The Rockets’ bold John Wall decision amidst trade rumors
When details of the Houston Rockets’ strange agreement with veteran guard John Wall were first leaked, it puzzled the public. Nobody knew whether this meant Wall would be sent home or remain with the team. It wasn’t clear whether Houston would seek a buyout with Wall. And most importantly, the reasoning for Wall not playing wasn’t specified.
Media day certainly cleared a lot of things up. The Rockets made it clear that Wall would remain with the team and provide a leadership presence and for the most part, he did. GM Rafael Stone said that a buyout wouldn’t make sense for either party and the undertone to his answer revealed the reasoning: Houston didn’t want to pay a large lump sum for Wall to not be there and Wall didn’t want to take a discount. However one question was never answered: the reasoning for Wall not playing.
One could make the assumption that the Rockets were betting on Kevin Porter Jr. and Jalen Green developing into their starting backcourt of the future. However, the organization never explicitly said this. In fact, Stone and the front office has been pretty deliberate about not setting expectations publicly about their young guards. Their actions did tip where they were leaning though and reporting from Shams Charania of The Athletic confirmed this assumption.
Sources: Rockets five-time All-Star John Wall will continue to sit games after he told team officials his desire is to play, start games and compete to maintain role. Houston wants Wall to come off the bench.
— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) November 28, 2021
Wall’s desire to return to the team is contingent upon him starting and the Rockets believe he should come off the bench. Per Charania, the reason Wall wasn’t with the team in the first place was this same dispute. Houston wants to focus on the development of Porter Jr. and Green and thus thinks Wall would help best as a reserve. There seems to be a lot of conflicting opinions about this, but it’s also possible that both sides are justified in their stance.
If the Rockets truly think Porter Jr. and Green are the real deal, then there’s nothing wrong with handing them the keys like this. Wall can also reasonably believe that he’s one of the two best guards on this team right now and can impact winning while furthering development better in a starting role. It is pretty bold for the Rockets to draw a line in the sand like this though. It signals how high the organization seems to be on this duo’s potential.
It’s not necessarily a surprise that Houston is high on Jalen Green considering they took him with the second overall pick in what is looking like a pretty talented draft class. Early returns on Green have been a mixed bag, but the logic behind taking a shooting guard with an elite scoring ceiling high in the draft is not absurd. The Rockets have a high degree of investment behind Green working out and in the NBA, top five picks usually start. So on the whole, it’s not crazy that they’ve put their foot down in his regard.
It is a little surprising that they’ve remained adamant about Porter Jr. potentially being their starting point guard some day. In his third NBA season, it doesn’t look like Porter Jr. has made the necessary improvements to warrant that kind of commitment from the organization. He’s still turnover prone, he’s still a poor free throw shooter, and his shooting efficiency overall has actually gone down. The Rockets are essentially banking on rapid improvement from Porter Jr. moving forward.
Now to be fair, we’re only 16 games into his third season and he’s only played 92 NBA games overall. This is much lower than your average player at this point in his career. Porter Jr. has also improved as a perimeter defender. The Rockets are only 1.7 points per 100 possessions worse defensively when Porter Jr. is on the floor versus 7.0 points per 100 possessions last season. You can see him taking on more difficult assignments as the starting point guard and often times, holding his own.
— Salman Ali (@SalmanAliNBA) November 29, 2021
To be clear, Porter Jr. still has a lot of room to improve defensively. He still dies on screens and off the ball, he’s not always fully attentive. He is better on that end though and after how poor he was last season, that’s all Houston can ask for.
When you look at the full picture, Porter Jr. still looks like a player destined to be a pretty good third guard type in the NBA rather than the floor general the Rockets may be envisioning. As I’ve written about before, this is a critical season for Porter Jr. If he shows promise of being that floor general, he’s eligible for an extension with the team this summer. Thus far, he’s looked like someone Houston should play the restricted free agency game with instead of coming with an aggressive offer. He needs to develop more feel for the point guard position while cleaning up the turnovers and poor shooting.
The best counter-argument to all of this is that Porter Jr. could make “the leap” somewhere in the final three quarters of the season. He’s averaging 18.5 points, 10.5 assists, and 7.0 rebounds on 52.6% true shooting since returning from injury – all improvements over his season averages. The Rockets have also been 22.1 points per 100 possessions better as a team when he’s been on the floor in this stretch. It’s anyone’s best guess if this is a two game blip or if Houston will prove to be right for prioritizing his development over bringing Wall back.