God help you if you spent any portion of your Monday night watching the Oklahoma City Thunder play basketball against the Houston Rockets. The unexpected semi-competence of OKC’s early season is now a distant, bittersweet memory, and the Thunder came into Monday’s contest having lost five straight. The Rockets, meanwhile, were riding a two-game winning streak that raised their season total to a whopping three, and are one of the tiny handful of teams sporting a worse point differential and net rating than the bottoming Thunder. Thunder-Rockets is one of the really genuinely putrid matchups available on the NBA calendar in 2021. Almost nothing that could happen in the game, short of a nuclear missile strike, could qualify as legitimately newsworthy to a casual fan.
With that rousing introduction, I would like to present to you now the 10th rebound collected by Houston’s Kevin Porter Jr., in the 47th minute of a 102–89 Rockets home victory staged in front of an audience of what appears to be several living humans. The extremely overqualified-for-this-shit Christian Wood was Houston’s star of the game, but this slapstick nick-of-time rebound gave Porter Jr. his first career triple-double. In a game with zero stakes, in a season with zero stakes, working for an organization that is embarking on a years-long stakes-removal project, young man, get yourself that dang triple-double.
As desperately sought triple-doubles go, this was the very opposite of the infamous Andray Blatche episode from 2010. In that Guy-heavy sequence, Blatche was shamelessly hunting his 10th rebound in the final moments of an all-too-rare Wizards victory when teammate Cartier Martin hauled in an airballed three from the Nets’ Chris Douglas-Roberts, pulling the rebound directly off of Blatche’s fingertips with 18 seconds left on the clock and spoiling his final chance at what was back then a somewhat more rare and special achievement. Porter Jr.’s teammates in Houston suffered from no such lack of situational awareness: Alperen Sengun tapped the loose ball away from any lingering OKC players, and then Jae’Sean Tate and Josh Christopher risked letting the ball roll out of bounds while Porter collected himself and then sheepishly lumbered back to establish possession. That is teamwork in action!
Just as none of this should mean too much to you, the casual NBA fan, not a whole lot of what happens on the court in an early December Thunder-Rockets matchup has much meaning to the Thunder or Rockets organizations, either. Both teams are in the early stages of complete roster tear-downs: If either team employs players who can help a team win games now, their front offices will dedicate a portion of the remainder of this season to swapping those players to other teams in exchange for players and draft picks who cannot. The Rockets, in particular, are committed at extreme cost to the project of losing lots of basketball games. Talks this week between their organizational braintrust and John Wall centered around a potential return to action for the exiled point guard, but the Rockets, who have the second-worst offense in basketball—behind only the Oklahoma City Thunder, naturally—would presently prefer to pay Wall $44 million to not play basketball than allow him to compete for a starting position with players who are far, far worse.
Porter Jr. is one of those worse players. His development toward a core job is ostensibly a significant part of what is keeping Wall pinned to the bench, but the credibility of that project is taking a beating. Porter Jr.’s shooting splits and efficiency metrics have fallen in each of his NBA seasons, and he is now producing an absolutely nightmarish 46 percent true shooting while using up a quarter of his team’s possessions. Young players typically move from bad to good via a route that passes through basic competence and usability. Porter Jr. appears to be going from bad to worse, but he will have every opportunity to figure things out while the Rockets pursue the spoils of losing.
There will come a time in the future when the Rockets, even with their moron sleaze of a debt-rich owner, will once again try to fit their basketball operation for actual basketball success. For now, they’ve got some goofy youths they will one day want to be part of that shift—or at least, they want to claim that this period of shittiness is a necessary route to success. In the meantime, if your bosses think so little of you and your coworkers that they’ve set you up to do nothing beyond suck and lose, you can at least stick together and have each other’s backs. I for one applaud these hapless bozos for achieving this dubious highlight as a team!