Rockets’ Round-Ups have largely become an exercise in looking towards the future. We took a look at the draft and who stood out in March Madness. Later we dove into who could fill the voids in free agency. But what if the future of the Houston Rockets is looking us smack in the face?
On January 21st, the Houston Rockets traded a top-55 protected second-round 2024 draft pick for a young kid named Kevin “Scoot” Porter Jr. It blipped the radar in that week’s Rockets’ Round-Up, but for it appeared to be a trade for a young kid and a low-risk move. Houston needed a two-guard, Porter Jr. is crafty. Houston is going young, Porter Jr. is just 20-years-old. The Rockets were sending a bunch of their young players to the G League bubble, so letting KPJ go get some reps seemed normal. He’d played NBA minutes in his rookie season, so when he dominated the bubble it felt expected. Porter Jr. came back and worked his way into the lineup, but Houston has shaken up their starting lineup almost nightly.
But then Kevin Porter Jr. shook the NBA world up in a single night.
He put his name in the record books just above LeBron James and Jerry West. Kevin Porter Jr., just under a week before his 21st birthday, scored 50 points and had 11 assists in a big victory over the Milwaukee Bucks. He’s the youngest player to record a 50 point, 10+ assist game by over two full calendar years. He’s only the second to ever do it in a Houston Rockets uniform (James Harden had eight such games as a Rocket).
It’s just the Rockets’ fifth win in almost three months. It’s just a random Thursday night game on NBA TV. But against a defense featuring Jrue Holiday, PJ Tucker, and reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kevin Porter Jr. not only proved he will survive in the NBA, he thrived.
Houston Rockets’ followers have understood the future of this team is built around what the combination of Chrisitan Wood and Kevin Porter Jr. grow into. To this point, Wood and Scoot have appeared to be the lethal pick and roll combination that -in a Stephen Silas system- that the Rockets will need to put pieces around. Wood’s abilities to deep roll, short roll, and pop mean Houston needs to put talent in the dunker spot opposite short corner of where Wood’s actions start. See KJ Martin’s growing role in the Houston Rockets’ half-court offense.
Christian Wood’s versatility and the way Porter Jr. shifts gears have unlocked the Silas double-drag, duplicate shooting / rim-running threat will thrive. See Kelly Olynyk’s time in Houston; what he can’t do in above the rim finishes, he creates with a deep paint touch and pump fakes). Both Wood and Porter Jr. finish around the rim with creativity and efficiency, so Houston needs to get shooters to spread the floor around them. Look at how Armoni Brooks is creating a career as an undrafted Free Agent. Much in the same vein that many NBA teams are built two diverse scoring threats with some three-and-d and a lob threat.
But, until Thursday night, neither had shown they could do that. Both had shown they could command an opposing defense. What Kevin Porter Jr. did commanded the entire game.
That creates a whole host of new questions for Rockets’ fans. For instance, if the Houston Rockets hit the ping pong balls this summer… Is Christian Wood someone you move in the next 18 months to keep your core around 20 years old? It’s not that Wood doesn’t fit… it’s that if you have a Cunningham / Porter backcourt, you may not be able to maximize a player like Wood (in what would traditionally be his prime) front court.
Or does Kevin Porter Jr.’s showcase show that he’s actually on track to be the man at the exact same time as Wood hits his prime? Does this mean Houston needs to add pieces around them because Porter Jr. is ahead of schedule, and the “venn diagram of their primes” is almost a complete circle?
Or does this really mean Porter Jr. is capable, but this is unusual? There are a lot of Hall of Famers on the list of people who once had 50 points and 10 assists in a game… but not all of them were known for taking over the game like that. Rick Barry, Tony Parker, and Stephon Marbury were each tremendous talents, but they averaged 24.8, 15.5, and 19.3 points per game respectively. Of the three, only Marbury averaged more than six assists per contest. Houston would be ecstatic if Porter Jr. turned into one of those all-time greats… but that’s deflating after the hype his night has gotten thus far. They each played a lot of second fiddle for big stretches of their careers, even if they took over games periodically. Is that where what Houston hopes for?
Regardless, it’s safe to say that Thursday night alone won the trade.
Folks are back to tweeting about the Houston Rockets. It’s hard to really understand unless you’ve followed the team, but Houston was given no games on national television post All-Star break. When the schedule dropped, the Rockets had traded away James Harden and Russell Westbrook, were in the middle of what became a 20+ game losing streak, and no one wanted to watch the ‘Kets. Thursday night, no one wanted to look away.
Kevin Porter Jr. dropped 50 tonight. pic.twitter.com/mYVvpxYrFS— nba paint (@nba_paint) April 30, 2021
Just think the Cavs gave Kevin Porter Jr. up for nothing!!! The man had a 50 piece wing dinner Spicy with 10 biscuits on the side with the W tonight. Shoutout to John Lucas who has been mentoring the young man. That’s all he needed was a lil off the court guidance! Carry on…— Kendrick Perkins (@KendrickPerkins) April 30, 2021
Kevin Porter Jr. not only put up 50 points, he did it on just 26 total shots. Oh, and decided to drop 11 assists too while he was at it.— Rob Perez (@WorldWideWob) April 30, 2021
Houston's Kevin Porter Jr. has mustered quite a response to yesterday's fine: FIFTY points in a win over Milwaukee.— Marc Stein (@TheSteinLine) April 30, 2021
Kevin Porter Jr. (career-high 50 PTS, 11 AST, 9 3PM) had himself a night 🔥 pic.twitter.com/nYMn1XpCcR— NBA on TNT (@NBAonTNT) April 30, 2021
they said nobody could replace James Harden in Houston and then KPJ dropped 50/11 after getting fined for going to a strip club. that legacy is in good hands.— Rob Perez (@WorldWideWob) April 30, 2021
Whatever the case may be… Houston, the league may have a problem. More on this next week!