Houston Rockets: Finding a Fair Kevin Porter Jr Extension

Houston Rockets v Toronto Raptors
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When the Houston Rockets traded for Kevin Porter Jr in January of 2021 they weren’t making some big bet on his upside. To land him, all that was required was a top-55 protected second-round pick, the most protected a pick can be and the NBA equivalent of nothing. The Rockets saw an opportunity to get a young player for essentially the cost of his contract and pounced. 

The moment Porter suited up for the Rockets they had won the trade. Now, two seasons into Porter’s Rockets tenure, he’s up for a contract extension and life-changing money. The Rockets have stuck with Porter through thick and thin, but it’s likely that these negotiations will be the ultimate test of their relationship. 

To get an idea of how much Porter can expect in an extension two questions need to be answered. The first, “who is Kevin Porter Jr?” And the second, “how much have his peers been paid?” Once those two questions have been answered, determining the dollar and cents of a Kevin Porter Jr extension should be relatively easy to parse out. 

Who is Kevin Porter Jr?

Who Kevin Porter Jr is in basketball terms is a far more complicated question than usual. For example, answering “who is Clint Capela?” is relatively easy. He’s an excellent rim-running center, a strong rebounder, and, when right, a great defensive player. His position, role, strengths, and weaknesses are easily defined, and thus answering who he is as a basketball player is relatively easy. 

Porter is not as easily defined. First off, the position he plays remains a subject of debate. The Cavaliers drafted him and saw a small forward, while the Rockets wasted no time deploying him at point guard. Because the Rockets are his employer, their assessment of his position is what matters most, and they clearly view him as a combo-guard capable of handling the point. On defense, he could match up with wings if needed, but he’s best suited defending guards. 

Porter’s statistics, much like his position, are difficult to assess. The size and importance of his role for the Rockets far exceed his current abilities. That’s not a knock on Porter as much as it’s a reality the worst teams in the league face. His basic box score statistics of 15.9 points, 6.2 assists, and 4.2 rebounds over his Rockets tenure look great on the surface, but the numbers under the hood suggest his 16/6/4 line is more a product of opportunity as opposed to overwhelming skill. 

This past season, Porter’s 3.1 turnovers per game was the 12th highest mark in the league. While the top of the turnover leaderboard is a who’s who of the best players in the league, Porter’s overall stat line sticks out like a sore thumb. Of all the players to average three or more turnovers per game, Porter’s 15.6 points per game was the lowest, and the only players who averaged under 20 points per game were Cade Cunningham, a rookie, and Russell Westbrook. The most comparable player to Porter, in terms of points, assists, rebounds, and turnovers, was Cole Anthony. Another high-usage guard on a poor team. 

Porter’s overall shooting efficiency also presents a problem. He was admittedly excellent from 3-point range, 37.5% on 6.8 attempts, this past season, but was horrid inside the arc, 45.6% on 6.5 attempts. However, both of those numbers represent a divergence from the shooting splits he had shown previously, 32.3% on threes and 51% on twos. Chances are he regresses to the mean, but it does create a level of uncertainty surrounding the effectiveness of his scoring going forward. 

Taking Porter’s box score at face value would be a mistake, but he isn’t a horrible player, he’s just in a role that exceeds his talents. Unfortunately, looking under the hood still makes it difficult to dissect his true talent level. 

The beauty of catch-all advanced metrics is that they’re able to normalize every player’s production down to one number that can be compared across roles and positions. Porter’s -1.6 box plus/minus (BPM) suggests he’s closer to a replacement-level player (-2 BPM) than a starting-caliber player (0 BPM). However, his overall BPM is weighed down by a defensive BPM (DBPM) of -1.6 and his offensive BPM (OBPM) of -0.1 suggests his offense is essentially league average. 

The designers of BPM concede that DBPM is far from perfect and the influence of team defense weighs on it heavily. Factoring the Rockets' overall poor team defense (29th ranked defense) into the equation, it’s not a stretch to believe Porter is closer to league-average than replacement-level. On a better team, in a better role, Porter’s raw box score line would suffer, but it’s unlikely his advanced metrics would be altered all that much. A 0 BPM is a decent starter or 6th man, a +2 BPM is a good starter, and a +4 BPM starts to get you All-Star consideration. 

