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NBA Draft 2019: The Siren Song of Kevin Porter Jr.

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Is USC wing Kevin Porter Jr. the type of wing the Pistons need, or the type of wing they usually get?

NCAA Basketball: Oregon at Southern California Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

In Greek mythology, Sirens lured sailors to their deaths with their alluring song. Every sailor heard a different song; each sailor heard the song of what they desired most in the world.

Today, Detroit Pistons fans don’t have Sirens. We have Kevin Porter Jr. and his pro day tape to offer us what we desire most in the world:

A perimeter player who gets BUCKETS.

Sadly, I am afraid that KPJ will leave Pistons fans dashed on Stuckey Shores, ships washed out to sea without an Answer. But let’s dive into the waters anyway.

What’s To Like

When I had Cole Zwicker on the DBB Podcast (Subscribe! Download! Rate!), the first guy I asked about was Kevin Porter Jr. That wasn’t an accident - it’s supremely easy to see where he fits in for Detroit as an athletic wing who can create and convert shots without much input from his teammates. Porter Jr. creates separation for his step-back effortlessly:

Creates separation for his step-back effortlessly:

Creates separation for his step-back effortlessly:

(If you learn nothing else about KPJ from this piece, learn this: He has a fucking lethal step-back jumper.)

He shot over 40 percent from three in college, and looks comfortable converting spot-up looks from distance:

He can pick his spot, elevate, and finish:

He shows faint (VERY faint) embers of defensive potential, and has the wingspan at 6’9 to be a disruptive team defender:

And there’s a case to be made that he was utilized poorly in school: Too underutilized as a creator, coming off the bench, only playing 22 minutes a night. A potential lottery pick that was *checks notes* FIFTH on his team in shots per game? That doesn’t feel right, and if you’re inclined to like KPJ, it’s just another arrow in the “He’s better than he’s shown” quiver.

What’s Not To Like

Because of his smaller game sample and potential under-utilization, it’s difficult to tell if his ability to create for others is missing, or just not what he was asked to do in college. No matter how you slice it, though, he had more turnovers than assists, which is not a great look. Shot creation as a concept includes shots you create for yourself and shots you create for your teammates, and KPJ only has one of those down:

As you might expect of a freshman, his decision-making is a little rough. He’s an odd mix-up of tendencies as a ballhandler; he’s got the advanced dribble combinations necessary to create the separation for the step-back down, but he can be lackadaisical with the ball:

Also, he didn’t get to the line as much as you’d expect a guy with his skill set to (47 FTA in 21 games). Compare that to my guy KZ Okpala, who shot 173 free throws in 29 games, or even a guy like Keldon Johnson, who doesn’t have the dynamism Porter Jr. does but still shot 155 free throws in 37 games. Part of that free-throw discrepancy is easy to diagnose; he uses his (again, lethal) step-back a little too much. Unless you’re James Harden or Lou Williams, you’re not getting fouls called on those consistently.

When Porter Jr. DID get to the line, he only shot 52 percent. I won’t force you to watch him shoot free throws, but his shot from the line comes out hard and flat, much flatter than his jumper. He’s clearly not THAT poor a shooter, but that kind of outlier result is one you can get when you shoot fewer than 50 free throws in a season.

Lastly, when the embers of his defensive flashes burn out, you’re left with some very meh defense.

Unlike what I wrote about KZ’s bad defense, these clips aren’t a lack of technique or a lack of know-how. That’s a lack of effort.

Why Are You Out on Him?

Were Kevin Porter Jr. to be drafted by the Detroit Pistons, he would instantly become the most dynamic wing on the roster. But he’d do nothing to improve the Pistons defensively (like most rookies) and frustrate fans with his lack of court vision and passing off those separation-creating moves.

I have no issue admitting Kevin Porter Jr. a high-ceiling prospect. If you squint at his outline, the handle, the shot, and the swagger he displays leads you to believe he could grow into a primary offensive option. For me, though, his lack of getting to the rim in college is the big flashing red light - a guy with his dribble combinations you’d expect to live at the rim. If he’s not doing it in the Pac-12, what assurances can you place that he’ll do it at the NBA level?

Over 70 percent of KPJ’s shots this season were jumpers. He’s fallen in love with his step-back, and it’ll be up to his new coaching staff to tone that down. If he’s in love with his step-back because it looks cool and it went in a bunch, that’s fixable (by the right NBA coaching staff). If he’s fallen in love with his step-back because he is forced to finish below the rim because of his average functional athleticism... that’s also fixable, but a bigger ask of him.

Can he learn to leverage the THREAT of the step-back to get past guys and finish? Can he use the separation he creates to throw passes to open defenders? When he says things like this, I have my doubts:

I was talking to another writer whose analysis I trust, and who likes Porter Jr. a lot (so you know it’s not Cole, lol). He told me that there’s a fine line between Bradley Beal and Dion Waiters, and that he was betting that Porter Jr. was closer to Beal than Waiters. I personally just think he’s closer to Waiters than Beal.

That’s not a complete condemnation - Waiters is still a useful player - but I think if Porter Jr. was “only” a Waiters-esque talent, that would be a disappointment to a lot of fans who envision him as much, much more. However, it WOULD be closer to the wing play Pistons fans have become accustomed to from their draft picks over the years.