The Cleveland Cavaliers are in the midst of an impressive season, boasting the fourth-best record (26-16) in the Eastern Conference after winning eight of their last nine games.
Rookie Craig Porter Jr. has been a key contributor and one of the pleasant surprises of the 2023-24 season. Despite going undrafted, Porter has surprisingly emerged as a standout player. After starting point guard Darius Garland went down with an injury, Porter stepped up. In five games as a starter, he averaged 11.4 points, 7.4 assists, 6.2 rebounds, 1.4 blocks and 1.2 steals.
In an interview with Alex Kennedy on the show “Running Up The Score,” Porter talked about his early success in the NBA and how he’s surprised even himself with the way he’s started his career.
“I mean it's been very fast-paced," Porter said. "With all the injuries we’ve had so far this season, I’ve been pushed to play pretty early. So, the learning process has just been the same as the playing process, as soon as I got put in, I was learning everything and it was all new, but it has been an amazing journey so far.”
The 6-foot-2 point guard is the only rookie averaging at least 10 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists as a starter this season.
“I am very surprised, because coming in on a two-way [contract] and spending training camp with everybody healthy, you don't necessarily think that four or five people are gonna get hurt and that's gonna be your first opportunity within the first two or three weeks of your first season,” Porter said. “Even to not play in the G League was kind of crazy to me – it was just so fast-paced and it just caught me off guard. I didn't think it was gonna be an opportunity that fast, but I figured it would be at some point.”
Running Up The Score starts NOW! Cleveland Cavaliers rookie Craig Porter joins me to discuss:— Alex Kennedy (@AlexKennedyNBA) January 24, 2024
🏀 Terrific rookie season
🏀 Toughest player he’s guarded
🏀 Studying Rajon Rondo
🏀 Support from Cavs fans
🏀 What he learned in JUCO
Success in the NBA often comes down to opportunities and a player's situation. When Cavs head coach J.B. Bickerstaff texted Porter that he would be moving into the starting lineup, Porter initially thought he was joking. However, he quickly realized his coach was serious and began to prepare. He knew he had to make the most of the opportunity, and that's what exactly what he's done.
“Once the first one [opportunity] came, I started playing well and I felt like I was ready. And then a couple of games later, I started some games and then I started earning more and more trust from everybody," Porter explained. "Then, it was just like, 'Okay, I know I'm with the Cavs full-time now.'"
When it comes to Porter's transition to the NBA, the 82-game schedule has been the toughest part.
“[The schedule] is different, for sure. We’re probably halfway through the year now and, I mean, it's just ridiculous. I didn't realize how many games you really play each week," Porter said. "It's taking some adjusting, but I just feel like once I figured out my routine, it kind of made everything a lot easier. And the [travel] is fun, you get to go see all these cities. It's crazy to think what basketball can do for you."
The 23-year-old out of Wichita State credited his age and maturity for helping him adjust to the NBA. Unlike a one-and-done rookie who came into the league at a young age, Porter believes his college experience has done wonders for him in terms of knowing his role on the team.
“I did five years in college, so I feel like I just have been put in every situation that can prepare me to be a pro," Porter said. "I’ve played the role of being just a role player, being just a defender, somebody who just sits in the corner… I'm just prepared for any role that I'm put in. I feel like nothing’s too big for me to handle. Any situation I've been put in so far, I’ve proven that I can just handle it and my maturity’s probably the biggest thing that stuck out during all that."
Due to his solid play, Porter has been mentioned as a potential selection for the Rising Stars Challenge during NBA All-Star Weekend in February — a distinction given to the top rookies in the league. He shared what it would mean to him if he was selected.
“It would mean the world (getting selected) not because I'm undrafted, but because of the journey that I've gone through. Even just the things I've done this season, I mean, if anybody deserves it, I feel like I do, for sure. But I'm not gonna be mad at it because I just wanna win at the end of the day. I would take winning over anything, obviously. But those personal goals of mine are getting into these things. I'm just gonna keep being me and playing the way I do.
"But obviously, yes, I would love to be in that stuff,” Porter said with a big smile.