After all of that, (I think) we can safely call Kevin Porter Jr a combo-guard and slightly below league-average player, but at 22-years-old there remains potential for growth. Now let’s find Kevin Porter Jr some peers to see what type of extension he should be looking at. 

Devonte' Graham, Houston Rockets
Phoenix Suns v New Orleans Pelicans - Game Three / Jonathan Bachman/GettyImages

What Type of Extensions Have Kevin Porter Jr’s Peers Landed?

To find Kevin Porter Jr’s peers, I zeroed in on guards drafted in 2017 and 2018 with similar performance levels in the season prior to signing their extension and found six comparable players. While there are certainly differences, the list of Kevin Huerter, Gary Trent Jr, Grayson Allen, Devonte’ Graham, Luke Kennard, and Josh Hart gives us a solid starting point to get to the dollars and cents of it all. 

The largest extension signed was Kevin Huerter’s four-year $65 million contract and the smallest was Grayson Allen’s two-year $18.7 million deal. All told, the six signed deals totaling 20-years and $238.8 million for an average deal of 3.3-years for $39.8 million at an average annual salary of $12.06 million. Each deal has differing amounts of guarantees and provisions, but they present Porter and the Rockets with a good baseline to begin negotiations. 

Looking at each individual case we can see which way the money and years will go from the three-year $40 million baseline. Starting at the top, Porter likely won’t land a Huerter-level extension (4yr-$65m). Huerter established a higher baseline as a rookie and improved on offense and defense each season before signing his extension. At 6’7 his defensive versatility also exceeds Porter’s and teams have long paid a premium for 3-and-D wings with some shot creation. 

On the opposite end of the spectrum, the Grayson Allen deal (2yr-$18.7m) looks far too small for Porter. Allen is a good 3-point shooter, but that’s his only carrying trait in the NBA. Porter is younger and offers more self-creation and defensive potential. Allen is a nice rotation piece and is paid as such, but Porter should be able to land more because he can do more. 

The middle four deals are the ballpark that Porter’s extension should land in. Gary Trent Jr signed for three years and $51.8 million, Devonte’ Graham came in at four years and $47.3 million, Luke Kennard landed four years and $56 million, and Josh Hart secured a three-year $37.9 million deal. Of this quartet, Hart least resembles Porter. Before signing his extension he played as an off-ball multi-positional defender and had few lead-ball-handling responsibilities, even if his overall production was in the same ballpark. 

The final three, Trent, Graham, and Kennard signed for 11 years and $155.1 million combined for an average deal of 3.67 years at $51.7 million and $14.1 million per season. Porter hasn’t done enough to suggest that he deserves more than this group, but the four years and $47.3 million that Graham signed for would represent a solid starting point for the Rockets in negotiations. 

Graham had a far superior statistical track record heading into his extension, he posted a 0.6 BPM and a 2.2 OBPM in the two seasons prior, but his age, he was already 26, and size, 6’1, limited his upside. Porter could one day surpass Graham’s impact, but he hasn’t yet, and any extension would still allow him to hit free agency in his prime. 

A fair extension for Kevin Porter Jr and the Rockets would be a contract in the $11 to $14 million per season range. The total length is somewhat arbitrary, but three or four years would be the expectation. A four-year $56 million extension is probably the high end for Porter, and a three-year $33 million would be the low end. 

If an agreement can’t be reached, Porter could always bet on himself and play out the season on the final year of his rookie deal. There are the success stories of betting on yourself, Miles Bridges, and the cautionary tales, Collin Sexton. However, the Rockets won’t feel much pressure to extend Porter if his contract demands exceed their internal evaluations. 

He’ll be a restricted free agent in 2023 which gives the Rockets the right to match any offer he receives. If it beats the extension they offer him this summer, then Porter will have bet on himself and won, but it won’t mean the Rockets have lost. It’ll mean he had a great season and deserves a big new deal. As long as the Rockets don’t overpay Porter this summer they’ll be sitting pretty. 

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