NBA Rookie Watch: Kevin Porter Jr. Is Showing Flashes In Cleveland

In mid-November, the Cleveland Cavaliers were 4-5 and drawing positive headlines under first-year head coach John Beilein. Since then, the bottom has fallen out in Cleveland, with reported dissension in the ranks and a 2-15 record over the last 17 games. While there aren’t many bright spots to highlight with the Cavaliers, the play of No. 30 overall pick Kevin Porter Jr. has flown under the radar and, if there is anything optimistic to take away from the team’s recent performance, his showing is probably the centerpiece.

Porter, a 6’6 wing from USC, is averaging 12.0 points, 3.0 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 1.4 steals per game in December and he is doing so on strong efficiency. He is converting 50 percent of his shot attempts, including 46 percent from three, over that modest sample and that includes a high watermark in Houston on Wednesday. Porter knocked down six threes on the way to 24 points against the Rockets in what was a highly efficient outing and, while his season-long efficiency numbers (52% TS, 49% eFG) aren’t staggering, they are more than reasonable for a first-year player with modest expectations.

It has to be noted that consistency has been an issue for Porter dating back to college and he isn’t always fantastic as a rookie as a result. He has almost as many turnovers (39) as assists (49) and, while the physical tools are there defensively, the effort isn’t always present. Still, Porter Jr. deserves a hat-tip for the way he has played in recent days, even if most of the rookie-based attention goes to lottery pick Darius Garland. It will be interesting to see how Porter can build on this strong stretch but, if nothing else, he is playing some of his best basketball right now.

Where does Porter stack up against the other members of his class? Let’s explore.

Honorable Mentions

  • Cameron Johnson – There isn’t much else to his profile, but Johnson is shooting 40.9 percent from three on nearly five attempts per game. Oh, and he’s doing it on a team that actually needs his shooting in a playoff chase.
  • Kevin Porter – It will be interesting to see how Porter continues to play, especially as the rotation may change in Cleveland.
  • Matisse Thybulle – If Thybulle can keep making threes, look out. His defense is already terrifying.

10) De’Andre Hunter

Getty Image

Hunter’s offensive efficiency won’t wow anyone, and he is going to have to make more than 43.5 percent of his two-point attempts eventually. However, the Hawks are leaning heavily on the No. 4 pick on both ends, and he’s responding with rotation-level play, including competent defense on a team that desperately needs that.

9) R.J. Barrett

Barrett is shooting 29.8 percent from the field in December. I know the counting stats look fine, but that’s not great.

8) Jaxson Hayes

In the last month, Hayes has done everything he could be reasonably asked to do. In 16 games (10 starts), Hayes is averaging 10.3 points, 5.5 rebounds and 1.3 blocks per contest, filling a badly-needed role in the middle for the Pelicans. The team success hasn’t been there in any way, shape or form, but Hayes is shooting a robust 62.2 percent from the floor during that stretch.

7) Tyler Herro

It’s been a roller-coaster for Herro. In late November, he produced four straight games with 18-plus points. That was followed by three games in which he scored six points or less. Then, Herro enjoyed back-to-back 20-point outbursts before cratering again. Some of that is rookie stuff. Some of that is a player that needs to make shots to bring value. It’s all interesting, but until he finds a way to be more consistent, he will fluctuate up and down these rankings.

6) P.J. Washington

Washington has been quite good this season, rivaled by only Brandon Clarke in most of the advanced metrics. He is currently sidelined with a finger injury that will cost him multiple weeks, though, and that can’t help momentum. It would be great if most people were able to watch Washington on a more consistent basis but alas.

5) Eric Paschall

Getty Image

Speaking of injury woes, the Villanova product has missed the last two games with a hip injury and Paschall struggled in the two previous contests. We’ll see when he returns but, if nothing else, this lull could hurt his darkhorse chances at taking home the ROY hardware.

4) Rui Hachimura

As noted last week, Hachimura does have some flaws, but he’s been prolific enough where they shouldn’t be the story. He is averaging more than 18 points and seven rebounds per game in December, vaulting him to No. 4 among rookies in scoring and leading the pack in rebounding. Some of that comes down to workload and deployment but Hachimura is generally making the most of his opportunities in the nation’s capital.

3) Brandon Clarke

Clarke is back from injury and making his presence known. In his last two games, the former Gonzaga star is averaging 20 points per contest on a combined 16-of-20 shooting. Efficiency and two-way impact are his calling cards at this stage and Clarke ranks (very) highly in individual metrics as a result. He’s quite good.

2) Kendrick Nunn

Efficiency isn’t always there with Nunn but, when he has it going, it is impressive. That was the case this week with a 36-point explosion against Trae Young and the Atlanta Hawks, with Nunn posting the most prolific scoring night for any rookie this season. He has scored in double-figures in five straight games and, with that burst, he is now tied with Eric Paschall for No. 2 on the rookie scoring list behind Ja Morant.

1) Ja Morant

Morant missed five of the last eight games and, with that in mind, it might make some sense if he dropped out of the top spot. When he played, though, Morant reminded everyone of why he’s the ROY favorite. The talented lead guard averaged 19.0 points (on high-end efficiency) and six assists in that trio of contests and, in a larger sample of his last 11 games, Morant is putting up 19.5 points and 7.3 assists per game. In short, no one did enough to overtake him.