With help from Mama, Porter gives Wiz­ards a shot

The Washington Post Sunday - - SPORTS - JERRY BREWER jerry.brewer@wash­post.com For more by Jerry Brewer, visit wash­ing­ton­post.com/brewer.

Mom taught Otto Porter Jr. how to shoot. Of all the gifted south­east Mis­souri play­ers named Porter or Tim­mons — the two royal bas­ket­ball fam­i­lies of that area — El­nora Tim­mons Porter in­flu­enced her son’s now-es­teemed jump shot the most.

They stood on a paved slab in their back yard and went through the ba­sics. El­nora taught young Otto, about 8, how to po­si­tion his hands. She told him to fo­cus on the rim and to see the ball roll off his fin­ger­tips. She em­pha­sized the fol­low through and hold. Her hus­band, Otto Sr., would come home and worry about foot­work and us­ing the legs. Mom kept it sim­ple.

“I just had one thing in mind,” El­nora said, laugh­ing. “I just wanted him to hold it and shoot it right. He’s come a long way from when we were just try­ing to get a con­sis­tent form and make ’em from the free throw line. A

long way.”

Now 23, Otto Jr. is one of the most ef­fi­cient scor­ers in the NBA. His range ex­tends well beyond the free throw line. The Washington Wiz­ards small for­ward has grown from a rookie who made just four three­p­oint­ers in the 2013-14 sea­son to the league’s fifth-most ac­cu­rate deep shooter, at 43.4 per­cent. The im­prove­ment has trans­formed him from a ver­sa­tile player slowly find­ing his way as a pro to an in­valu­able NBA com­mod­ity: a shooter with a di­verse skill set.

This sum­mer, when Porter will be a re­stricted free agent, he could com­mand $100 mil­lion for his com­bi­na­tion of skill, hus­tle, bas­ket­ball smarts and knack for mak­ing win­ning plays. But for now, he’s fo­cused on help­ing the Wiz­ards ad­vance past the Bos­ton Celtics in the Eastern Con­fer­ence semi­fi­nals. Al­though his three­p­ointer isn’t fall­ing, Porter is shoot­ing 57.1 per­cent in three games this se­ries. He’s av­er­ag­ing 16 points and 9.3 re­bounds.

It’s typ­i­cal Porter, pro­duc­ing with­out hog­ging the ball, run­ning all over the court, scor­ing at the rim, from midrange and from deep de­spite the Celtics’ de­ter­mi­na­tion to elim­i­nate his clean three-point looks.

“When­ever he was in school, he never shot out on the three­p­oint line,” El­nora said. “When­ever we’d been in the post­sea­son, in the re­gion­als or state, then he’d start shoot­ing them. I al­ways told him, ‘If you ever go to the NBA, they’re go­ing to be look­ing for play­ers to shoot the three.’

“I’m glad that he’s im­proved on his three. He needs to start shoot­ing more. But how far he’s come, it’s just a bless­ing be­cause when he first got to the NBA, he was say­ing, ‘Mama, when is it go­ing to be my turn?’ I said, ‘Boy, just hold on. God will let you know.’ Now, it’s his turn. So he’s busy mak­ing some­thing of it.”

El­nora was born into a hoops clan, and then she mar­ried into an­other one. When the con­ver­sa­tion shifts to the drib­bling genes of her joint fam­ily, she likes to keep quiet and let the fo­cus re­main the grand ac­com­plish­ments of Se­nior and Ju­nior, and her brother, Mar­cus Tim­mons, and the dozens of rel­a­tives who have helped Scott County Cen­tral High School win a Mis­souri-record 18 boys’ state cham­pi­onships and six girls’ ti­tles. But Mama could hoop, too. She earned all-state hon­ors in 1985. And she had a rep­u­ta­tion for re­leas­ing her smooth jumper at crit­i­cal mo­ments to win big games.

“She doesn’t talk about her­self a whole lot, but then you hear the sto­ries,” Otto Jr. said. “And you’re like, ‘Wow, that’s pretty cool.’ ”

On the week­ends, Otto Sr. would take his son to the lo­cal YMCA and in­struct him to per­form drills while the fa­ther ex­er­cised. But dur­ing the week, the mother over­saw his de­vel­op­ment. The rules were clear: Do your home­work. Get your shots up. Then you can move on to some­thing else.

After a while, the rou­tine was so in­grained that El­nora and Otto Jr. could share a look and know the task had been com­pleted.

The son loved the struc­ture. The older he got, the more he added to his rou­tine. Many nights, El­nora and Otto Sr. would look out­side after dark and see Otto Jr. shoot­ing un­der the glow of an out­door lamp.

“I wanted to be like Allen Iver­son,” Otto Jr. said, which is funny be­cause, at 6 feet 8 and hav­ing learned to play so well with­out the ball, his game is noth­ing like his idol’s style.

To El­nora, Otto Jr.’s jumper still looks like the one she taught him. He has ad­justed his me­chan­ics as his body changed and as the level of com­pe­ti­tion im­proved, but she rec­og­nizes the shot. El­nora coached him to be prac­ti­cal; Otto Sr. worked more on per­fect­ing his game. She just wanted to show a grow­ing young boy how to put up a shot that could go in. She just wanted to give him some­thing that he could re­peat. The hall­marks of that ap­proach def­i­nitely re­main, even if the jumper has changed a lit­tle.

For an elite shooter, Porter doesn’t have pic­turesque form. It’s not the perfect, quick re­lease that Klay Thomp­son has. It doesn’t pos­sess the en­vi­able flu­id­ity of Bradley Beal’s shot. When Porter catches a pass, he’s slow to gather the ball and get into his shot. It gives the de­fense time to close out on him, but be­cause he has long arms and shoots a true jump shot, de­fend­ers don’t af­fect him much. His left hand, his off hand, is more on top of the ball than pre­ferred. But his re­lease his just as clean and smooth as any of the great shoot­ers. His fol­low through and hold are ideal. Porter also shoots the ball the same ev­ery time, and he rarely takes bad shots.

“It’s as con­sis­tent as I’ve seen,” Wiz­ards Coach Scott Brooks said.

Said Porter: “I’ve played bas­ket­ball for a while now, and I know what are good shots and what are bad shots, and for me, I don’t like tak­ing bad shots. I’m al­ways make sure that I’m square to the bas­ket and mak­ing sure I get a lift off the floor, mak­ing sure that I just stay to my me­chan­ics. Fol­low through. Hold it. The small de­tails. Mak­ing sure I get off the floor when I jump. You don’t want to shoot any­thing flat-footed, stuff like that. Mak­ing sure I stay straight up and down. No fade, or any­thing like that.”

El­nora watches her son closely. She knows when he’s ner­vous; he tugs on his jersey, same as he has done since mid­dle school. When he gets to his fa­vorite spots on the court, she can en­vi­sion the shot swish­ing be­fore he even shoots it.

It looks the way it did 15 years ago. And as the ball falls through the net, there’s her boy, all arms and legs to this day, hold­ing his right arm in the air, keep­ing it aloft like a se­ri­ous shooter. Like a Porter and a Tim­mons. Like Mama taught him.

Jerry Brewer

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