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Rockets 2022-23 player recaps: Kevin Porter Jr.

Happy Birthday KPJ - May the 4th Be With You!

NBA: Houston Rockets at Charlotte Hornets
What it was supposed to look like?
Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

Happy 23rd birthday to Kevin Porter Jr.!

Kevin Porter will head into his 5th NBA season at 23 years old, and won’t turn 24 before the next regular season is concluding. I’ve decided to give you my thoughts on on KPJ and where he is, rather than try to convince you with various statistical arguments. There are parts that look good, parts that don’t, but I think they’re all not especially useful, as I think Porter has been miscast.

Fortunately, he’s still young, in NBA terms.

This is important. It means Porter is still within what is typically a “developmental” stage for all but the very best, and the very worst, NBA players. He is also, for a bit of perspective, 107 days older than Keegan Murray, who just completed his first NBA season.

I’m definitely in the camp of Porter defenders, for several reasons.

As mentioned above, he just turned 23, and is still about the same age as some players completing an NBA rookie season. Porter is not a complete, or veteran, player at this point and shouldn’t be expected to perform as such. He was one of the most veteran Rockets players, but outside that very peculiar context, he’d be considered a young and developing player.

Having near the most experience on a team with no experience doesn’t make Porter a true NBA veteran. The Rockets are overall maybe the youngest, most experimental-jazz-fusion roster in NBA history, with most important players last season being below legal drinking age. Judging Porter like a 28 year old NBA player on a normal NBA team isn’t just unfair, it’s poor analysis.

Old, retired NBA players often talk more about the right situation for a player to flourish, rather than talent. Certainly there a some, a very few, players so talented they’d flourish anywhere. Those players tend to go to the Hall of Fame.

Has Kevin Porter been in the right situation?

I’d argue, vehemently, not. I think many readers here, and Rockets fans in general had been hoping that an almost entirely new roster would have brought a new style of play. I, and perhaps you, hoped that the Rockets would have dispensed with the grinding, heliocentric style that typified the Rockets with James Harden. Unfortunately the now-departed Stephen Silas was brought in to coach such a style, and seemed faithfully wed to it.

To play such a system you need a player to be in the middle of things, to attack the basket, or shoot, or lob to a “lob threat” or pass to shooters in the corners or at the three point line. It’s a lot to ask, and right now there’s basically only one player doing it nightly - Luka Doncic, and he’s not in the playoffs.

This last bit is important - three point shooting rates are higher than ever, but heliocentrism as an approach may have been solved to a real extent. It is at least better defended than ever before. James Harden, MDA and the Rockets dragged the NBA into a new shape, and that shape defends that system fairly well.

Enter Kevin Porter Jr, a player looking for an NBA home, on a roster that frankly doesn’t know how to do several fundamental basketball tasks, like setting picks, properly. How can you run a PNR dominant attack with bad picks? As the Rockets perhaps proved conclusively, you can’t.

What surprises me about Porter isn’t his failures in such a context, but his successes. Being 16th in the NBA in assists, on a team that was last overall, in record, and most statistical categories, probably isn’t the terrible showing some might say it is. Assuming average shooting, it’s possible Porter is top 10.

He’s a shooting guard, and he’s not James Harden. This was not a bad showing for a 22 year old on a bad team, running, in my opinion, the wrong system, but rather, a good one.

Yes, there were a lot of turnovers. The Rockets all turned the ball over like it was radioactive.

Let’s run through a few other things.

“Porter shot too much.” - He shot as much per36 as the rest of his time with the Rockets - about 15.5 shots per game. In a heliocentric system this is probably low, not high.

“He’s not a good shooter.” - His 3pt shooting percentage dipped this season, but it didn’t collapse. It looks more like noise to me, but no, it didn’t climb. He’s still shooting about 37% overall from 3pt range, and his TS% climbed a bit this season.

“He’s selfish.” - He averaged 6 assists per36, down from 7. Again, if the Rockets could shoot, it would probably be about 9. Which is really rather good, for a shooting guard.

“He has character issues.” - He turned 23 today. Changes happen rapidly for young men. Anything in the last season? He’s the guy who showed up for the new coaches’ press conference in the off season. I honestly don’t see any current “red” or even “yellow” flags for Porter. He’s acted, and played, like a solid citizen. If you’re going to criticize, give credit as well.

“He said he was the leader.” - This is bad how, exactly? I imagine he was told to be a leader, and he did his best. Just like he was told to be the offensive fulcrum, and he did his best. It’s hard for a 22 year old to have much stature over 20 year olds.

“He got paid.” - His salary is a great deal for his production and continued upside - look around the new NBA landscape. Would you rather pay Porter around 20, or Jordan Poole 30?

“He doesn’t play defense.” - Let me fix that for you. “Nobody on the Rockets played much defense.” I expect that’s going to change.

Anyhow, you got me, the Kevin Porter Jr. supporter for this. For axe grinding you can look pretty much everywhere else. It’ll stick to my stance, though - bullish on KPJ.



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