Twelve hours after the conclusion of the Houston Rockets’ 2021-22 campaign, Kevin Porter Jr. took part in his final media availability of the year. He addressed the media while wearing a black hoodie and white shorts with the word “Rockets” written on the front.
Porter began to reflect on his second season with the franchise following the results of a 16-point defeat to the Atlanta Hawks the day before.
He scored 26 points while shooting 41 percent from the field. Porter connected on 6 of his 12 triples, as his performance on a Sunday afternoon inside the Toyota Center was a testament to his continuous growth. A season that began with growing pains after coach Stephen Silas held Porter as Houston’s starting point guard.
Porter averaged 12.8 points on 35.8 percent shooting from the field and dished 5.8 assists through the first 19 games. His most problematic aspect came due to his inability to take care of the ball. Porter began the year averaging an alarming 4 turnovers a game.
But when he sustained a thigh contusion on December 3 in a win against the Orlando Magic, the injury may have been a blessing in disguise.
The extra time off gave Porter a chance to correct his mistakes from afar. The game started to slow down for Porter through extra film study and in-game conversations with John Wall.
The injury sidelined Porter for 12 total games in December. When he returned to the court against the Los Angeles Lakers 25 days later, Porter appeared to be an improved version of himself.
He notched 22 points, 9 assists and 5 rebounds in the loss to the Lakers. Porter appeared to be more in control of his game, as he no longer was hindered by the consistent on-court thinking.
“I feel like I’ve been putting too much emphasis on the label point guard. I just have to be myself out there and play to the best of my capabilities for this team. I feel like I am the primary ball-handler. It’s more of a mental thing for me.” — Porter in November.
Most of Porter’s on-court struggles early on in the season came on the offensive side of the ball. Defensively, Porter showed signs of an enhanced defense that arguably made him Houston’s best perimeter defender.
Porter began to take on tough defensive assignments that had him guarding the NBA’s most prominent talents. Porter’s defense was on display during an early-season match against the Lakers in November.
Porter helped the Rockets contain LeBron James. The future Hall-of-Famer scored just 15 points in the Lakers’ win over Houston. Silas raved about Porter’s defensive job on James after the game. He credited Porter’s defense to his new commitment to the defensive side of the ball.
“Kevin is big and he is quick, and he has the will to defend. His commitment to the defensive end is far better than it was last season. It’s him applying all of the things he learned from the things we did this summer. We also had conversations about him applying himself more on the defensive end, and he has started the season during that.” — Silas in November.
Porter had his fair share of struggles throughout the first half of the season. But following the All-Star break, he began to fulfill the prophecy that led to Silas and General Manager Rafael Stone taking a chance on Porter following his jettison from Cleveland in 2021.
Porter notched his first career triple-double and scored 25 or more points seven times during the final 22 games of the year. He sustained his defensive production from the first half of the season.
But Porter’s most significant growth came when he began to facilitate the ball while lowering his turnovers. During the final month and a half of the season, he averaged 19 points, 6.1 assists and 2.5 turnovers.
When Porter stepped to the microphone to begin speaking to the media, he had a few pieces of paper rolled up in his hands. When asked if he would like to share, Porter said it was a blueprint Silas created to guide him throughout his off-season training.
If it’s a similar blueprint that resulted in Jalen Green ending his rookie campaign with 41 points, 2023 will be a career year for Porter.
Porter appeared in a career-high 61 games for the 20-62 Rockets. He averaged 15.6 points per game while shooting 41.5 percent from the field and 37.5 percent from behind the arc, to go along with 6.7 assists.