What FiveThirtyEight has to about the Rockets' returning young core
Kevin Porter Jr
FiveThirtyEight projects Kevin Porter Jr. to be a “rotation player” out until 2028-29, but it’s his player comps that should have Rockets fans excited. The player with the highest similarity score is Dwanye Wade, followed by Tony Parker, Raymond Felton, Gilbert Arenas, Reggie Theus, Mo Williams, Lou Williams, Otis Birdsong, Jamal Murray, and Brandon Knight.
Why do the projections differ so dramatically from the player comps? The first reason is that this list is the ten most similar, but that doesn’t mean they’re actually all that similar. Wade had the highest similarity score, and it was only 53.
The potential for Porter to breakout is clearly there, but because he already has three seasons of data, the projections viewing him as a rotation piece should be taken a bit more seriously than players coming off their rookie season.
For a 30th overall pick that was acquired for a top-55 second-round protected pick, that’s a fantastic piece of business by the Rockets. If he ends up having a career similar to D-Wade, Tony Parker, or Gilbert Arenas, it will go down as one of the greatest trades in history.
FiveThirtyEight projects Jalen Green as a “project,” which is below a rotation player, who will peak at 2.6 WAR in his best season. Green’s poor career projections are a product of him being one of the worst players in the NBA last season in the eyes of Raptor. His -1.7 Raptor WAR was the eighth worst figure in the league.
It’s not all doom and gloom and shows the limitation of the model in projecting young players. Halfway through the season, Green was actually substantially worse than his full-season rating. His torrid second half dragged him out of the abyss, but it wasn’t enough to make his end-of-season metrics pop.
Green’s comps do inspire far more confidence that he’ll become a productive player. Unsurprisingly, his number one comp is Anthony Edwards, followed by Coby White, D’Angelo Russell, Tyler Herro, Bradley Beal, Dejaun Wagner, Brandon Knight, RJ Barrett, De’Aaron Fox, and Isaac Okoro.
Year two isn’t a make-or-break year for Green, but a strong sophomore surge would do wonders for his projections and solidify the direction of the franchise.
Alperen Sengun has surprisingly muted projections. Like Jalen Green, he is viewed as a “project,” with his WAR topping out at 2.7, but his rookie season WAR of 0.3 was significantly better than Green’s -1.7. So what gives? Sengun has one big thing working against him, he was the 16th overall pick and not the 2nd.
Projecting young players with little to no NBA experience is difficult, but, by and large, where a player is drafted is a good indicator of their future potential. The model uses this bit of information, but it can unjustly punish a player that fell in the draft for no fault of their own. Sengun entered the draft in the middle of a pandemic, which made it incredibly difficult for NBA scouts to see him play live.
As for player comps, Sengun’s list is far from exciting. His number one comp is Anthony Randolph, followed by Marvin Bagley III, Wendel Carter Jr., Derrick Favors, Marquese Chriss, Al Harrington, Myles Turner, Cliff Robinson, Josh Smith, and Tyson Chandler.
I wouldn’t say throw all of this out, but I also wouldn’t put up a fight if you did. Sengun probably won’t be a superstar, but these projections seem awful low for a player who held their own in the NBA before celebrating their 20th birthday.
If you’re a fan of Josh Christopher, look away. FiveThirtyEight also brands him as a “project,” which I’m starting to think is a young scrub, and sees his peak WAR total coming in a 1.6. This one isn’t too surprising. Christopher was a late first-round pick and struggled as a rookie. There’s room for a breakout, but it wouldn’t be a huge shock if he never lands a deal that pays him more than the league minimum.
Interestingly, Christopher’s top comp is Kevin Porter Jr., followed by Talen Horton-Tucker, Archie Goodwin, Javaris Crittenton, Ricky Davis, Monta Ellis, Gerald Green, Tyrese Maxey, R.J. Hampton, and Alec Burks. Not the most inspiring group to be compared to, but there’s still some hope.
Usman Garuba played all of 239 minutes last season. His projections aren’t meaningless, but they’re also dramatically altered by his lack of minutes due to injury. You can check it out, but I’m not going to write about it.