Cavs

Porter Jr.’s Potential Has Cleveland Drooling

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For Kevin Porter Jr., the potential has always been there. Coming into USC with high expectations, he did not disappoint out of the gate. Porter took the NCAA by storm, displaying his incredible athleticism combined with his tantalizing skills. It didn’t take long for the freshman to soar up to the top 5 of most mock drafts. His sudden emergence was compared to Trae Young’s from the year before. His play drew mild comparisons to James Harden.

 

KPJ’s Draft Stock Takes a Hit

It all went downhill soon after, though. Not long into the season, Porter Jr. suffered an injury that took him out of action. Then, he was suspended for an unspecified off-the-court issue. Eventually, he returned, but Porter ended up spending the majority of his college career coming off the bench.

By the time the draft arrived, the hype for Porter was dead. He lasted until the final pick of the first round before Cleveland sent $5 million in cash, plus four second-round picks to acquire the pick that became “KPJ” from the Pistons. Previously, the Bucks shipped away the pick to Detroit to clear up cap space. The Cavs knew the talent that Porter possessed, though. They could visualize the potential seeping out of him. Red flags were attached to selecting Kevin, but the Cavaliers took on the risk.

Ever since LeBron James abandoned the franchise for the second time, the team has been striving to build a brand new culture from the ground up. Last year, despite the Cavs having one of the worst records in the NBA, Larry Nance Jr. said that it was “probably the best locker room he’s ever been a part of”, per cleveland.com. Cleveland was betting on that culture to get the best out of Porter.

Reports came out around draft time that they were even considering taking him with the No. 5 pick in the draft. Darius Garland ended up getting picked with that selection. The point guard out of Vanderbilt had a troubled college career, as well. He only managed to play in the first five games of the season before suffering a meniscus injury that kept him out the rest of the year. Neither Kevin Porter Jr. nor Darius Garland appeared in summer league, as they were both nursing nagging injuries.

To start out the season, both players have been wildly inconsistent as is to be expected with rookies. Both have made plenty of mistakes. Both have hit clutch shots in close games. Garland has shown some fancy dribbling and great shooting range at times, but it’s been few and far between.

Once selected, Darius was widely expected to slide in with Collin Sexton as the backcourt of the future for the Cavs. This could very well still be the case, but it’s in no way guaranteed. They’re both small, score-first, pass-second combo guards. One more reason why: the presence of Kevin Porter Jr.

Potential is Sky-High

Watching KPJ play still brings around that feeling of limitless potential. His athleticism is insane for a shooting guard. He makes it look effortless to beat his defender off the dribble and slash inside. His 3-point shot, defense, and playmaking are all still a work in progress, but you can see all three developing already. He’s shown tentativeness from the perimeter, but after a rough start shooting beyond the arc, he’s started to turn it around in recent games. Though his passing and playing with effort on both sides of the floor were never considered to be strong suits for Porter, he’s shown signs of newfound focus to these areas of the game.

Being teammates with one of the fastest, most aggressive players in the league in Collin Sexton, Porter’s patience, control, and herky-jerky shifts of speed are a soothing contrast. He also possesses the legit size to effectively guard opposing 2s and 3s, unlike Garland and Sexton. If nothing else, a backcourt of Porter and Sexton has some pretty sweet heads of hair…

Despite all of the positive signs, Porter’s only averaging 7.1 points, 1.6 assists, and 2.7 rebounds per game, with 1.2 turnovers. His shooting percentages of 39.8 FG%, 24.2 FG%, and 78.3 FT% are nothing to brag about either. Perhaps this is just a case of a team that badly needs a bright spot, and anything a little shiny looks like found treasure. These are the things that rebuilds are about, though. Cleveland is in the midst of experimenting with their young, future centerpieces. There are few greater joys for NBA teams than to see their prized young players develop into future stars.

When I look at Kevin Porter Jr., I see shades of DeMar DeRozan, but right now that’s all just potential. He’s always had the potential. To anyone who watches him, it’s perfectly clear. Next is the hard part. To be a star in this league, you have to work at it. Potential alone never got anyone anywhere. People are going to start expecting results. What do you say, Kevin? Challenge accepted?

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