For the Minnesota Timberwolves, there is real excitement ahead of the upcoming draft. A new front office led by scouting guru Gersson Rosas and his versatile and innovative staff, will look to hit a home run with the 11th overall pick. In what is a weak draft class, Rosas has his work cut out to make his first pick a success.
My first draft piece looks at Kevin Porter, Jr. This was by far the toughest evaluation I ever had to make, because his tape leaves you enamored, but the statistics leave you questioning what you just watched.
He played just one year at USC, but his campaign was interesting and somewhat tough to evaluate. Porter is divisive, with some such as myself believing he is a top ten talent, and others believing he is a second-round pick. Not only are fans divided on Porter, but the League is too. Sam Vecenie noted in his latest mock draft that “If you Ask NBA teams to peg his draft range, and they’ll give you an answer anywhere from late lottery all the way down to the early second round.”
I will attempt to cut through the divisiveness, and give a balanced view of Porter’s game and how he could help a team take the next step.
A lot of college tape can be painful to watch, but USC are definitely an exception to the rule. Andy Enfield runs a fast-paced offense that looks to attack downhill, using ball screens as illusions to create unpredictability. Because of this, USC’s players are able to play with a fair bit of freedom. Kevin Porter fit into this philosophy quite seamlessly, and his offensive game is what will get him drafted in the lottery.
Porter shot efficiently from the field on the whole. He shot 47% overall and an impressive 41% from beyond the arc. Per the Stepien, that number is 38% from beyond the arc if you include the NBA three-point line in the shot chart. Unusually, despite his prowess from the field, he only shot 52% from the free-throw line. This is on a small sample size of just two attempts per game. Some believe the lack of free throws is a potential hurdle for him. His critics believe he is too ‘east-west’ with his movements and struggles to get downhill and use the free-throw attempts as a way of validating this. Enfield’s scheme is very good, but there were often a lack of pick-and-roll opportunities for Porter because they ran their offense through two bigs, as well as the fact they had other guards to handle the ball. The three guards on the floor were ‘space-fillers’ as opposed to always being at the top of the arc with the ball.
Porter’s selling point is undoubtedly his on-ball game. He has a variety of moves to create space for his pull-up jumper which is his bread and butter. Porter was able to thrive in Andy Enfield’s high intensity sets, and he used the floor spacing of players such as Bennie Boatwright in order to maximize his own offensive game.
The play below is a glimpse of what Porter is all about.
He calls for the ball, then gets the defender to close off the driving lane. Using his underrated acceleration, he then creates extra space to get the defender off balance and make room for his step-back jumper. Driving here would have been the wrong decision as Vanderbilt had created a mini-wall around the paint, Porter has the ability to punish the off coverage and zone defense that might start creeping back into NBA basketball. If he was to play alongside Karl-Anthony Towns as opposed to Nick Rakocevic, then he would have to attack downhill more often. But he can punish conservative defensive schemes with this pull-up.
Below is another example from the same game against Vanderbilt.
Andy Enfield’s scheme sees a lot of elbow and wing screens. Here, Vanderbilt cover this particular action quite well, but Porter creates space from nowhere and hits the step-back jumper. Absolute money. These wing screens are all about re-setting the defense and pulling defenders out of the paint. On this occasion, there wasn’t really enough weak-side action from USC, but Porter was still able to get the bucket.
Porter is not only limited to the step-back jumper. He has some nifty moves to be able to get inside and attack the hoop. His frame allows him to be able to navigate through tight gaps, though a common criticism is that he sometimes tries to squeeze through these tight gaps too often in order to not overuse his step-back jumper. At times, the right option is to swing the ball elsewhere.
Here in USC’s ‘swing’ scheme, Porter receives the ball in the low post.
Vanderbilt double teamed him in the hope of creating a turnover. Porter does a spin move to get out of the double team, and he then beats a third defender to finish an amazing layup. It is when you view plays like this that you realize it is not all that surprising that he shot 70.73% at the rim. This was higher than big men such as Bol Bol, and in the same region as the likes of Rui Hachimura and Grant Williams. On this play in particular he showed great agility and balance to get to the hoop.
Sure, the sample size was small, but Porter thrived when he actually got to the rim with a variety of crafty moves. The key moving forward will be to try and get into these positions more often.
