Otto Porter, Hello? — 2016-17 Wizards Player Previews | Wizards Blog Truth About It.net

Otto Porter, Hello? — 2016-17 Wizards Player Previews

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Updated: October 25, 2016

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The 2016-17 NBA season is almost here … and upon last check, they are still going to allow the Washington Wizards to participate. So the TAI crew is firing up the pixel makers and churning out player previews, or rather, “Wizards Player Haters’ Previews” — which is not to say that we are hating on the players or the game, but that this season’s version of the Wizards is ready to hate on all those who stand in their way. Up now: Otto Porter, via Sean Fagan (@McCarrick). 

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Year One: On having too many small forwards

Otto Porter has always been a more interesting question than an answer.

Drafted in 2013, Porter was the “best player available” on the board, the third pick in the worst draft in recent memory—first overall pick Anthony Bennett is on his fourth team in as many seasons. The Wizards had locked onto Porter early in the scouting process, as he represented a clear and present need as a player ready to ”contribute immediately” and avoid the death sentence that is/was “Wizards’ player development.” Trevor Ariza, holding down the small forward position for the Wizards at the time, was an almost certainty to leave the team at the end of the season for greener (and more lucrative) pastures. Porter would act as Ariza’s understudy, learning under the wing of an expert in the science of 3-and-D.

Instead, the first curveball of Porter’s NBA career would come just four days after his drafting when the Wizards announced the re-signing of Martell Webster to a four-year, $22 million extension. No longer the understudy, Porter would spend much of 2013 stapled to end of the the bench, a problem exacerbated by a hamstring injury that shortened his first summer league. Porter did not make his debut for the Wizards until the 19th game of the season and would only form an itinerant part of the rotation. His total anonymity would lead to two schools of Wizards thought about the young man from Missouri. The first is that Porter was a bust, that he had no lift on his jump shot, and that for a “finished project,” he more often than not looked lost on the court. The second and less represented school saw Porter as another casualty of the Wizards’ failure to develop young talent. Porter had shown enough “little things” (™ Jan Vesely) during his first year to continue to be worth the effort sunk in, but not enough to guarantee a recurring role, especially with Webster on the books long term.

So the first question of Porter’s career went unanswered.

Year Two: Promises Not Kept

In Porter’s second year, his stock appeared to be rising. Ariza had departed Washington to go ring chasing in Houston, and Martell Webster was shelved with his third back surgery in five years. A position that had once been a source of depth for the Wizards had been stripped bare, and it appeared that Porter would be forced rather than cajoled to take the next step in his development.

Then the Wizards signed Paul Pierce.

Considered a coup at the time, Pierce’s arrival immediately shot Porter down the chute to the second unit where he would labor for most of the 2014-15 season. However, Wizards fans remained excited about Porter’s possible development. Surely, a year under the tutelage of one of the top 20 players in history to man his position could only further Porter’s development, and hopes remained high that Otto would make a leap during his sophomore season. They of course had not factored into their plans the coaching style of one Randy Wittman.

Porter’s numbers during 2014-15 were pedestrian, despite averaging nearly 20 minutes per game in relief of Pierce. A large part of Porter’s struggles attributed to the quality of the second unit which proved unable to utilize Porter’s skills in moving the ball and cutting to open spots on the floor. Playing with tunnel vision point guards such as Ramon Sessions, Porter spent quarters hanging out beyond the key, utterly uninvolved with the offense.

However, Porter’s developmental stagnancy can not solely be blamed on the arrival of future Hall of Famer Pierce or his erstwhile companions of the bench mob. Coach Randy Wittman also bears developmental blame as he began Porter’s sophomore campaign by relying heavily on the contribution of scrap heap pick up Rasual Butler, who earned a roster spot out of training camp and logged heavy minutes in Wittman’s rotation with hot 3-point shooting to start the 2014-15 season. That Wittman rather rely on veteran players to get the Wizards to the playoffs (and save his job) was not a revelation to Wizards onlookers, but it also established a clear pecking order on a team that tilted heavily toward veterans on their last tour of duty. As Porter floated through games, unused and unwanted, the Wizards continued to put the ball in the hands of retreads like Butler and Drew Gooden, players white knuckling onto their place in the league through the ability to put the ball through the basket and operate Wittman’s scheme.

Yet a funny thing happened to Otto Porter in the 2014-15 season … like any magical creature … he showed up when he was needed most.

The 2015 playoff run will be remembered most for the heroics of Paul Pierce and his taunting of citizens of Canada, but it was Porter who erupted to torch the Toronto bench squad. After barely registering in Game 1 of the series, Porter emerged out of nowhere to hit a series of big shots for the Wizards and stabilize the second unit. In Game 2, Porter went an efficient 6-for-8 from the field and pulled down nine boards. In Game 3, Porter scored less but did more, adding two steals, two assists, and a block to his eight rebounds and 11 points. More tellingly, Porter demonstrated defensive chops that had previously lain dormant. Tasked with guarding DeMar DeRozan, Porter changed the locks on DeRozan’s offensive game and threw away the key. The two-headed hydra of Pierce and Porter would prove key in Washington advancing in the series 4-0.

Porter’s emergence, not surprising, coincided with Randy Wittman’s hand being forced in regard to playing time. Pierce, despite his heroics, had to be rested for long periods of each contest to save his best for the final five minutes of regulation and any possible overtime. Rasual Butler had long since played his way out Wittman’s rotation, his defensive deficiencies and veteran legs placing him at the very end of the bench where Porter had one held court.

