The sky's the limit. That is something you often hear in sports about young, up-and-coming players. It's hyperbole, obviously, but it is typically a reflection of the raw talent that young player possesses. Where he goes from there is unpredictable.
For the Rockets, they are fortunate to have at least a couple guys on their current roster who fit that catchphrase. Christian Wood is already fulfilling the promise and praise of earlier years in the league. The other is Kevin Porter, Jr., a 21-year-old (turned 21 on May 4) lefty guard who was frequently compared to James Harden as early as his recruitment out of college.
It's a rather odd coincidence that the Rockets traded away Harden at his peak only to trade for what could be his replacement, and get him for next to nothing from the Cleveland Cavaliers. Porter has certainly shown flashes of ability in his first two seasons including his record-breaking 50 points and 11 assists last week. But, he has also struggled, particularly in Cleveland, on and off the court. The Athletic had an outstanding breakdown of is progress so far and the promise he has shown, but what exactly is the ceiling for KPJ, and, for that matter, what is the floor?
Let's start with the good stuff and there is plenty of it. Porter is already an above-average scorer with the potential to be elite. He can score from virtually anywhere on the floor and has quick moves to the basket as well as a well-developed step-back. His moves are very Harden-esque with Euro steps and fadeaways. He already has excellent court vision which has made him one of the best young assist men in the league. He tends to make the right decision already even at such a young age. He has all the tools to be an all star for years to come if he can harness those abilities and build on them.
Let's think of this as the stuff that could go either way and may or may not make or break his potential as a player. Right now, Porter is an average shooter, particularly from distance. His step-back game is coming along, but he needs growth in this area in order to become an elite and, more importantly, efficient scorer. He is also not an all-world athlete. Much like Harden, KPJ tends to play his game below the rim. That could bode well for his longevity, decreasing wear and tear on his body, but it can also be a detriment in a league where almost everyone can jump through the roof. Finally, he is sloppy with the ball. Some of that is simply lack of experience, but his skill controlling the ball given his track as a point guard will need real improvement.
Most of Porter's problems are related to his unpredictability, both on and off the floor. On it, he can be erratic and sloppy with the ball. Some of that may just be youth, but it could also just be a lack of focus. Off the floor, he has had a couple issues including being arrested when he wrecked his car where he was found with a loaded handgun and suspicion of weed use. He also ran afoul of the Cavs when he threw a bit of a tantrum in the locker room after his locker was given to a player that had just been acquired by the team. The Rockets have clearly had a plan for KPJ from the beginning, much of that centered on trusted player whisperer and assistant coach John Lucas. As evidenced by nearly being cut by the team that drafted him a year prior in the first round, the bust potential is no less than a 50-50 proposition.
Given the wide swing from 50-point games to being nearly released from his former team, it's easy to understand why determining KPJ's future is complicated. Predicting what he will do and become at this point in his career and life is nearly impossible. But, if we can assume that his worst days are behind him (fingers crossed), his ceiling is certainly very high. MVP, James Harden high? Probably not. But, to not beat a cliche to death, for this young man, the sky is indeed the limit.
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