The Houston Rockets are three games into the 2022-2023 season. You know what that means:
It’s time to overreact to small sample sizes.
Predictably, the Rockets are 0-3. That’s perfectly fine - whether you worship at the altar of Wembanyama or want to see improvement, you can’t be shocked to have watched the Rockets lose to three playoff teams. If anything, there have been evident signs of progress.
The Rockets’ backcourt has been especially exciting. Through the team’s first two games, Kevin Porter Jr. is averaging 19.0 points, 5.7 rebounds, 6 assists, and 3 turnovers per game on a 52.0 true shooting percentage (TS%). Meanwhile, Jalen Green is averaging 23.7 points, 4.7 rebounds, 2.3 assists, and 2.3 turnovers per game on a 54.8 TS%.
Those numbers leave room for improvement, but they’re still encouraging. At the same time, nobody should have questioned either’s talent. But are they a good fit alongside one another?
Could they use some time apart?
Is it time to stagger?
Up until Saturday’s loss to the Bucks, we didn't have a data point to answer this question. Throughout the first two games of the 2022-2023 season, Coach Silas had not put Jalen Green on the floor for a single possession without Porter Jr. alongside him.
We still don’t have much to work with. Three games into this season, how could we? Still, it’s worth noting that the Rockets’ best lineup this season has featured both. When playing the backcourt alongside KJ Martin, Tari Eason, and Alperen Sengun, the Rockets are +27.1 through 35 possessions, per CleaningTheGlass.
The most-used lineup featuring one starting guard without the other uses the same frontcourt, subbing Daishen Nix in for Porter Jr. That group is -30.9 across a mere 13 possessions. Small sample size caveats aside, that probably says more about Nix than it does about Green - if it says anything.
Staggering the two becomes more or less viable in the context of the guards on the roster. As constructed, the only reserve guard that Silas has shown much faith in early in 2022-2023 is Josh Christopher. Otherwise, Eric Gordon and Garrison Mathews are generally used as threes.
Personally, I would like to see Silas stagger the two starting guards more. At the same time, if these two are the starting backcourt of the future, they need to be able to share the floor as well.
Does this pair work?
Any questions about this team can be viewed through at least two lenses - what’s better for the team in 2022-2023, and what’s better for the team in the future? With that said, looking at each player’s usage rate and touches doesn’t reveal any immediate reasons to split the duo up from a developmental perspective. They’re nearly equal in usage rate: Porter Jr.’s is 25.0 percent, and Green’s is 29.3 percent.
Porter Jr. is lapping Green in touches: he’s had 79.7 per game to Green’s 54.0. Still, Green is averaging 23.7 points per game on outstanding efficiency - it would be hard to argue that Porter Jr. has been stepping on his toes. Moreover, Porter Jr. is the point guard, he’s expected to touch the ball more.
I guess that raises another question: Should he be the point guard?
What (or who’s) the point?
This is old hat, of course. It feels like we’ve been debating this issue for so long that we’re actually talking about Steve Francis and Cuttino Mobley, only they both legally changed their names, got facial reconstruction surgery and found the fountain of youth.
Frankly, the numbers don’t suggest that, as of now, either is a proficient NBA point guard through two games in 2022-23. To put a fine point on it, Porter Jr.’s 6 assists to 3 turnovers are not good. Of course, Green’s 2.3 dimes and 2.3 turnovers are no better.
Still, they don’t make point guards like they used to - or at least, not always. Many modern point guards in the NBA are of the score-first variety, and that’s fine. Still, an NBA team needs a lead ball-handler who makes good decisions, even if that decision is often to score. Is Porter Jr. that guy?
Hard to point to an alternative
Silas could give TyTy Washington or Daishen Nix some run. With that said, Nix’s play at the NBA level has been uninspiring, and Washington is a rookie. Is there any possibility that Green, in the long term, could be this team’s point guard? Is that worth exploring?
To my eye, Green makes quicker reads than Porter Jr. Partly, that’s because he’s simply quicker. Green’s otherwordly athleticism allows him to get to spots quicker than Porter Jr., or realistically, almost any guard in the league. When defenses are forced to react, that opens up easier reads for him.
Alternatively, Porter Jr. makes more advanced reads. His relative lack of burst means that he’s forced to probe defenses in pick-and-roll sets. He’s prone to missing easy looks (Kevin, please, Jabari is wide open in the corner), but sometimes, he sees complex ones, and he’s a sharp, accurate passer when he does.
At the same time, Porter Jr. has also developed into one of the best catch-and-shoot guards in the NBA. Isn’t he an off-guard? Take a long, hard look in the mirror, Rockets fans. Meditate if you’re so inclined. Ask yourself a tough question and be completely honest with yourself. Deep in your heart, with a gun to your head:
Is Kevin Porter Jr. a point guard or a shooting guard?
We need more data
Having said that, I’m a fan of forward-thinking basketball. I’m open to the possibility that in 2022, an NBA team doesn't need a point guard. Two combo guards can possibly cover the same ground as a pure point guard and a pure shooting guard.
The Rockets don’t need to make this decision yet. Let’s see how 2022-2023 unfolds. If Houston lives up to their preseason promises of being a surprisingly component team, they could keep this going.
On the other hand, if this is a bottom-three team again in 2022-2023, it’s time to call off the experiment. Perhaps the Rockets draft one of Scoot Henderson or Amen Thompson. If they draft for a different position, they should pursue a veteran.
At some point, losing with this backcourt becomes pointless.