When Paul Pierce declined to pick up his player option for a second tour of duty in Washington, it appeared as though team were finally ready to let Porter assume the role of starting small forward for the team. No sooner has this been announced that the fans began to ask another question: What happens to Otto Porter if the Wizards manage to sign Kevin Durant?

Living Under the Spectre of Success

Though Otto Porter assumed the mantle of starter during the 2015-16 season, his entire season played out under a pall of a Wizards team that tried to have their cake and eat it too.

For three years, Team President Ernie Grunfeld had deftly maneuvered the cap and contracts of the Wizards to free up as much salary as possible to make a run at Kevin Durant, a Washington native who happened to play the same position as Porter. The 2015-16 team, and indeed some of the coaching staff, was constructed with the wooing of Durant in mind. Instead of aggressively trying to improve the roster and go deeper in the playoffs, Grunfeld painted around the edges, filling in gaps with players like Gary Neal, Jared Dudley, and Alan Anderson. These veterans were meant to hold the line and get the Wizards into the postseason for the third straight time—with the eventual pitch to Durant being that he would become the player that would take them to the next level.

Porter, in the eyes of fans, immediately became less appealing as a core piece and more appealing as trade bait. If the Wizards did manage to sign Durant, what could Porter fetch on the open market in a league with a dearth of quality small forwards? Would Porter be worth a late first rounder? Could he be swapped for a power forward to fill the shoes of the departing Nene?

These questions of course would never be answered as the wheels fell off the 2015-16 Wizards and the team never really got on track. Plagued by injuries from the outset, the Wizards suffered through a brutal campaign, one in which Bradley Beal spent the majority of the season injured and John Wall not only showed up to training camp out of shape, but began to rely more and more on hero ball tactics to bail his team out of games.

Porter, for his part, had the best season of his young career but ultimately it was one that rung hollow. Without Beal on the court, Porter became the de facto second scoring option, a role he was unable to fulfill. Still statistically reliable across the board, it became clear that Porter was never going to able, or allowed, to shoot at the volume necessary to be a primary scorer. On nights that Porter did tally over 15 attempts, they would normally come within the system of the offense and John Wall finding Porter on the wing for a spot up 3-pointer. As the season crept on (and Coach Randy Wittman loosened the strings on his offense), Porter was able to let fly from behind the arc at a more frequent rate. However, his inability to create his own shot and more concerningly his step back on defense (losing his men in transition, failing to seal off 3-point shooters, struggles at stopping dribble penetration) were causes for concern. Porter was certainly the player the Wizards brass thought he was, the issue was that he didn’t seem to be anymore than that in total.

Durant, of course, passed on his invitation to Washington.

2016-16 Outlook

It is 2016 and Otto Porter is no longer a question but the answer. He also holds all the cards. After two years of being jerked around by management (and one season of playing on the under a coach whom the team more or less openly revolted against), Porter enters this season with everything to gain and very little to lose. He will be a restricted free agent following the season and represented by David Falk, Porter is likely to be paid by someone in a league overflowing with point guards but distinctly lacking in small forward depth.

Of course, it wouldn’t be Otto Porter without one last question. There was some argument prior to the start of training camp that new Coach Scott Brooks would have an open competition for the starting small forward position between Porter and sophomore Kelly Oubre, the belle du jour of the Wizards cognescenti. It some ways this made sense—Brooks owes a majority of his previous success in Oklahoma City from being able to mold the raw clay of athletic promise (see Serge Ibaka, Russell Westbrook, Reggie Jackson) into quality, even transcendent, talent. Kelly Oubre—with his outsized wingspan and his silky jumper—is almost tailor-made for Brooks’ ability to transform promise into performance. Porter, with his fundamentally solid non-AAU developed style of play, will always be judged by the limits of his ceiling instead of the height of his floor.

What is fascinating is the Wizards now face a conundrum all of their own making. By delaying Porter’s development by two years, they find themselves up against the clock on Porter’s restricted free agency. If David Falk were to ask for the max (and David Falk ALWAYS asks for the max), then the Wizards have a difficult decision to make on where Porter fits in long term. If confronted with a max contract, it is more than likely that both fans and management would balk because while Porter is an extremely valuable piece on team has a clear identity and a use for a player of Porter’s talents, his place on a team with an a play style that is TBD is harder to pin down. Further, by allowing Porter to take the reigns at small forward, the Wizards push Oubre’s development further down the pipeline, essentially doubling down on the mistake they initially made with Porter.

Yet for the Wizards to have a modicum of success this season, much of it rides on the often derided steadiness of Porter and his ability to continue to develop into that 3-and-D player that the Wizards drafted to replace Ariza three long years ago. This year, Porter will finally get his chance to assume his mantle and hopefully operate in an offense that has both its best offensive weapons (Wall and Beal) on the floor for the majority of the season. Only then will we be able to ascertain how high Porter’s ceiling is and answer the question that has stood unanswered for three seasons: is Otto Porter the present and future of the Washington Wizards’ core?

 

[via @SwedenDC]

[via @SwedenDC]

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Sean Fagan
Reporter / Writer/Gadfly at TAI
Based in Brooklyn, NY, Sean has contributed to TAI since the the dawn of Jan Vesely and has been on the Wizards beat since 2008. His work has been featured on ESPN, Yahoo and SI.com. He still believes that Mike Miller never got a fair shot.




  • Himanshu

    Yes, he is the future of the core for anyone not named John Wall. Even Beal isn’t safe. When given the opportunity and minutes, Otto produces on the offensive end, AND defensive. We don’t have any one on the team who does both night in and night out. The guy needs to have the ball in his hands more often. Stats don’t lie.