting for an update on whether the 2019-20 NBA season would return from its hiatus. A year later, Westbrook has become the NBA’s all-time leader in triple-doubles, Harden resides in Brooklyn, and the Rockets sit at the bottom of the standings.
Hey, It’s not all bad news though. The Rockets may have found their next franchise player, and he just so happens to play like the former one. His name is Kevin Porter Jr.
In the figurative election to decide the successor of Harden as the franchise guy, Porter has become a polarizing candidate. After all, how could he not be?
During his short, 15-game tenure with the G-League’s Rio Grande Valley Vipers in which he looked like a man against boys, KPJ averaged 24.1 points per game to go along with 7.3 assists and 6.4 rebounds. The more he flashed his potential, the more the hype around his name grew. That hype eventually turned to the league marveling at his Harden-Esq 50-point, 11-assist outing in a thrilling 143-136 victory over the Milwaukee Bucks. Porter’s contribution came on 16-26 shooting from the field, going 9-15 from beyond the arc.
The game looked effortless for him as he became the fourth player to eclipse 50 in a game before reaching their 21st birthday, the at-the-time 20-year-old also became the youngest player in NBA history to tally 50 points and at least 10 assists in a contest.
As pretty as the scoring display was, perhaps what stood out most about Porter’s onslaught against the Bucks is what also stands out when struggling to put a roof over his potential. The young shot-maker showcased a willingness to facilitate while having the hot hand, which flaunts his approach to the game.
Whether he’s in a groove or not, he’s going to get his teammates involved, and that was evident against the Los Angeles Clippers when the Rockets got cut up by L.A. The Clippers were without Paul George, but more importantly, the Rockets were without John Wall, which meant that KPJ was filling in at point guard.
It was a bad shooting night for him, only going 4-13 from the field and pitching in 14 points, but he dished out 13 assists on the night. Even while struggling, Porter remained a creator.
Without question, his ability to create opportunities for his running mates is why head coach Stephen Silas and the rest of the coaching staff have slowly been transitioning him into the point guard role that saw Harden’s game ignite.
KPJ had 4 points, 4 assists in the 1Q. He's controlling the tempo and pace of play for the #Rockets offense. This is good film to measure his growth as a point guard. A common theme tonight has been his patience, like on this possession, while being defended by bigger defender. pic.twitter.com/axJqSGfxBP— Alykhan Bijani (@Rockets_Insider) May 6, 2021
Porter has shown that he can handle facilitating duties, dishing out a double-digit assist total in 4 of his 25 games as a Rocket. There were only six games when he finished with 4 assists or less. KPJ’s season-high in assists came in a 126-120 defeat against the Phoenix Suns, when he delivered 14 dimes to go along with 22 points on 7-15 shooting. Point guard is a role that certainly fits him.
The freshly turned 21-year-old has been special but has not been flawless, and before he can take on the mantle of being the face of the Rockets, he has to fill some holes. Luckily, the issues are efficiency and consistency, which pretty much always go hand-in-hand when fixing ‘em.
In the game directly before sliding Jrue Holiday “all around the court”, Porter scored just 10 points on 2-12 shooting against the Minnesota Timberwolves. Members of NBA Twitter’s Houston Rocket chapter began the notion he was in for a big night against Milwaukee, because he follows up off-nights with big performances.
It was seen when he scored 22 points against the Magic after only scoring 4 in the game before against the Denver Nuggets, along with when he followed up a 9-point outing against the Warriors with the 22-point outing against the Suns that was mentioned earlier. Both of the holes in his game can be fixed with a simple remedy, the off-season.
Like his willingness to pass the ball, KPJ plays with the same approach when shooting from beyond the arc, which might be key to his development. Improving at three-point shooting is like improving at anything, it takes repetition and volume.
Unlike Ben Simmons, Porter hoists up three-balls and is comfortable with taking what the defense is giving him. One of the biggest pieces of criticism that Simmons has faced is that he refuses to take open threes, a practice that can stunt growth and hampers confidence. In only two years, Porter has begun to put up more shots.
During his lone season in Cleveland, KPJ put up 158 attempts from three-point land and knocked down 53 throughout 50 games. This season, he’s attempted 161 and has hit 50 of them in only 26 games. The numbers show that his three-point shooting has not taken a step forward, but they also show that he’s learning.
Step back 3 by a lefty, KPJ. pic.twitter.com/ExnGpw62r8— Houston Rockets (@HoustonRockets) March 15, 2021
This season, there was only one game where he took less than two threes. It came against Detroit in a contest where he only played nine minutes and got up one attempt before his night was cut short due to injury.
Furthermore, there were only four games in which he did not put up double-digit shot attempts. All Porter has to do is grind in the gym, which is an often-prescribed remedy for hoopers around the world.
This off-season will lead to some answers to the never-ending barrage of questions that Rocket fans have regarding the future. But here’s what is known in Houston:
Christian Wood believes both he and Porter can both be franchise players for the Rockets. He believes that they should stick together throughout their career and rightfully so, their play on the hardwood reflects those beliefs. If the duo begins to reach their potential, the rebuild in Houston will speed up drastically.
What’s unknown is just about everything else - Will Jae-Sean Tate and KJ Martin become core guys and become part of the long-term plan? Will the Rockets land a top-four pick in the lottery and avoid having to send the pick to OKC? Will the front office fill up the acquisition sheet like they’ve done this season and try to build a team that’s flirting with a play-in spot at the end of next season?
What I want to know is if Kevin Porter Jr will continue his journey of perseverance and become the superstar that many believe he can be? There’s only one way to find out.
Is KPJ the future superstar in Houston?
This poll is closed
Not a chance