The Wizards believe the breakout playoff run of Otto Porter Jr. could be a springboard.
When Otto Porter Jr. visited Poland in July to help teammate Marcin Gortat lead a few youth basketball camps, the two Washington Wizards dabbled in some extracurricular activities around the country. They checked out some submarines. They flew helicopters. They rode boats and tanks. Well, Gortat rode the tanks. Porter watched.
“I wasn’t trying to get on no tanks,” Porter said.
Porter does not expect to be a spectator for the Wizards this season as he was for the majority of his first two in the NBA before he broke out in the playoffs last spring. Washington is banking on him to resume where he left off; his breakout postseason performance quelled concerns about his potential. With Paul Pierce now in Los Angeles, Porter, 22, is slotted to replace the future Hall of Famer in the starting lineup and potentially log minutes at power forward in smaller configurations.
“It’s a huge opportunity for him,” Gortat said. “He had been waiting for the opportunity. I think he’s ready. He’s having fun out there. He’s enjoying his time. But the most important thing, he’s not going to be out there to prove that he belongs in this league.”
A significant increase in playing time during the Wizards’ two-round playoff run allowed the lanky 6-foot-9 Porter, who was in and out of Coach Randy Wittman’s regular season rotation, to showcase his skill set. The No. 3 overall pick in the 2013 draft is a persistent cutter, sneaky rebounder and dogged defender. He does not need the basketball on offense to make an impact. Instead, he defers to teammates, spotting up for three-pointers and filling lanes to the basket to field passes and retrieve misses and assuming the dirty labor most players avoid.
On the surface, Porter’s postseason statistics — 10 points and eight rebounds in about 33 minutes per game — do not awe, but they were giant compared with his regular season numbers and don’t properly delineate Porter’s impact: The Wizards had six lineups log at least 15 minutes and tally a plus net rating, and Porter was the only player in all of them.
A few months later, Porter’s peers have noticed a difference in the third-year pro through five practices. He has been more aggressive in attacking the rim, taking shots and crashing the glass.
“Otto’s really good. Otto’s terrific,” Wizards guard Bradley Beal said when he asked what he learned about Porter in the playoffs. “He does all the little things, but at the same time he’s not afraid to make the big shot or make a big play in the game. And that’s what we needed from him.”
Though the favorite, Porter’s starting role isn’t a lock. There will be some healthy competition from Martell Webster, Kelly Oubre Jr., Alan Anderson and Jared Dudley, though Anderson and Dudley are nursing injuries.
Porter explained one of his personal goals is to improve his three-point percentage— he shot 34.5 percent from beyond the arc between the regular season and playoffs — so he focused on corner three-pointers during the offseason after shooting 25 for 61 (40.9 percent) from the corners last season.
“He took another step last year in his improvement and development as a player, and now you want to see a third step,” Wittman said. “And that’s what you want to work with, the little things he’s got to add. He’s got to get a little bit stronger. Just his continued growth, just like we talked about with Brad and John [ Wall] when they were younger coming in. That’s what good players do.”
Notoriously skinny, Porter, at the behest of the organization, also worked to add strength. He said he weighed in Saturday at about 208 or 209 pounds. He was listed at 198 pounds last season.
“It’s core strength that matters,” Porter asserted. “If I go out there and knock Gortat around and he’s like, ‘Oh!’ then I know I’m getting stronger.”
Unprompted, Gortat remarked that it seemed like Porter has put on some weight since the two were adventuring in his native country together.
“Maybe like three or four pounds. But it’s clean muscle. It counts,” Gortat said. “I haven’t tried to grab the calves yet, but they look like they’re slightly bigger.”