Houston Rockets vs Denver Nuggets: X-Factor
The Rockets’ X-factor against the Nuggets is Kevin Porter Jr. The Nuggets are a poor defensive team because they struggle to prevent their opponents from converting shots and don’t force many turnovers to compensate. They are a very good defensive rebounding team and don’t send teams to the line all that much, but that cannot offset the cascade of buckets they allow.
The Rockets’ Porter Jr. needs to have a strong game for the Rockets to come away with a victory. He leads the league in turnovers, and if he fails to hold onto the ball, the Nuggets, one of the most efficient transition teams in the league, will make the Rockets pay.
As a scorer, Porter’s shot chart aligns nicely with how the Nuggets try to defend their opponents. The only thing they do well is prevent teams from getting shots at the rim. Other than that, their shot chart isn’t special, and they’ve been poor at preventing all shots from finding the net.
Porter takes 24% of his shots 3-10 feet from the rim, where the Nuggets allow the league’s third-highest field goal percentage of 50.2%. For the season, Porter is only converting 39.1% of his shots in that region, but the Nuggets offer him a nice opportunity to see that figure tick up. A strong game in the floater to short mid-range from Porter is imperative for the Rockets to have a fighting chance. The shots will be there. He just needs to make them pay.
On defense, Porter will likely check Jamal Murray, Bruce Brown, and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope for stretches. While these three are listed between 6’3 and 6’5, their games couldn’t be more different. Murray is a traditional on-ball shooting guard, Pope is a deadly spot up shooter, and Brown plays as a hybrid guard/forward that will set screens and roll.
Defending all three is like speaking three different languages. How Porter fairs defending them, sometimes all in the same possession, will be a significant test. The key isn’t to shut them down. The key is to eat away enough points at the margins that he doesn’t become a target. Porter doesn’t need to be Tony Allen 2.0. He just needs to not be a triple serving of barbecue chicken.