The development of Cleveland Cavaliers rookie guard Kevin Porter Jr. is something that Cavs head coach J.B Bickerstaff has been aiding since the start of the team’s training camp last fall.
Bickerstaff, who arrived at training camp as a first-year Cavs assistant coach, felt an immediate connection to Porter Jr. and specifically asked to work with him.
“Before the season, ex-coach John Beilein split up his assistants, having each oversee the development of at least one player,” Chris Fedor of Cleveland.com wrote. “It was a chance to form relationships, build trust and create a routine. J.B. Bickerstaff, who has since taken over for Beilein, specifically asked for Porter.”
Bickerstaff himself explained his desire to do so.
“It was his story. His background. Somewhat being overlooked because of what people thought about him as opposed to who he really is,” Bickerstaff said about the attraction. “I think my background is helpful. The type of kid he is, he gets it. He loves to hoop. He’s competitive. He wants to be a part of the team, first and foremost. He’s not begging for touches, play calls or any of that stuff. He’s a competitor who wants to win and help the team first.”
The 19-year-old Porter Jr. spent only one season at the University of Southern California and dealt with injuries and personal conduct issues that limited him to 21 games.
Concerns about Porter Jr.’s health and behavior resulted in his being selected with the 30th overall pick in last year’s NBA draft by the Milwaukee Bucks. A draft-night deal then sent him to the Cavaliers.
During the All-Star break last month, Bickerstaff was elevated to the Cavs head coaching job. That promotion hasn’t stopped him from focusing on how Porter Jr. is a quick study when it comes to absorbing basketball knowledge.
“You can have a conversation at like 6:25 and then at 7:05 he’s doing the things you asked him to do in that conversation,” Bickerstaff said. “A lot of guys, it takes a while to figure it out. He is the type of kid who can literally translate it from conversation to the floor.”
Porter Jr. continues to forge ahead, scoring in double figures in four of his last five games. That stretch includes a career-high 30 points in the comeback win against the Miami Heat on Feb. 24.
Porter Jr. won’t reach his 20th birthday until May and will no doubt continue to experience ups and downs going forward.
However, it’s clear that his work ethic and basketball intelligence offer him the chance to become a standout player in the years ahead.