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Craig Porter Jr. on contributing with Cavaliers: ‘I wanted to get to this level so bad’

Craig Porter Jr. didn’t expect to play much with the Cleveland Cavaliers but injuries and other factors created an opportunity, and the rookie has produced when called upon this season.

His journey to the Cavaliers started at the collegiate level at Vincennes University, a junior college in Vincennes, Indiana. He helped lead the program to a national championship in 2019 and a 62-7 record over two seasons.

Porter opted to transfer and played his last three years at Wichita State.

He was named to the All-AAC third team last season as a fifth-year senior after averaging 13.5 points, 6.2 rebounds, 4.9 assists, 1.5 steals and 1.5 blocks. He became the first Shocker to lead the team in rebounds, assists, steals and blocks in a single season.

The 23-year-old joined the Cavaliers for the NBA Summer League after going undrafted and then signed a two-way contract with the team on July 7. He posted averages of 12 points, 7.3 rebounds and 5.3 assists in six appearances.

Cavaliers coach JB Bickerstaff has been impressed by him.

He is extremely mature. He is another guy whose story has led him to see a lot of different things, and he had to grow up through it. He earned his way here, going undrafted, (being at a) junior college and playing four years of college. He is mature and has seen a lot. I have so much trust in him because he doesn’t have the typical (inconsistent play) that young 1-and-dones or rookie guys have. He always stays steady and always stays the course.

Porter expected to spend most of the season in the G League with the Cleveland Charge. However, the Cavaliers have dealt with injuries to several key players, like Donovan Mitchell, Darius Garland, Evan Mobley and Caris LeVert, which thrust him into a larger role.

The situation has been so dire that Porter hasn’t played with the Charge.

He is averaging 7.1 points, 3.1 assists and 2.7 rebounds on 51.2% shooting from the field in 29 games with the Cavaliers. He produced his best stretch of the season in November, averaging 14.4 points, 4.8 assists and 2.6 rebounds in a five-game span.

Porter filled in with the team down Mitchell and Isaac Okoro. He had several clutch plays and performed at a high level, including a 12-point, nine-assist effort in a win against Philadelphia on Nov. 21.

“He is steady, and that is unheard of for an undrafted two-way guard,” Mitchell said. “There are nights when he comes in at the end of the game, and when he comes in and has 12 and (nine) against the Sixers on the TNT game on the road. You never know if he is having a good or bad day; he is just steady. That speaks a lot to his maturity level and character as a person. It is awesome to see.”

Porter has made a strong case to be upgraded to a standard contract. The team has 14 players signed to standard contracts, including one 10-day contract, which is the league roster minimum, so an additional move will likely be made in the future.

Rookie Wire recently caught up with Porter to discuss playing with the Cavaliers, making a significant impact as a rookie, his contract situation and more.

The team recently celebrated Jarrett Allen breaking the franchise record for consecutive double-doubles. What was that moment like?

CP: It was special. Being in my rookie year and playing with a big like this, and with everything going on (injury-wise), he has just stepped up in a tremendous way. In my eyes, I’m comparing him to Wilt (laughs). Obviously, jokingly, but even still, he is an All-Star-level big in my eyes. Every night, he is coming out and giving his all, and it is showing. I’m grateful to have a big like that on my team.

You're a rookie playing with him, Donovan Mitchell and other veterans. How has that helped your growth this season?

Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports
Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

CP: It has made it a lot easier on me. Everybody around here has confidence in me and they try to talk to me any time they can to encourage me and show me any little pointers or teaching points. Over time, they’ve realized that I’m listening, and everything has fallen in place. You’ve got Donovan, Caris and D.G. I feel like everybody on this team realizes that we can all help each other. They’re great leaders.

Coach Bickerstaff praised your ability to come in and earn their trust. What does that mean to you to already have their trust?

CP: It is crazy to think being an undrafted rookie in my first year playing minutes like these and earning the trust of the whole organization is mind-blowing. Honestly, I didn’t think it was going to happen this quick. It shows from the first day that I got here, a lot of the guys didn’t know how I played, but they’ve believed in me and they’ve encouraged me.

That is the biggest thing that keeps me going. I just know how to complement their games a lot, too, because I don’t have to be one of the guys who scores; I can just help guys get points and rebounds for themselves or whatever. I feel like that is the main part of why it is easy to play with me, just because I complement everybody.

It has been a unique year given the number of injuries. Is this how you envisioned this happening in your rookie year?

CP: Not at all. Honestly, I kind of figured it was going to be how most traditional two-ways are: Get minutes here and there at some points in the year. You play alongside guys like Donovan, and almost anything is possible. Being on the two-way, I didn’t imagine any of this, especially this quick, but with injuries and things like that, I was asked to step up. I credit a lot of it to my five years in college. I’m a 23-year-old rookie, so I kind of know what it’s going to take. I’m an older guy, so I feel like it’s the maturity that keeps you cool in situations.

Could you have imagined playing in junior college that you would one day be in the NBA contributing like this?

CP: No. Not at all. It kind of just goes to show you that when you work and work and keep yourself into things, you never know what can happen. It is kind of a small saying that people always say: Always be ready. That is really how my career has been.

Even when I was in junior college, I didn’t start. I barely played my first year at Wichita. I proved myself, and then I got to play more and more. It was a repeating cycle. You go through things like that. It puts a different type of determination and grit in you. I just wanted to get to this level so bad and I feel like it is showing doing what I’ve been able to do.

You had a stretch earlier this season scoring in double figures in five straight games. What did that run do for your confidence?

Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports
Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

CP: I don’t feel like any moment I’ve been put in has been too much. When guys went down, I feel like there was a lot of hope lost around, not necessarily with the team or within the organization, but I just knew when you lose your star players to injuries, there are always those thoughts. We all just came together as a group, and they told me: ‘You’re the point guard right now, so you have to control everything.’ Seeing that confidence from everybody took over for me.

You're on a two-way contract. Do you feel like you've shown enough to potentially earn a standard contract this season?

Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports
Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

CP: There are always those personal goals and things but, yes, I would love that, obviously. I mean, it’s just whatever the organization feels is best for me but, obviously, I would love to be on that roster spot just so I could show them and keep doing what I’m doing.

Story originally appeared on Rookie Wire