Can the Wizards Afford Otto Porter? | Wizards Blog Truth About

Can the Wizards Afford Otto Porter?

Updated: February 2, 2017


Otto Porter has been nothing short of a revelation for the Washington Wizards this season. He’s not only hanging with the team’s stars, John Wall and Bradley Beal, in both plus/minus and Net Rating, he’s also currently top 10 Player Efficiency Rating (PER) among small forwards. His positive on-court impact is obvious, neatly presented in column after column of advanced statistics online, but there may not be a better summary of what he brings to this season’s Wizards as his shot chart:

shotchart (2)

It’s beautiful, and a testament to just how far young Otto has come. Long-time Wizards reporter Ben Standig sums up the wing’s career journey in fewer than 140 characters:

The question being asked across the league isn’t whether Porter will get a max—because he is—but whether he’s worth the money. The obvious answer is, “Yes, of course,” and I won’t even try to disagree with that assessment (after all, Harrison Barnes is on a max contract). I do, however, want to point out the red flag with Porter, and one that perhaps (to my knowledge, at least) has not been discussed enough.

Otto Porter is greatly benefitting from the Wall-fare state. That’s in large part by design, and that’s fine. Here’s how it works: Basically, John Wall is a force of nature. On the fast-break, he’s able to bend space and time for dunks and layups, and even in the half court, he’s routinely breaking game plans to contain Washington’s secondary options. The Wizards this season take 14.5 shots with a defender within two feet; the Golden State Warriors average 14.4. More telling, however, is the number of shots they get that are, by the Association’s own definition, open: 26.2. Only the Pelicans average more, and by the narrowest of margins (0.3 per game). The difference between the two “open” shot leaders is production: Washington hits 6.5% more of their open shots from the field, and 3.4% more from 3.

Wall, in Scott Brooks’ offense (a refreshing departure the oppressive regime run by Randy Wittman), typically initiates screen-and-roll action with Marcin Gortat(1), or waits for Beal to come off a screen, or picks out Markieff Morris on the block. As defenses are forced to adjust on the fly and send extra bodies to help in the paint, Otto Porter is left alone to contemplate the nature of our reality or, when a skip pass hits him between the numbers, let 3-pointers fly. To the player’s credit, he is connecting like a telephone operator in 1962—regularly, and teams are paying for it.

Of John Wall’s 475 total assists this season, 111 of them have gone to Porter—in other words, 23% of Wall’s assists this season have gone to Porter. With a pass from the All-Star, the fourth-year wing shoots 52.4% from the field and 43.6% from 3. In catch-and-shoot situations, Porter is hitting 49.2% of his shots overall and 47.4% from 3. Not even Bradley Beal is shooting as well as Porter when receiving a pass from Wall—hitting 46.2% from the field and 41.1% from 3, and 40% from both the field and 3 in catch-and-shoot situations.

Catch-and-shoot situations are, by far, Porter’s most frequent offensive contribution: 72.3% of Porter’s shot attempts come with zero dribbles. He takes one dribble 12.7% of the time, and rarely dribbles more than a few times on any possession. And it’s no surprise given the breakdown above that, per tracking records, the majority of Porter’s shot attempts come with a defender no closer than four feet. In fact, he’s taken more shots this year with a defender between four and six feet away from him than all other settings combined.

The question I’m asking is whether the Wizards ought to invest max money in a complementary player. Remember, John Wall (as outlined above) has the uncanny ability to make just about any wing player look good, boosting field goal percentages in some cases and bringing veterans back from the dead in others.

Porter has so far proven one thing: that he can hit an open shot from anywhere on the floor. What remains to be seen is whether he can dominate outside of efficiency metrics. He is far from a finished product, and while he’s so far exceeded expectations, it’s still important to ask just how good he might be tomorrow.

He’s a disruptive defender in a team setting, helped by a seven-footer’s wingspan, but he still gets crossed up by quick wings and bullied in head-to-head match-ups with the likes of Kawhi Leonard, LeBron James, and Carmelo Anthony. These types of primetime players will be his main competition in the next few seasons, both on the court and in the cap spreadsheets, and there’s no shortage of other high-potential talent coming for the crown. Milwaukee, for example, has two in Jabari Parker, who’s Porter’s size with twice the explosiveness and already shooting 38% from 3 in his third season, and Giannis Antetokounmpo, who’s top 10 in PER overall and makes the impossible (like Euro-stepping into dunks from the arc) look easy. Giannis also accepted a new contract at less than the max.

Another consideration: Maxing Otto Porter would mean the team’s biggest contracts are locked into positions 1, 2, 3—an obvious break from the traditional “Big 3” combo, in which at least one of the primetime stars is a big, either a dominating center or a power forward with range. It’s also worth considering that talented big men, even those in the middle of the pack, tend to carry a fairly hefty price tag.

What options do the Wizards have? Trading Porter before the deadline simply is not going to happen—the Wizards have long wanted to prove they can develop “homegrown” talent, and moving Porter would not only betray owner Ted Leonsis’ vision for the franchise but also ask more questions of Team President Ernie Grunfeld’s decision making. You can’t just let a max player go, right? Plus, they’re realistically chasing 50 wins for the first time in decades—and you know team brass wants to see skeptics eat crow. Nobody knows nothing, told you so.

There is, somewhere, an alternate basketball universe in which the Wizards will trade Porter—for the right return. Say, a first round pick and a 3-and-D player in the mold of Trevor Ariza, or perhaps a versatile swingman like Rodney Hood or Will Barton, who’d be able to step in and contribute right away without forcing the Wizards to reconsider scheme or reconfigure the offense. Cap dollars saved at the 3 could be invested in solidifying the bench, finding a long-term replacement for Trey Burke, the backup guard whose contract expires at the end of the year, and shoring up a bench that (as well as Jason Smith has played as of late) is full of multi-year contracts but short on game-changing talent.

Teams are “starting to scout Otto Porter different,” Scott Brooks said, reacting to his starting wing going scoreless in the first half against the Knicks this week, which hints at my principal worry. Is he truly a star in the making? Is he capable of creating his own shot, taking defenders off the dribble, and playing up to the standard already set by the most dangerous players in the world? Can he set a new standard?

These questions are impossible to answer right now. Maybe they’d be best left to another team, but the Wizards appear ready to double down.


  1. He’s shooting a team-high 67.1% with Optimus Dime’s help.
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John Converse Townsend
Reporter / Writer / Co-Editor at TAI
John has been part of the editorial team at TAI since 2010. He likes: pocket passes, chase-down blocks, 3-pointers. He dislikes: typos, turnovers, midrange jump shots.