NBA

Kevin Porter Jr. Traded to the Houston Rockets

Cleveland Cavaliers guard Kevin Porter Jr. (4) drives against Utah Jazz forward Royce O'Neale (23) in the second quarter at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse.
David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

The Cleveland Cavaliers have sent shooting guard Kevin Porter Jr. to the Houston Rockets for a future protected second-round pick. A former first-round pick in the 2019 NBA Draft, Porter Jr. sees his career in Cleveland end in tumultuous fashion.

In his only season with Cleveland, Porter Jr. averaged 10 points, 3.2 rebounds, and 2.2 assists per game. He played an average of 23 minutes per game but started just three of the fifty games he appeared in. He did not play in any of the Cavalier’s regular-season games to start the season.

The Cavaliers traded three future second-rounders to the Detriot Pistons to acquire the rights to Porter Jr. At the time, it made sense. Scouts were high on Porter Jr’s potential after a successful career at USC. His ability to create his own shot on offense and his well-rounded offensive game was enough to convince the Cavaliers he was worth his first-round valuation.

The question with Porter Jr. has always been character and maturity. In 2019, the Trojans suspended Porter Jr. during the regular season for “conduct issues.” This also translated to his play on the court. Scouts were frustrated by frequent lapses in decision-making and defensive effort.

These issues have appeared to follow him into the league. The Cavs have been trying to move Porter since an outbreak in the locker room after discovering his locker had been given to Taurean Prince. Prince was acquired in a trade from the Nets just days before the outbreak.

Why the Deal Makes Sense for the Rockets

Cleveland Cavaliers guard Kevin Porter Jr. (4) is defended by New Orleans Pelicans forward Brandon Ingram (14) in the second half at the Smoothie King Center.
Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

No matter where the traded second-round pick ends up falling in the draft, the risk-reward on Porter Jr. was a good business decision by the Rockets.

Porter Jr. is still on his rookie-scale deal and will not be a restricted free agent until 2023. The Cavaliers picked up Porter’s team option last month. This means that his salary for the 2021-22 season will be roughly $2.13 million. This is a bargain if Porter can get his act together and play at the level of his draft value. While the character issues will not be fixed overnight, a change of scenery and veteran leadership from players like Victor Oladipo and John Wall hopefully can steer Porter Jr. in the right direction.

As a team fit as well, this makes sense for the Rockets. The Rockets recently lost superstar guard James Harden in the blockbuster deal with the Nets. They received former Pacers shooting guard Victor Oladipo as compensation, and Oladipo has immediately entered the starting lineup for the Rockets. Porter Jr. can learn behind Oladipo and come off the bench in a more limited role.

Part of his decision-making issues stemmed from his shot selection. Despite shooting 28.1% on pull-up attempts, 37% of Porter Jr’s shots were pull-ups, according to NBA Stats. He tends to settle for low percentage shots and gets tunnel vision with the ball in his hands. If he is coming off the bench or playing alongside veteran players, the hope is that he will be more efficient when operating as the primary ball-handler.

His shot creation and ball-handling can become a valuable piece of the Rocket’s second unit. If the team can coax the best out of Porter Jr., this pickup could be a great value move from Rockets general manager Rafael Stone.

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