(Image by Tomek Kordylewski)
Where was Kevin Porter Jr on my Big Board? Not high enough. Or, in other words, 14th. After just one season in the NBA, however, it is easy to see why KPJ needs to be bumped up on that list.
Porter did not average more than 10 points per game this year but he showed how he could become a prime time scorer. In fact, he had a 10 game stretch this year where he put up 14.8 per night (in less that 30 minutes) while hitting 48.8 percent of his triples!
How did Porter surprise us his rookie year? What does he project as going forward? What does he need to work on this offseason. Why so many questions and when will I stop asking them? Let’s use game film to break down his season before giving some expert opinions.
Initiating & Scoring Through Contact
Porter took 36 percent of his field goal attempts at the rim this year and finished in the 76th percentile once there. Many rookies get stymied at the rim because they are not used to NBA length. This makes what KPJ did considerably impressive.
So, how did he fair so well in the paint? Standing at 6-foot-6 with a frame as powerful as his overall athleticism, Porter seeks out contact. He initiates physicality wherever. In transition. In the halfcourt. Anybody can get it. See for yourself.
He almost literally went through the smaller Kemba Walker. Julius Randle found himself on the receiving end of a sly shove during a fastbreak. Did you see how he got low into Enes Kanter to create separation? These are encouraging signs from the rookie, but what else did he do well?
You’re right, this is an odd skill set to narrow in on. Yet, during his first pro campaign KPJ decided to take advantage of what he does best. A spectacular athlete, Porter often used his springiness to convert at the rim.
Timing jumps and knowing when to attack off of two feet is a legitimate talent. Porter often surprised defenders who were not yet aware to his dunkability. He demonstrated a knack for deceptively cutting to the rim. Then, those bunnies helped him finish the job.
Once more, we see KPJ initiating contact. Additionally, he displayed the slashing timeliness that landed him in the 91st percentile for cutting. Expect Cleveland to map out some schemes to get him more lobs or backdoor cuts in the future; his athleticism is too elite to let go to waste.
According to Cleaning the Glass, Porter finished this year in the 74th percentile for assist percentage. That’s an outstanding number for a rookie wing on a struggling team. What’s more, he was better than 2/3rds of all wings in assist to usage rate, or, in non-geek terms, he was a more willing passer than the majority of his positional rivals.
KPJ flashed solid vision in college but there were questions about how he would access it in the professional rank. The video below should do the talking (writing?) for me. He uses lookaways for their functional purpose, spots teammates ditched by help defenders and deploys shot fakes to create assists,
Interestingly, KPJ performed terribly in the pick and roll. He ran 26.2 percent of is plays as a pick and roll ball handler for a meager 0.71 points per possession. That’s only in the 27th percentile, folks. Yet, it is easy to see the potential he has there. So, what could he do to progress as a secondary pick and roll playmaker?
Pull-Up Jump Shooting
The eye test and statistics tell opposite stories when examining KPJ’s jumper. Spencer Pearlman of The Stepien detailed his jump shot during his college days, “He flashed a bit of self-creation from 3 with stepbacks (4 of his off the dribble jumpers this year were stepback 3s), but the results there were erratic. He looks more comfortable from mid-range, but, again the movement + balance + comfortability + projectable jumper (and prior results) lead me to think that the shot will come in time.”
What did his pull-up game look like this season? Porter finished tied for fourth on his team for pull-up attempts per game (3.1) but hit only 28.1 percent of them. Similar to the way I ditch all decorum when mac and cheese bites are handed out at a wedding reception, KPJ can ditch his jump shot form.
Specifically, he commits two sins from time to time. The first two plays in the film below show Porter bringing the ball up on the right side of his head and then releasing closer to the left. This causes some ugly left/right misses.
Secondly, the last two clips show his low release or shot pocket. This looks like he is shortarming the ball and often results in shots falling just shy of the target. Plus, it allows lengthy defenders to block his shot or alter it.
Surely enough, KPJ has some defensive shortcomings but I am going to save those for our expert analysis which can be seen later in this piece. Let’s focus on one more aspect of his offensive game.
Porter must progress as a decision maker. To some extent, this is related to his pull-up shooting. He has a tendency to shoot when he should pass, or pass when he should shoot. Defenders can be seen biting on his shot fake during the pick and roll, but Porter must master this skill to make teams pay.
In a couple of sentences worth of time, you will watch examples of Porter missing open men. Perhaps his explosiveness and scoring ferocity impinge upon is decision making. KPJ can be seen going in for layups through a crowded paint and missing open kickouts, rollers or slashers because of it.
BONUS: What Are The Experts Saying?
As much as I’d like to brag about being a knowitall, I’m not! So, we reached out to a couple of Cavalier aficionados for their (much more reliable) KPJ opinions. First off is Chris Manning; a writer and podcaster who publishes for SB Nation, LockedOnCavs, Cleveland Magazine and Forbes Sports!
On His Strengths
“I think the biggest thing Porter Jr. impressed with was just over his overall feel for the game at 19. He’s still really raw, and has some parts of his game where he clearly is trying to do too much and gets himself in trouble. But he has a knack for scoring and knowing how to get his shot off, uses his athleticism in interesting ways and had games like his one against Miami where the talent is just undeniable. There’s a lot to like there. I think the biggest thing to note now is that it feels like a lot of his success now if a product of athleticism and feel and not necessarily because he knows exactly what he’s doing or how to do it in the best, most efficient way. Again: he’s 19, had two coaches, had injuries, is on a bad team and a lot was thrown his way, so that makes sense to me. “
“He needs to foul less on defense – he’s kind of a wild man in that sense. But I think the biggest thing is really just tuning up his game and become a more refined player. His footwork, his shot, his ball handling and most every one of his skills need some refinement. I’d also say he just needs to add to his frame – he’s fairly skinny and probably needs to add muscle if he’s going to end up being the best version of himself. I think if he can get stronger, that would allow him to handle contact better and build on a really impressive foul drawing season where he was on the fringe of the upper fourth of wings in terms of drawing fouls. Defensively. it’ll also help him handle bigger wings and stronger players that I think the team is going to ask him to defend going forward.”
One Last Thought
“A final note: The Cavs love him and are taking a lot of care to get to be the best player he can. Even now, he’s under constant care and in a structure they hope fosters growth. It’ll be really interesting to see what he looks like whenever the Cavs play basketball next because of that. “
We also reached out to an old friend and draft analyst Dalton Pence of OTGBasketball (an awesome publication I used to write for.) He supplied his thoughts on why scouts missed on Porter.
On His Draft Selection and Scouting Analysis
“Kevin Porter Jr finished as the third best prospect on my 2019 NBA Draft big board. Consistency along with lack of production and exposure hindered his stock in the eyes of many. Two things stood out to me that ultimately led to his high placing: shot creation and footwork. His ability to score in a wide variety of ways reminded me of James Harden. Although he did not see a significantly large role for the Cleveland Cavaliers this season, I truly believe that he will reach all-star level one day. Being able to create separation and offense are elite qualities, that KPJ possessed.”