While Porter on this occasion did get to the rim, there have been occasions where he has tried to crowbar his way to the rim and has failed. A lot of his turnovers were where he tried to maneuver his way through a defensive wall. A good sign for Porter moving forward though is that he is capable of gliding and finessing to the rim. Many prospects with this athleticism such as former Wolves wing Shabazz Muhammad simply bullied their way to the rim as opposed to having any real moves. This has rarely translated to the NBA level, but Porter’s ability to navigate his way through traffic when he chooses to is a good sign that he will not rely on being bigger than his opponents.
Kevin Porter finished his 18-19 campaign with 30 assists and 39 turnovers. To anyone looking at statistics before watching the tape, this is not a particularly great look. Despite the statistics not being particularly great, I do believe that he can become a positive play-maker in the NBA. This is a difficult case to make given the stats, but college basketball can often breed hero ball, especially down the stretch. The game against Washington was a notable example of this, where Porter had multiple turnovers down the stretch. Within the USC offensive sets though, Porter made the type of reads that make me think he can combine his clear on-ball prowess with decent play-making. This is essential if he is to make it in this analytics-heavy NBA which is trying to move away from black hole offensive players.
Porter isn’t going to be a gifted play-maker who makes cutting passes through traffic. He isn’t going to be someone with a Trae Young-like arsenal of creative passes. But somewhere I differ from others in terms of evaluating Porter is that I believe he can be a plus passer in drive and kick actions. He does have some turnover issues, but this isn’t because of tunnel vision or anything like that. At times as mentioned above, he can be slightly naive and maybe overestimates his agility against set defenses.
Regardless, there were enough flashes as a passer to make me think he can combine his on-ball offensive game with effective enough play-making to avoid becoming a Dion Waiters type who is cursed with tunnel vision.
The play below is the type of read I think he can make consistently.
As is typical of USC, Porter attacks from the wing with the big and the guard on the weak-side switching position. Porter collapses the defense despite having two defenders near him and he makes the quick pass inside. This isn’t a Ricky Rubio level pass, but it is the type of read that he can make consistently. I don’t believe Porter is going to be the leader of an offense, which means he may see a lot of time on the wing as opposed to at the top of the key. This means that the ability to collapse the defense from the wing and make good reads attacking from the wing is going to be key. The majority of his good assists this year for USC were after he attacked from the wing.
On occasions he was also able to find cutters. The USC offense prioritized spacing and weak side movement so the cutters were not always there when Porter received the ball on the wing or in the corner. When they were there, Porter was able to deliver quick-fire passes into them. The best thing about Porter’s passing is no doubt the speed he puts on the ball. This should translate to him being able to be part of a good bench unit in his early years.
In his early years in the NBA, Porter will likely be a spot-up player on the wing or in the corner. His 38% stroke from the NBA three-point line will likely mean he has a low usage percentage early on, as he will be used by a worse team as a spot-up shooter. But I think by the end of his rookie year, he will be allowed to attack from the wing and potentially get involved in some dribble hand-offs at the elbow. His ability to make quick and decisive passes will potentially garner him increased responsibility as he adjusts to life in the NBA.
Porter showcases his best passing in transition, which is an important skill to go alongside his devastating length and athleticism. He can glide to the basket, but he is very good at hitting trailing bigs and he doesn’t just charge at the rim. He recognized on many occasions that defenses were scared of him in transition, and often made good decisions here.
Ultimately, Porter is not an elite facilitator, but he is willing to make the simple passes that are required. There is enough there to suggest he can hit moving shooters, and also potentially generate a good partnership with a big man.
For anyone analyzing Kevin Porter, his defensive game is the toughest thing to evaluate. He looks to be a willing defender, but at times it felt as if he was trying to force a play that would pad his statistics rather than actually just making a smart play that won’t show up on the stat sheet. He also got lost on screens quite often, and in the two tournament games at the end of the year he was put through a lot of screen actions. When he is determined he does have the ability to fight through them. But there were too many occasions where he just failed to be a deterrent on the perimeter. On the whole, he was a very good zone defender for USC. He was good at defense when he only had to do one thing on the possession. He could stay in front in isolation defense and when responsible for a zone he held his own. But when he had to be a team defender and make quick-fire decisions he struggled. In the modern NBA one on one defense is no doubt important, but there has been a slight change in recent years. The value of off-ball guys like Robert Covington is being recognized more and more, because a lot of NBA teams outside of Houston are using ball screens and set plays. Having players to disrupt these is absolutely essential, and this is where Porter has fallen short.
