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The evolution of Kevin Porter Jr.

KPJ has played three positions in his young career. Will point guard be the last one?

NBA: San Antonio Spurs at Houston Rockets
Kevin Porter Jr of the Houston Rockets
Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

It’s hard to discuss Kevin Porter Jr. without philosophizing. Is he a point guard? What is a point guard? What is Kevin Porter Jr.?

The answer to that last question has varied throughout this young man’s career. A five-star recruit. A late first-round pick. A locker-room distraction. A redemption story. More to the point: a small forward, a shooting guard, and a point guard.

It’s apparent to Houston Rockets observers that Porter Jr. is a good kid with a big heart and passion that he’ll be challenged to contain moving forward. The more relevant questions revolve around his positional ambiguity. Is Kevin Porter Jr. a point guard?

By modern standards, the answer is probably. Gone are the days of the game managing point guard whose responsibility was to get the ball up the floor, call a play, and make an initial pass to a primary creator. In 2022, point guards are frequently tasked to be that primary creator.

Oftentimes, that means functioning as the ball-handler in pick-and-roll sets. How has Porter Jr. fared in those situations in 2021-22 so far?

He’s certainly faced more of them. This season, Porter Jr is spending 43.3 percent of his possessions as the ball-handler in pick-and-roll sets, compared to 39.8 percent last season. Unfortunately, that increased volume hasn’t necessarily led to increased efficiency. Porter Jr. finds himself in the 27.8 percentile league-wide in those situations, compared to the 30.1 last season. He’s generating 0.72 points per possession out of pick-and-roll sets (0.77 last season).

Statistically, he’s a less efficient pick-and-roll ball-handler than he was last year.

Of course, pick-and-roll efficiency isn’t the only measure of a point guard in 2022. More traditional measures tell us that Porter Jr. hasn’t taken a particular leap forward either. He’s averaging 11 potential assists per game this season, with a 12.0 assist-to-pass ratio. Last season, those figures were 11.5 and 12.4 respectively.

To a realist, none of this is neither encouraging nor discouraging. It shouldn’t shock anybody that as Porter is learning the position, his efficiency is waning as his volume increases. The resulting statistical profile looks like one of a 21-year-old playing point guard for the first time. Porter Jr. is averaging 13.3 points, 6.2 assists, and 3.7 turnovers per game this season.

However, a peak under the hood suggests that Porter Jr. is evolving.

Over his last 10 games, Porter Jr. is averaging 15 points, 7 assists, and 3.1 assists per contest. Those don’t look like the stats of a young man learning a position. Those look like the statistics of a true NBA point guard.

If you’ve been watching, his evolution won’t surprise you. Porter Jr. is making quicker reads in the halfcourt, whether he’s in a pick-and-roll or isolating. He’s developed particular chemistry with Christian Wood. It’s becoming increasingly common to find those two in simple pick-and-pop actions. Where Porter Jr. used to force action, he’s now inclined to make a simple skip pass to his stretch big. The result has frequently been an open three.

He’s also learning when to push the pace, and when to slow down. Go-ahead passes in transition used to be surefire turnovers for the young guard. Now, they’re regularly resulting in easy looks for Porter Jr.’s teammates.

Is Kevin Porter Jr. a point guard? It depends on who you ask. There’s only one thing we can definitively say this young man is:

Extraordinarily talented.