The true value of Cleveland Cavaliers' latest surprise success story

Craig Porter Jr., Cleveland Cavaliers
Craig Porter Jr., Cleveland Cavaliers / Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

When Craig Porter Jr. signed with the Cleveland Cavaliers following the 2023 NBA Draft as a two-way player, it wasn't something that sent shockwaves throughout the Cavaliers fanbase.

Following his addition to the Cavaliers, he quickly became a fan-favorite prospect, proving his value and gaining appreciation. Porter had a strong Las Vegas Summer League and was one of the top performers for Cleveland's squad that won its first Summer League title. Additionally, he's taken advantage of the opportunity in regular season action when opportunity has knocked.

With what Porter demonstrated when the Cavaliers were undermanned by injuries or illness at various points earlier in the season, the potential for Porter to be converted to a standard NBA contract grew more and more by the day. Eventually, after rumors about that expectation feasibly becoming a reality for him, Shames Charania of The Athletic and Stadium broke the news that Porter and the Cavs agreed to a four-year deal to keep the best surprise of the season around for a while.

Bobby Marks of ESPN had further reported details on Porter's deal structure, confirming the last two seasons being non-guaranteed. Over the extended period in which the Cavaliers were without Darius Garland and Evan Mobley, Porter showcased a unique maturity for any rookie. He refused to allow defenders to alter his pace as he orchestrated Cleveland's offense en route to numerous hard-earned victories without two centerpieces.

Craig Porter, Jr. adds a hooper mentality to the Cavaliers

Porter has not been in the rotation regularly since the team returned to full health, but he's had his share of quality performances for the Cavaliers in his first year, especially for an undrafted two-way rookie. On the season, he's had average splits of 6.5 points, 2.8 assists and 2.5 rebounds in 14.7 minutes in his 32 appearances. He's converted on 53.5 percent of his two-point attempts, which have constituted most of his attempts.

When Porter was more involved in meaningful action because of Cleveland being shorthanded, though, he was stepping up big time for the Wine and Gold and showed a ton of promise immediately. From November 15 to January 5, Porter had 8.7 points, 3.9 assists and 2.4 rebounds in 18.6 minutes per game alongside 0.7 steals and 0.5 blocks. Over that span, he also had seven games with at least five assists.

Given the nature of his prior two-way deal, it was natural to see Porter's minutes deplete with Darius Garland back in the fold, Caris LeVert being one of Cleveland's top playmakers and Isaac Okoro playing lockdown defense and evolving offensively. Despite that, Porter demonstrated how he's a player the Cavaliers can consistently rely on when needed. Now and going forward, it will be meaningful to have him as a quality reserve contributor. When the opportunities came knocking, Porter stepped up and then some when he was in games and contributing a sizable workload.

Even with him being an undrafted rookie contributor, Porter consistently made good decisions as a passer, getting several players involved, and his burst, combined with deceleration polish and contact balance, led to him creating quality looks for himself as well. Porter has placed in the 77th percentile in assist rate among combo guards thus far this season at 25.9 percent, per Cleaning The Glass.

On the defensive end, his instincts, timing and athleticism made impactful plays for Cleveland when the opportunities were there.

Porter is a quality defensive guard with sound on-ball positioning, capable screen navigation and an impressive off-ball feel. It's evident that his experience collegiately at Wichita State and previously in JUCO helped him develop on that end of the floor, and in a team sense, he anticipates well, resulting in steals and deflections in passing lanes going the other way.

Porter has had 1.3 steals, 6.1 rebounds and 0.9 blocks per 36 minutes, notable numbers for a rookie. The defensive playmaking he can provide, especially at 6-foot-1-inches, is truly rare, and most of the time, it's not as if he was out of control. While he can commit careless fouls against quicker or bigger rivals, the Cavs will be more than capable of helping him clean up the edges of his game.

Overall, Porter has clearly been quite the find by the Cavaliers. By the looks of it, he has the makings of another undrafted success story for Cleveland despite his areas for needed improvement.

The Cavs still have Dean Wade around, who was previously of that ilk, and recently Lamar Stevens helped as a meaningful role piece, too. Porter could be another quality find and realistically has a much higher ceiling overall than either of those defensive forwards in Wade and Stevens.

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