Blaming Otto Porter

Blaming Otto Porter
March 25, 2013, 12:45 am
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This postseason was supposed to be different for the Hoyas and not simply in a glass-half full kind of way. This time Georgetown had a player that fills up every space of a stat sheet.

This postseason was supposed to be different because of Otto Porter Jr.'s high-end skill set. His best skill, it turns out, was covering up Georgetown's weaknesses until he could no more.

It's not Otto Porter's fault that Georgetown's season ended abruptly, again.

It's exactly Otto Porter's fault that fans, maybe even the coach of the program, believed this time would be different.

That's what happens when a player goes from interesting to astounding and his team follows along, all the way to the Big East regular season title, all the way to a No. 2 seed.

Without the likely NBA lottery selection playing at an All-American level, the Hoyas were no title contending squad. He did, so the team did. That led to the Charlie Brown-esque fan base, one that had suffered through four previous first week exists in a row believing that Lucy (insert double-digit seed team here) would let the them kick the football (at least reach the round of 16).

Instead, Porter struggled to score or alter the game in any dynamic way. This was similar to the sophomore forward's performance in the Big East Tournament loss to Syracuse, but counter to his role in Georgetown's revitalized campaign.

For most of the season, the living embodiment of former UCLA coach John Wooden's "be quick, but don't hurry" quote  plus the team's stingy defense covered up Georgetown's positional and scoring flaws. Until, without warning, they didn't...

Many of those throwing underachieving claims at the Hoyas now probably do not recall the senior-less team began the season unranked. Georgetown even fell from the "others receiving votes" level at times. Everyone remembers the struggles to score, tallying less than 50 points four times in the opening 13 games.

Though he played only six minutes during the first two games because of a mild concussion, Porter averaged 12.8 points, 7.2 rebounds, 2.8 assists while shooting 48.8 percent from the field and 39.3 percent from beyond the 3-point arc during the baker's dozen stretch of contests.

The start of Big East play ended that span - and began with the Hoyas suffering two losses. The loss of Greg Whittington because of an academic suspension came four days later - as did any realistic notion of the Hoyas becoming a Big East or national title contender, so most believed.

Though he ranked behind Porter in scoring and rebounding, Whittington arguably outpaced his classmate in upside, what with his go-go- gadget arms and defensive prowess. One NBA scout copped to the grander potential, but also said of Whittington following his absence, "potential is not production" and "you must play to show either."

Porter certainly did both. His transformation into the unanimous Big East Player of the Year while still mastering the game's subtle arts eventually offset the concerns - and made everyone believe this time would be different.

Without Whittington, Jabril Trawick entered the starting lineup and D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera played significantly more minutes. With two and three guards in the lineup rather than four forwards, the Hoyas pushed the pace and were better at spreading the court, leaving room here, there and everywhere for Porter to maneuver.

Still stoic, but now more assertive, Porter averaged 19.8 points over the next 14 games. His shooting - 52.7 FG percentage, 50.1 percent on 3's - spot on while also tallying 7.9 rebounds, 2.1 assists, and 2.1 steals. In addition, the Hoyas began winning again, 13 of 14 including 11 straight.

Also on the rise, Porter's national attention and draft stock, especially after the small town Missouri kid turned in a big time performance with 33 points, eight rebounds, five steals, and five 3-pointers in a February win at Syracuse.

Raw numbers do not explain all of Porter's gifts, including his defensive prowess. American University coach said, "Porter might be the best cutter without the ball in the country." Syracuse Jim Boeheim praised the forward's all-around greatness. Thompson's proud take, "Otto Porter is every day, he's steady."

Steady was a must because the Hoyas often play with three and sometimes only two viable scorers on the court. Porter shot under 40 percent from the field in five of Georgetown's seven losses. In the last two, he missed 21 of 30 shots.

Before facing FGCU, Thompson was asked about Porter's Big East Tournament struggles against Syracuse. "We don't have to lay him down on the sofa and have a counseling session with him... Otto is going to be Otto. I'm not worried about him at all."

Porter made the Coach appear clairvoyant early against FGCU with consecutive jumpers, but then the misses piled up, some of them from layup range. Though his placid demeanor can give the appearance of indifference - especially when the dunking opponent runs away with the emotional edge -, Porter did not fade from the challenge. He attempted 17 shots, but only made five, finishing with 13 points and 11 rebounds.

"I think that Otto gave 110 percent, as he has all year," Thompson said after the loss. "There were some shots I want to say midway through the first half, some chippies by his standards that didn't go in, and he maybe started thinking about it a little bit. I don't know. But he got looks, the ball just didn't go in today."

After what could be his final game at Georgetown, Porter said, "When things aren't going your way, it's hard. Winning is hard." He later added no decision about whether or not he will enter the 2013 NBA Draft or return for junior year has been made.

None of the poor-stat noting is intended to rip the kid. Those are the facts, just as the Hoyas margin for error all season was thinner than the 205-pounder's frame. It only became clear how thin once Porter's sturdy game dipped.

Did all the extra late season media attention mess with his reserved nature? Maybe. Did defenses tweak their plans against him? Syracuse certainly did in the Big East Tourney. Did the Hoyas not properly adjust to said tweaks? That argument can be made. Among Porter's teammates, only Markel Starks produced offensively against FGCU, which later removed any notion of pure fluke by advancing to the round of 16. Maybe, as the coach said, the ball simply didn't go in.

No rationale, legit or convoluted, actually matters especially to the players and coaches. As for the fans, what if the Hoyas had landed a 6-7 seed, a path many would have accepted at 0-2 and no Whittington. Yes, another postseason without making the regional would have been grating but not as devastating as Friday's loss.

Why? Because without Porter's award-winning season, without good frequently triumphing over evil (beating Syracuse twice, St. John's twice, Louisville and Marquette), without the program's surprising run to its first regular season crown since 2007, how many would have believed this year would be different.