The Houston Rockets have a point guard problem. With John Wall on ice and D.J. Augustin on the backend of his career, the Rockets have handed Kevin Porter Jr. the keys to the offense. After ten games Porter already has Rockets nation asking if he is a point guard?
What is a point guard?
Over the past 20 years, positional distinctions have largely eroded. Centers are asked to space the floor, post touches, once the bread and butter of an NBA offense, are a novelty attraction, there are more combo guards than combo meals, and what defines a point guard has changed dramatically.
Once upon a time, the point guard had a very specific role. He was the guy who would bring the ball up the court, get the offense set, and then initiate. Their job was to pass, limit turnovers, and keep everyone else happy.
Today, the point guard still initiates the offense, but the notion that passing is the first part of the job description is long gone. In the modern NBA, the point guard is responsible for creating offense, and there are no preconceived notions over how that offense should come. With the liberalization of the position, new types of players have come to dominate the position.
This is the crux of the Kevin Porter Jr discussion. He is nowhere near a traditional point guard, but he does possess some of the same traits that teams look for at the position.
Can Kevin Porter Jr be a point guard?
The talent is there for Kevin Porter Jr to be a modern point guard. His combination of size, athleticism, and handle allows him to get into the teeth of a defense. Being able to bend, and in some cases break, a defense is the primary responsibility of a modern point guard.
While Porter’s ability to penetrate a defense off the dribble is exceptional, the rest of his point guard utility belt is lacking. Dribble penetration is a great way to bend a defense, but it’s the act of breaking it that really matters.
For Porter to do more than bend a defense he needs to make them pay with a bucket. Whether he’s scoring or setting up a teammate, his ability to translate penetration into points lags behind what is expected from an NBA point guard.
What does Kevin Porter Jr need to improve to become a point guard?
If Kevin Porter Jr wants to be a point guard he needs to improve his passing and shooting. Over the past two seasons, a 36 game sample, Porter has averaged 15.4 points and 6 assists. Those numbers on the surface look promising, but he has shot 41.1-percent from the field, 30.7-percent from 3-point range, and coughed up 3.8 turnovers per game to get there.
For high usage players, efficiency isn’t everything, but there is a baseline level that needs to be met, and Porter simply isn’t anywhere near it. Fortunately, improvement in one area usually leads to improvement in another.
If Porter’s shot improves, defenses will be forced to respect him when he’s behind the 3-point line and in the mid-range. With the added attention, easier and more obvious passing lanes will emerge. By becoming a credible 3-point shooter, Porter's passing should improve as much as his scoring.
Is Kevin Porter Jr a point guard?
Kevin Porter Jr is not a point guard. There’s a reason he wasn’t one in college and with the Cavaliers. However, just because he isn’t a point guard, doesn’t mean he cannot become one down the line.
The Rockets rightly identified Porter’s ability to penetrate a defense and believed that skill, along with the development of others, could allow him to be a point guard. The early returns are not promising, but it has only been 36 games. Kevin Porter Jr can become a point guard, but it will take a long time. The Rockets have been patient, but they can’t wait forever.