Wizards react to losing Nene
In my role covering both the Washington Wizards and Georgetown Hoyas, one question comes up way more than all others.
"What's up with Otto Porter?"
This doesn't rank with the universe's toughest queries like "Why are we here," but it's moving up the list seeing as the No. 3 pick in the 2013 draft has received scant minutes. Should I attempt to push aside the inquiry with a unknowing shrug or a verbal response with some type of "it's hard to say" component, the inquisitors next comment is always the same.
"Well, can he actually play?"
Another doozy of a question, indeed.
Georgetown's Otto Porter, the one with the high hoops IQ, ego-less style and yet enough game to lead his team, that guy can play.
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We simply haven't seen enough of the Wizards version to make any declarations. Between injuries and DNP-CDs, the rookie has sat out 35 of 59 games. Porter has scored 37 total points; he had 33 at Syracuse last season.
Those getting their first look at 2013 All-American have observed - and often with frustration - a passive player who runs around the court without impact. Without context, that's a fair assessment. Now for some context.
During the lead up to draft, many a pundit proclaimed Porter the prospect ready to contribute immediately. That was based on the player all saw with the Hoyas, the one with a strong mid-range game who often initiated offense from the high post or the wings. The one who effectively worked inside even against those taller and stronger than the lithe and slender 6-foot-8 forward.
Essentially the Wizards are not having him do any of that.
The wide held belief was that Washington would use pending free agent Trevor Ariza as a trade chip, meaning Porter would help Martell Webster man the small forward role. Obviously, Ariza is still here and with good reason.
Other rookies including Michael Carter-Williams (Philadelphia 76ers) and Anthony Bennett (Cleveland Cavaliers) have either played from the season's start or played through their mistakes for struggling squads. Porter missed all of training camp and the early season with injury, then played catch up on a playoff-pushing team with no time for him to learn on the fly.
Consider these factors and the Otto Porter question folks should be asking isn't whether he can play. It's whether he ever made sense for this team.
The marvel of the San Antonio Spurs isn't that they have elite talent. Outside of the obvious names, they clearly do not. What the perennial contenders have is an understanding of the types of players required to run their system.
Go back and watch game film from the Wizards loss at the Houston Rockets on February 12. Porter played seven minutes, by far the most he's played since late January. He was on the court when Ariza drained one 3-pointer after another, not that you noticed.
If you had focused on last year's Big East Player of the Year specifically, you would have noticed a rookie who dutifully ran the play as called, which for him meant run to the corners. That's what Ariza does, that's what Martell Webster does, that's what Bradley Beal does.
Porter is not those players. We're not talking better or worse, we're talking horses for courses.
Even at such a young age, the 20-year-old Beal's shooting form is as the basketball gods intended. Only 25 days older than his fellow Missourian, Porter's outside game is workmanlike, but he does work.
After shooting 23 percent on 3's as a freshman, he made 42 percent as a sophomore. He'll make the NBA version eventually, but he's not a pure spot-up shooter. It took Ariza nearly eight full seasons before he consistently rocked from deep.
Between Emeka Okafor's injury, the subsequent trade for Marcin Gortat and Ariza's invaluable performance, the Wizards couldn't trade their starting small forward. This was always a possibility for whatever the reason. Therefore, what was Plan B with Porter?
Some small forwards can play guard and minutes behind Beal are available. Porter lacks the wiggle, at least offensively. Outside occasional use as a press breaker, this seemed evident at Georgetown. The Wizards learned this during the Summer League as they experimented with Porter more than some expected.
Of course, this is only his first season. The Wizards are not sharing their long-term plans. Perhaps they assumed Porter's rookie season would essentially be a redshirt one and the coaching staff is prepping him for a post-Ariza world. Perhaps he's not picking up their schemes as hoped, leading to scant playing time.
All we know for sure is that he isn't playing. Until he gets those steady minutes, the question shouldn't be whether Porter can play. It's whether he can play in this system. Ideally, those in the know knew before draft day.