When Kevin Porter Jr. was first acquired by the Houston Rockets for a heavily protected second-round pick, it was like a breath of fresh air for Houston fans. The Rockets were, to say the least, going through a transition after trading away franchise cornerstone James harden in February, which signified that the Rockets were ready for a complete rebuild.
We all know the story of how Porter Jr.’s journey eventually led him to Houston. He was regarded as one of the most talented players in the 2019 draft, but his stock fell after a rough first year where he was suspended for conduct issues. The Cavs traded up to draft Porter Jr., but several incidents, including a shouting match with officials, led the Cavs to trade Porter Jr. for a heavily protected second-round pick.
The Rockets believed then that pairing Porter Jr. with Coach John Lucas could help get him on the right track. Lucas has long been known as a coach who can work with players who have, for one reason or another, had setbacks not just in their NBA career but in life. Porter Jr. started his Rockets career with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, the team's G League Affiliate.
The Rockets wanted to see if Porter Jr. could become the point guard of the future, which was a departure from his days in Clevland, where he played most of his time as a small forward. The Rockets recently signed Porter Jr. to an incentive-based contract extension that could run through 2027 with only the 2023-24 season guaranteed. The journey since those first Vipers games has had its ups and downs as Porter Jr. begins his third season with the Rockets.
Kevin Porter Jr. has work to do, but he is on the right track
The Rockets knew that moving someone to point guard who never really played the position before would be a work in progress. In Porter Jr.’s first year, he only played the last 26 games after coming over for the Vipers. It was, of course, a weird time; as mentioned earlier, the Rockets traded away Harden and, at the time, still had John Wall on the roster from the previous Russell Westbrook trade.
In Porter Jr.’s first 26 games, he averaged 16.6 points and 6.3 assists. He showed the talent that most scouts saw coming out of college, and working with Wall was a bonus. As a result, Rockets fans were highly excited for the future and ready for year two. But, of course, we all know what happened the following season.
The Rockets drafted Jalen Green which meant the Rockets had a decision to make at point guard between Wall and Porter Jr. The Rockets decided to roll with the young backcourt, leading to Wall not playing in 2021-22.
Last year didn't start like the Rockets are Porter Jr. would have wanted. The team got off to a 1-16 start. The Rockets trotted out a lineup that included Daniel Theis and Christian Wood in the frontcourt ( the infamous double big lineup) and Jae'Sean Tate, which led to poor spacing and an, at times, non-functioning starting lineup.
Most of the talk around this time was about how it hampered Green's rookie season, but it also made it difficult for Porter Jr. to operate with no room to work in the paint. To compound things even further, Porter Jr. would have to deal with an injury for a large part of the season. The injury occurred when Draymond Green recklessly fell into Porter Jr on a fast break attempt. As a result, for most of the year's first half, Porter Jr struggled with his shot and running the team.
We also had the incident where Porter became angry after Lucas challenged him at the half of the Rockets game vs. the Denver Nuggets, revisiting an issue that led to the guard losing his composure on the bench during the first half. Porter Jr would be suspended along with Wood for the Rockets' next game and would later apologize.
The second half of the season is when Porter Jr. started to turn it around. He cut his turnovers from 3.5 to 2.5 after the All-Star break, and he and Jalen Green began to build on-court chemistry, especially after Christian Wood was shut down for the second half of the season. His shooting was probably the biggest surprise: he shot 37 percent overall from three-point range after the All-Star break and was the best catch-and-shoot player in the entire NBA.
His offensive rating went up almost five points after the All-Star break, and it seemed he was more in control of the offense. Fewer turnovers meant more scoring opportunities, especially for his backcourt mate Jalen Green. The Rockets moved on from Wall after the season and entered this year with renewed optimism about their young backcourt.
Fast forward to this year, and the Rockets, yet again, have started the season off slow as they fell to 1-7 after their close loss to the Kawhi-less Los Angeles Clippers. Again, it's a small sample size, but Porter Jr.'s scoring has improved. He is scoring over 20 points a game and has been the Rockets' best player to open the season. His three-point percentage is slightly down, but he still shoots over 35 percent from beyond the arc.
His playmaking is still the one area that has not taken a huge step forward so far this season. His assist numbers are down to just over five a game, but his turnovers are still over three a game. Bad overall shooting and several different starting lineups are factors, but Porter Jr. has made mistakes throughout games that he can't make since he will have the ball in his hands more than any other player on the team.
As the title says, Kevin Porter Jr. is not a finished product. If you expect a traditional point guard who thinks to pass first, second and third before shooting, you are in for a long wait. Porter Jr. and the Rockets know he is a combo guard with point guard skills that can honestly play multiple positions. The Rockets weren't expecting him to be Chris Paul. They wanted him to be an all-around player who happens to play point guard.
Porter Jr. still has room for improvement: turning the ball over less, making quicker decisions and getting his teammates more involved in the offense. But at least so far, he is on the right track, and the Rockets have shown they will continue to support Porter Jr. as he tries to help the Rockets get back to being a contender in the NBA.