Back when the Cleveland Cavaliers picked him up after this year’s draft, Craig Porter Jr. seemed to be a quality signing. Porter steadily improved over the course of his tenure at Wichita State, and he made some things happen for the Cavaliers in Summer League.
Porter was one of Cleveland’s summer standouts in Las Vegas, and his two-way play helped throughout those outings. He was one of the Cavaliers’ most reliable players in Vegas, andhis contributions on both ends gave the Summer Cavs a boost, when Cleveland won their first Summer League title.
In fairness, though, going into this season with the Cavaliers, Porter didn’t exactly seem in line to play a whole lot. As a two-way signing, that played into that realistic expectation, and so did guys such as Darius Garland, Donovan Mitchell, Caris LeVert and seemingly Ty Jerome, among others. That wasn’t necessarily including Ricky Rubio, either; time will tell if Rubio at some point is back with the Cavaliers.
That said, while injuries have factored into it, it’s turned out that Porter has had some real opportunities early on with Cleveland, and he’s coming along. And the Cavaliers might really have something, and maybe earlier on than one might’ve foreseen, in this undrafted rookie, in the process.
In his first few appearances with the Cavaliers, Porter looked a bit out of sorts at times, but that was understandable, given the circumstances. In his first two contests, he was a minus-10 and then minus-nine in losses to the Indiana Pacers and New York Knicks, prior to making some plays in a win at the Knicks on Nov. 1, when he was a plus-three and had four points in 11 minutes.
From there, while there weren’t many meaningful chances for him with the Cavaliers, Porter did have nine minutes of time in a win at the Portland Trail Blazers, and in Cleveland’s last two wins. In those, Porter had 12 points and five assists in a W over the Detroit Pistons on Friday, and had an early career night in Cleveland’s win over the Denver Nuggets on Sunday. He finished with the following in that win on Sunday over the champs:
Porter’s splits early on with the Cavaliers in totality won’t jump out, with 6.5 points and 2.1 rebounds in 11.4 minutes per outing, in what’s been eight games. He’s attempted one three-point shot in 91 minutes of playing time with the Wine and Gold thus far, and missed that look.
However, as he’s gotten some legit chances, Porter has given the Cavaliers a jolt of late, and with the club thin at guard, and to some degree at wing, he’s done a nice job. And early on, Porter is starting look more comfortable in his time with the Cavs when his chances have been there off the bench.
Granted, Porter’s numbers in the past two games are not going to be what he’d have in situations where Mitchell is involved, and Caris LeVert missed the Denver game, to clarify, as it pertains to what Cleveland could be receiving from Porter.
That aside, the flashes he has shown have been impressive from Porter, and while one will have to see regarding the other two-way players Cleveland has, Porter could seemingly have his two-way deal converted to a standard one, at least first. Emoni Bates still could be a player to look out for more so down the road in that sense it appears, as his shooting will be something to continue to monitor with the Cleveland Charge this G League season, and in some spurts with the Cavs.
Although on the subject of Porter, his combination of handle, rim pressure and his vision all have given the Cavaliers some steadying play in his minutes off the bench as he’s gotten more comfortable. His vertical athleticism has popped at times on both ends of the floor, and his defensive playmaking has made the Cavs more versatile on defense, but his contact balance as a driver also shouldn’t be overlooked.
With what Porter has demonstrated recently and gradually over the course of when he’s had real opportunities for stretches with the Cavs, he’s beginning to make a more compelling to case to stick in the rotation. And in the process, if his deal gets converted to a standard one, and/or if Jerome isn’t eventually more involved when he’s healthier, so be it.
As an older prospect at 23, Porter has adjusted pretty quickly to the NBA game it seems, and it’s becoming all the more clear the Cavs already have something in Porter. The dude just knows how to play, and his refined skill set allows him to be a factor at either backcourt spot.