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Rockets 2021 player recaps: Kevin Porter Jr.

A Pleasant Surprise

Philadelphia 76ers v Houston Rockets
Can he do it all?
Photo by Cato Cataldo/NBAE via Getty Images

In a Houston Rockets season filled with surprises, some good, mostly bad, Kevin Porter Jr. was a light in the darkness. A light in the dark for a struggling Rockets team certainly, but it seemed the move to Houston, was perhaps, a light in the darkness for a young player with immense talent and similarly immense burdens.

Kevin Porter Jr. (and he insists on the Junior) lost his father to murder at age four. That would make nearly any kid’s childhood difficult, but his other circumstances were harsh too. Porter Jr.’s saving grace was the basketball hotbed that is Seattle (Basketball Reference lists 76 players from Washington State, most are from the Seattle area. There are currently 13 players from the state in the NBA, including both Porters Jr).

Porter Jr.’s talent was obvious, and he’d play as many minutes as he could get on the court starting in middle school with NBA pros, international players, and retired pros from the Seattle area.

By the time he left high school at Rainer Vista, he stood 6’6” and was drawing comparison to a player who may be familiar to some Rockets fans, James Harden. Like Harden, he offered three-level scoring, a powerful physique, exquisite passing, and a superb overall feel for the game. He was a five-star recruit and signed with USC, where he was expected to be a high lottery pick after spending a season as a Trojan Man.

Then it all began to unravel. Away from home, and his support network, he was suspended indefinitely for “Personal Conduct Issues”. His play was uneven when he did play. It’s difficult to work in a player with a “lead” game as a secondary player. Few such players do it well.

Porter Jr. entered the NBA draft, but due to his rocky season at USC, he fell from “hot lottery prospect” to “last pick of the first round” where he was drafted by Cleveland. This was, perhaps, not the best team for him. The Cavaliers seemed to have already picked their guards for the future in Darius Garland and Colin Sexton (the much mentioned SexLand backcourt). Where does a rookie who was almost a second rounder fit in with that plan?

Nowhere, it would appear. The frustrations and problems Porter Jr. experienced in Los Angeles didn’t improve in Cleveland.

Porter Jr.’s bumpy Cleveland tenure ended in late January 2021 with an infamous food-throwing incident involving Cleveland’s general manager. The Rockets traded for him in a “just pay shipping” sort of deal that mostly involved the Rockets taking Porter Jr. off the Cavaliers’ hands.

Porter Jr. didn’t immediately blossom in Houston. He went down to the G-League. When he returned, he shot poorly and looked confused amidst the trainwreck that was the Rockets season. At first, he generally didn’t look the part.

But he began working his way into the lineup and had moments where he showed why people had once been so excited by his ability. He also spent time with the Rockets’ John Lucas. Lucas, a superb guard in his day, is now famed as a mentor for young athletes. He seemed to help Porter Jr. focus on his game. Lucas knows trouble, and his past makes Porter Jr.’s troubles seem minor in comparison, so he’s a good model for many young men who just need a steadying influence.

By all the reports we have, he’s a bright and pleasant young person who wants to be successful. (He certainly had Sterling Brown’s back when he was caught in a booby trap.)

One night in May, with the Milwaukee Bucks coasting along towards the post-season, Kevin Porter Jr. lit them up for 50pts and 11 assists. Previously, he had been discussed as a player with potential, a project, a gamble. Now he was the youngest player ever to achieve such a thing, not yet even 21 at the time.

His game score for the night falls just outside the Top 100 of all time. Pretty much every player on the Top 100 list is in the Hall of Fame, will be, or ended his career very nearly in it (like Tom Chambers - 20,000+ points). We now know where to set the “upside” mark for Porter Jr.

It’s tough to talk about players in terms what they could be, or should be, as so few ever have the chance, the environment, the team, the discipline, the health, the system, and frankly, luck, to be all they could be. But Kevin Porter Jr. should get a real opportunity at it with the rebuilding Rockets. He could reach very the highest of NBA levels. It’s in play.

The Rockets rebuild might have begun in earnest, with a potential franchise player, not on lottery night, not at the 2021 draft, but in January, 2021, when Kevin Porter Jr. joined the team. He could be THAT good.


Where does Porter Jr fall?

This poll is closed

  • 27%
    Franchise Star
    (114 votes)
  • 48%
    All Star Level
    (201 votes)
  • 20%
    NBA Starter
    (84 votes)
  • 2%
    Bench Gunner
    (10 votes)
  • 1%
    Out of the League by 2024
    (6 votes)
415 votes total Vote Now