Otto Porter Totally “Gets” His Liminal State
[Below is a guest piece from Ryan McNeill, proprietor of the website, HoopsAddict.com, and resident of Toronto, Canada. He was in the building for Thursday night’s triple-overtime affair between the Wizards and Raptors and spoke with Washington rookie Otto Porter. Ryan provides this article special to TAI; follow him on Twitter: @ryanmcneill.]
TORONTO, CANADA — No athlete likes being stuck on the bench.
When you were the third overall in last June’s draft, it’s even less enjoyable because the media, fans, and your critics are starting to complain that you’re a bust because you can’t get off the bench during your rookie season.
Otto Porter’s rookie season has been full of growing pains, but he’s nowhere near being a bust.
After Porter missed most of summer league, all of training camp, and the first 20 games of the season (due to a variety of injuries), it shouldn’t be a surprise that he is stuck behind veterans Trevor Ariza and Martell Webster in Washington’s wing rotation.
With the Wizards making a hard push for the playoffs this season, there’s no time for them to coddle a rookie who is already behind.
“You definitely need that time when you first come into the NBA, and that’s something I didn’t have,” Porter told me. “It did kind of hurt and it was frustrating. But, if you look at it, it’s a long season, and there’s still a lot of season. I’m working on being prepared with Coach (Ryan) Saunders out on the court during pre-game. I’ve got to keep working on getting my reps and confidence up.”
The reality with Washington now firmly entrenched in a push to make the playoffs for the first time since the 2007-08 season is that Porter will only see the court if Webster or Ariza get injured. The little-used Chris Singleton, now in his third NBA season, has seen time on the court over past last two games with bigs Nene and Kevin Seraphin out due to injury.
With playing time being like oxygen for NBA players, Porter is stuck gasping for air behind two veterans the team needs to give heavy minutes to if they want to make the postseason.
Missing the chance to work with the coaching staff and get acclimated to the NBA during summer league and training camp essentially doomed Porter to red-shirting his rookie season in the NBA. The Wizards have previously considered sending Porter to the D-League, but that poses a challenge because Washington’s affiliate is all the way in Iowa, and they share that affiliation with four other NBA teams.
All Porter can do at this stage of the season is continue to work out with assistant coach Ryan Saunders for as long as he can before games.
“It’s tough,” Randy Wittman admitted to me when I asked him about Porter missing summer league and training camp. “Not only is he a rookie, but he’s a young rookie.”
“He came out of college early, and he didn’t get any summer league or training camp. He missed the first 20 games of the season. It’s hard, but he’s going to be fine. He’s a player that I think is going to be in his league for a long time. But there’s no question about it that those injuries put him behind the 8-ball a little bit in terms of getting inclined to what this league is about. You have to learn that as a rookie and then when you add the fact he’s 18 or 19-years-old, it’s a whole other game.”
Toronto Raptors head coach Dwane Casey felt empathy for Porter, who turned 20-years-old prior to being drafted last June, because he has coached numerous players in similar situations during his time as a coach in the NBA.
“It’s very difficult,” Casey explained to me. “We went through it with Eric Snow in Seattle when he was backing up Gary Payton. It was a tough chore. We had Roddy Beaubois, who was a top pick in Dallas who everybody was pushing to play. Mark (Cuban) was very high on him, but he was playing behind J.J. Barea, Jason Terry, and Jason Kidd. The only advice you can give to a guy like (Otto Porter) is to be patient.”
Being patient is never easy, but it’s even tougher when you’re a very young player with the burden of being a high lottery pick.
“The key is patience, not getting down on yourself and having fun,” Casey said. “I mean, you’re playing basketball. There’s no pressure on Porter to produce. There’s no pressure on JV (Jonas Valanciunas) to produce. The pressure is on the older guys. Otto needs to relax. Learn. Have fun. Be patient with yourself.”
It’s hard to accept being latched to the bench with no reprieve in sight. It’s even tougher when you’re not on the court for the first time since you were in high school. It also doesn’t help that a trip to the D-League is now probably not going to happen for Porter this season, despite prior consideration.
Wittman essentially shot down the idea of sending Porter to the D-League before the game against Toronto, because if an injury happened to one of Washington’s wings, it would leave the team hurting for depth.
“You’ve got to cover your back,” Wittman said.
On Wednesday, however, the Wizards announced that they would be re-assigning rookie guard Glen Rice to the Iowa Energy for his second D-League stint this season; Rice also played in the D-League last season prior to being drafted by the Wizards in the second round last June.
Being stuck with the team and not getting the chance to play in games is a fate Porter has accepted for himself this season, unless an injury happens to Ariza or Webster. Still, that doesn’t mean Washington’s talented rookie likes being stuck riding the pine.
Luckily for Porter, there’s a chance playing time could open up next season depending on what happens to Ariza as a free agent this offseason and how Porter is able to grow with a summer playing for the Wizards and a full training camp under his belt.
It’s just a shame for his development that he hasn’t been able to earn minutes this season or that he hasn’t been given a chance to get court time in the D-League. But, those are the breaks when you get drafted onto a playoff hopeful instead of a team hoping to build from scratch.