Rockets: 5 best young players to target in return for James Harden

Houston Rockets James Harden (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
Houston Rockets James Harden (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images) /
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Michael Porter Jr. of the Denver Nuggets (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)
Michael Porter Jr. of the Denver Nuggets (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images) /

Number 4: Michael Porter Jr.

The Denver Nuggets proved their championship merits at the NBA restart bubble. Their two young superstars, Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray, combined to overcome two 3-1 series deficits as they reached the Western Conference Finals and became the neutral fan’s playoff darling.

While the Nuggets proved they’re a team on the upswing, their front office is probably grounded in the reality that real championship teams don’t fall behind 3-1 in the first round of the playoffs very often. The Nuggets come from behind heroics obscured a team that while talented, is still a few years away.

The addition of James Harden would take the Nuggets from a few years away to be in the position to win multiple titles over the next three seasons. The Nuggets would be speeding up their timeline, which might still have a few titles in it down the line as currently constructed.

One of the biggest reasons the Nuggets are viewed as a future title contender is because of the emergence of Michael Porter Jr. at the NBA bubble. Porter proved over the course of a month that he is one of the league’s most talented young scorers.

Standing 6’10, Porter has a quick release and unlimited range that makes him an unguardable threat from anywhere on the court. The comparisons to Kevin Durant are not without warrant on the offensive side, but they sell Kevin Durant’s all-around game short.

Porter has the potential to be one of the best players in the league, but he is a very long way off from reaching that and it remains a question if he ever will because his defense, to put it politely, is pathetic. His ability to read the game is years away from being NBA quality and his athletic profile doesn’t portend an ability to ever be a lockdown one on one defender.

While he has incredible length, his lateral quickness lags severely behind and his thin frame will make it hard for him to credibly defend players in the post. It’s likely Porter will be a player that you have to hide on defense for his entire career, which is fine if he reaches his offensive ceiling.

The final concern with Porter, and why he doesn’t rank higher on this list, has to do with his health. He missed most of his lone college season with a back injury that saw him drop to 14th in the 2018 NBA draft.

His back was still a problem and he missed what would have been his rookie season recovering from another back surgery before debuting this past season. The Nuggets eased him into the lineup, only playing him an average of 16.4 minutes over 55 games.

Franchise players have to be able to play at least 32 minutes a game over the course of a full season. No one knows if Porter can hold up over a full season playing starter-level minutes and that is a very scary proposition when you’re losing an MVP.

The reason why the Rockets should want him in a swap for James Harden is simply due to his upside. James Harden is one of the best players in the world and Michael Porter Jr. has the potential to be too.

It’s a massive gamble but it’s the type of gamble teams have to make when they’re losing a franchise cornerstone. It’s also the reason why the Nuggets might want to keep him around and not upset their core of Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray.

Next: Number 3