The Summer (League) of Otto, Take 2
“This is our season,” said Otto Porter on Monday. “Offseason is our season, getting better and getting prepared for this moment.” He was talking about the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas, where the Wizards landed late Thursday night after four days of mini-camp in Washington.
Until he proves otherwise, Otto is beset with the performance expectations that come with being a third overall pick. Lack of playing time, or chances, is one talking-point, as long as it does not discredit the development Porter needed off the court, first. He wasn’t as naturally ready as hoped, forcing him to earn time, not accept it as a given. Not all players (and lottery picks) need or take this path, but Otto did.
So there he was, after the first day of his second pre-summer league mini-camp with the Wizards, tangibly older, even since the end of last season. In the 15-to-20 minutes of media access toward the end of Monday’s practice, the campers went through some live, 5-on-5, up and down the court drilling of basic team offensive principles.
Where the big goes after being denied the pass at the top of the key, who’s setting the cross screen, when that guard does that thing he’s not supposed to do.
no longer looked like the fresh fish in a pond swimming desperate minnows. He’ll hit that pull-up jumper, thank you very much. He’ll be the disciplined, position-based defender, gangly arms and all—with a 7’1.5” wingspan, longer than Joakim Noah’s (6’10.5”). He’ll speak to the media in a manner that might one day lead Ted Leonsis to say, as he once said about John Wall, “His body’s changed. He’s thicker and bigger. His voice is deeper. He’s becoming a man and then you realize, he should still be in college.”
“He’s always been more vocal from what guys give him credit for,” said Porter’s sparring partner, Glen Rice Jr. The two have been working out against each other for weeks leading up to mini-camp.
“It’s a battle, I should say. But not too much. We don’t want to hurt each other and things like that,” said Porter, still being the nice kid that he is. “But it’s competitive.”
It was only a glimpse, but Porter gave off a different air. The other summer campers are now looking to him for answers. He’s admittedly shed a layer of nerves, displayed less shyness, and now everything for Otto is … as he simply said: “It’s fun.”
Check off the appearance of determination, grown from a desire to prove his poor rookie summer league wrong along with knowing that this summer’s team is his (and Rice’s). Not the Jan Vesely post show. Not point-Chris Singleton.
The bar is clearly set a little low. We are still talking about summer league, which isn’t suited to Otto Porter, right?
“You can always adapt to a game,” counters Porter when I asked him. “You don’t have to play the same way, you can always adapt. It’s about adapting to the situation. This year I definitely want to adapt to the summer league game, being more assertive, more aggressive, trying to be a leader on this team.”
Expect Otto to be rebounding and running, pushing the ball up the court, trying to use his height to combat his Tyler Zeller-like sprint speed at the 2013 pre-draft combine (3.40). Even more so, Otto must improve his handles. Sure, Sam Cassell might toy with Porter at the 4 in summer league again, but it’s the 2s and 3s in Randy Wittman’s offense that can be interchangeable. And yes, that offense aims to limit the dribbling of Martell Webster and Trevor Ariza and the like—Wall and Bradley Beal are the ball handlers—but they always have to be a threat to attack, a threat to jet past a defender closing out at the 3-point line.
“I was just telling him last week, his ball handling actually improved a lot,” Rice assessed. “He’s much more confident out there. Always had the midrange, so that’s still good. He’s got that step back that, even if you contest, he’s 6-9, so he’s just shooting over top of guys. He did it a couple times today.” I witnessed one of them; it did look nice.
The assessment of Rice and others only goes as far as the Verizon Center practice court. The Cox Pavilion and Thomas & Mack Center on the campus of UNLV offer the comforts of a high school and college gym (the Wizards will play their first three games at the larger, but generally less attended Thomas & Mack).
Not the NBA, but the next step. Encouraging is the fact that Porter looked more comfortable toward the very end of a semi-discouraging rookie season. He shot .291 before the All-Star break (16-55) and .472 after it (17-36). And he always looked capable on defense.
The sands of LeBron’s hourglass continue to fall; his decision is just as uncertain as
Trevor Ariza’s potential return to D.C. The desire for Porter’s rapid improvement could go from a secondary hope to necessity before game one in Vegas. Either way, the pressure on him to perform is the same, even if the expectations have been artificially lowered.
“And Otto, we can’t forget about Otto,” said Marcin Gortat at the Thursday news conference announcing the signing of his contract. Gortat was talking about Washington’s young core, starting with Wall and Beal, before getting to the workout buddy he’s taken under his wing.
Porter, quietly, hasn’t forgotten about last summer league, much less all that’s been said and written about his very brief NBA career, underwhelming as it may be. Now he aims to make you forget about all that, starting with summer league.
“This is our season,” said Otto Porter on Monday.