Sports

Point/Counterpoint: Four Questions About Kevin Porter, Jr. as the Floor General

Kevin Porter, Jr. as point guard has been a little rocky to start.
Kevin Porter, Jr. as point guard has been a little rocky to start. Screenshot
With all the young players on the Rockets team this year, perhaps none is as intriguing and complicated as Kevin Porter, Jr. The 21-year-old guard was acquired last season from Cleveland and brought with him some baggage and some occasionally spectacular play including a 50-point game. Although his bid for his first triple double Monday night was erased when the league took away one of his rebounds, he does have that kind of potential.

But, will that translate to point guard? The Rockets have decided to move KPJ to point in much the same way former coach Mike D'Antoni migrated James Harden to that spot. Porter doesn't have the years of experience and developed talent under his belt that Harden did when he assumed that role, but it's not hard to understand why the Rockets are taking this chance. Besides his skills, the team views he and rookie Jalen Green as their future backcourt.

The question is, and many have been asking: Is KPJ actually a point guard?

Does he have a point guard mentality and should he?

A lot is made of the "point guard mentality" in basketball, the idea of a pass-first player who gets his teammates involved and then finds his own shots in the flow of the game. This perhaps no better illustrated than through the play of former Rocket Chris Paul. He can score with anyone, but tends to let the game come to him, ultimately finding his spots when needed. Porter has always played wing and the focus has been on scoring.

But, as we have seen with hybrid guards like Harden, point guards can be much more than facilitators and must be in the modern NBA. What the Rockets need to figure out is if KPJ has the basketball IQ to be a leader on the floor, whether that means setting up teammates or setting up himself. It's a lot to absorb for someone his age, but a good reason for the team to do it this year when wins won't come easy anyway.

Can he cut down on turnovers?

When the Rockets first converted Harden to the point, he was already handling the ball a lot. Once he was given the reigns on the floor, his usage skyrocketed. So did his assists. His first full year at point, he averaged a career high 11 assists along with a career high 5.7 turnovers. The Rockets would kill for those kinds of numbers from Porter if he is able to score consistently as well. They don't want a scorer as good as Porter average 12-13 per game. They aren't expecting him to average 29, which is what Harden did that first year, but they don't want his points per game to go down either, as they have this year.

Porter's assist numbers are roughly the same this season, but his turnovers have increased from 3 to 4 while his scoring has gone down. It's still somewhat early in the season, but that is not a positive trend. Those trends will need to begin to reverse themselves, even if only slightly, for this to work.

With positions so interchangeable now, does it matter?

It's a fair point. With all the switching on defense and movement on offense, the traditional positions have been largely redefined in the modern era. In this case, it isn't so much the name but the responsibilities that come with the point guard position. As the leader on the floor, point guards are responsible for getting their team into position on offense and facilitating plays. They tend to be natural leaders who are good under pressure.

So, no, the name doesn't matter that much, but the mentality most certainly does and we aren't sure where KPJ is yet with all that. Plus, it will mean choosing to sacrifice his game somewhat to make other players better. We are still a ways from seeing that materialize.

How does he fit with Jalen Green?

That is the most important question we've asked so far. This season, neither player is shooting well. Porter is shooting under 40 percent from the floor and just over 30 percent from three. Thus far in his young career, he has shot a respectable 45 percent from the floor and in the low 30s from distance. His long range shooting will absolutely have to improve, but it is difficult to gauge at the moment given he lack of support around him and the tendency for taking difficult shots as a result.

The goal here would be for Green and Porter to have a natural and comfortable connection on the floor. That is something KPJ appears to be developing with Christian Wood, but can he do it with a guy that likely won't be a regular pick-and-roll partner like Wood? Green is currently out with an injury, so it is hard to know where that relationship will go, but it is everything to the Rockets and to Porter, so both will try everything they can to make it work.
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Jeff Balke is a writer, editor, photographer, tech expert and native Houstonian. He has written for a wide range of publications and co-authored the official 50th anniversary book for the Houston Rockets.
Contact: Jeff Balke