In terms of Porter as a defensive prospect, you are completely banking on physical tools. He has a 6’9” wingspan, and his big hands mean that he should theoretically be able to disrupt the passing lanes. The toughest part of draft evaluation is trying to predict how a player will look in a new system, essentially trying to answer questions that the film doesn’t really answer for you. The unknowns are what the elite General Managers such as RC Buford are excellent at deciphering. Like a lot of college teams, USC switched sporadically and ran a lot of zone defense, so Porter’s raw physical tools were not put to use in these situations. Alongside the likes of Robert Covington and Josh Okogie, Porter’s potential issues as a screen-defender might be hidden well, allowing him to just dominate physically and play intense man to man defense.
Saying a prospect needs coaching is not exactly rocket science when you consider that very few complete packages have ever entered the draft, but Porter needs good defensive coaching more than the majority of the prospects in this draft. Simply put, being a good lone read defender is not all that valuable. He has to use his natural tools in order to create turnovers within the overall defensive structure.
The main flashes in Porter’s tape came in terms of getting steals and blocks. As I said above, Porter often went looking for these which created more bad defensive possessions than good ones, but the flashes would be enough for a good defensive coach to work with. On the play below, he breaks up a dribble hand-off with ease in a manner Robert Covington would have been proud of.
This is where Porter can use his length and hands to be a pest. It didn’t happen often enough and he overdid things, but he is capable of disrupting the dribble hand-off actions that almost every playbook in the NBA is starting to utilize more often.
He had 1.9 steals per 100 possessions which is not terrible, but he needs a lot of refinement on that end. With Gersson Rosas potentially opting for an NFL style coaching staff with coordinators for each side of the ball, Porter may fit well because he’d be getting attention from a specialist on that side of the ball. His tools suggest he can be a plus defender, but natural talent doesn’t really matter if you don’t show it. I don’t necessarily buy the negative motor stuff that people have placed against him. On film I saw a player willing to defend, but not necessarily knowing what type of split-second reads to make. The lack of motor was really exposed in transition defense. At times it looked as if Porter was just getting back for the sake of it without attacking shooters or delaying the man with the ball. But this all comes back to him not really knowing what he is doing on that end, as opposed to him being lazy or lacking work ethic.
Questions of Efficiency
On tape, his offensive game was very promising. Like a lot of college prospects though, the key to Porter becoming what some think he can be is taking the right shots. He can score at every level, the weakest spot being his free-throw game. His spot-up shooting will be a positive, but taking a spot-up shooter at 11 would be a bit underwhelming. Porter shot well from most areas of the court, but his shot distribution was not ideal. He took too many mid-range shots when he didn’t need to. In a vacuum Porter’s tape was good, but the meagre 100.2 offensive rating USC posted when he was on the court was dwarfed by most of the other rotation players. His game is promising, but he needs Morey-ball more than anyone. Porter’s efficiency is divisive and comes down to one question- Can he get into the paint more often at the NBA level? I and many others believe he can, others don’t. That’s what makes draft season so fun.
Flawed Shot Mechanics
One of the knocks on Porter that both sides of the argument agree on is that there could be some concerns regarding his shot. Though it did get him buckets at the collegiate level, the release point is relatively low. When he goes to his step-back this is not necessarily a huge problem. But in the NBA where he will likely be a spot-up threat tasked with collapsing the defense early on, his low release point may be an issue. It almost seems as if he is pushing the ball up. There is a lack of naturalness to what he tries to do. I’m not Chip Engellund, but I think he could have some issues hitting transition threes as retreating defenders will know they can create an easy turnover by blocking his shot.
Also to this point, his free throw mechanics are downright ugly. This shouldn’t surprise anyone, considering he shot 51% from the line this past season. Weirdly, his free throw mechanics are very different to his shot mechanics.
A Home Run?
This isn’t the most popular pick for Timberwolves fans. If Gersson Rosas were to make it, it would suggest he wants to hit a 450-foot home run as opposed to an infield single. Porter has all the tools and has a very good individual offensive profile. His step-back is better than the majority of the players who are in the NBA now and he has a potentially positive perimeter game. This good looking tape will mean nothing if he doesn’t embrace the nature of the modern NBA though, he has to be more efficient.
He could be a plus play maker by just making simple reads from wing PnR’s as his ability to blow past defenders means easy passes should be there. Defensively he has the natural ability, but he needs a lot of refinement and needs to fight harder through screens. If you’re a wing who can’t play through ball screens, you won’t be a valuable rotation player in the NBA in 2019.
Porter is one of the prospects who is going to make people look very stupid. There is a legitimate chance that he’s just not very good. But with the right coaching, he can be a game changer.