Much like many of his peers in the 2013 NBA Draft, it's been easy to forget on most nights that Otto Porter is an NBA player. But unlike his fellow draftees, Porter's anonymity is due more to a lack of opportunity than failure on the court.
After missing the first month and change of his rookie season due to a hip injury, the Georgetown product has had little chance to make an impact for the Washington Wizards. Having appeared in 10 games since his recovery, Porter has averaged a mere 11.6 minutes per game, a curiously low figure for a third overall pick.
That's due at least partially to a resurgence from Wizards swingman Trevor Ariza, who is boasting a career-best PER of 17.3 in the final year of his contract. Still, it's worth asking—is it worth giving him minutes at the cost of development time for Porter?
This season, the answer is probably yes. Next to John Wall and Bradley Beal, Ariza has fit like a glove. He is at his best playing a diminished role and knocking down open shots, which is exactly what he's been asked to do.
Shooting 41.9 percent from downtown would be room for praise on its own, but his efficiency as a spot-up shooter from deep is especially appealing, given the Wizards' roster. Ariza is shooting 42.9 percent from three in spot-up situations, according to MySynergySports.com (subscription required).
But going forward, logic dictates that Porter will take over this spot in the Wizards lineup, due to the organization's investment in him and Ariza's likely departure after his contract concludes.
For Porter to gain a foothold in the Wizards rotation, spot-up shooting is a skill he must master.
Teammate John Wall's blinding quickness gets him into the lane more often than not, sucking in help defenders and freeing up open looks for teammates. Take a look at how much space Martell Webster is afforded by Wall's drive in a recent game against the Dallas Mavericks:
No one is even in the same area code as Webster, because they're petrified of Wall. How many players command so much attention that teams will leave a guy shooting 40.4 percent from deep alone in the corner?
Whether Porter is ever a reliable threat from deep is less than certain. Although Porter shot 42.2 percent from three-point land in his sophomore year at Georgetown, it's hard to tell at this point if that's the rule or the exception. Given his 22.4 percent shooting there his freshman year, and his lack of opportunity to hoist it at the pro level, the jury is still out.
Some of that lack of opportunity falls on his own shoulders. Spot-up opportunities make up 37 percent of his offense, according to MySynergySports.com, and yet he's attempted only a trio of three-point shots from those looks.
Here's a wasted chance for Porter in the same Mavericks game as Webster's look:
Look at how much space Vince Carter is allowing Porter to have on the perimeter. If he takes just a step back here, either before or after the catch, he gets off a shot that's worth 150 percent of the one he ended up taking and diminishes his chance of making it by a razor-thin margin.
Players who are considered marksman usually share one main trait: awareness of where the three-point line is. Let's flashback to the sixth game of 2013's NBA Finals. While everything about Ray Allen's series-saving shot for the Heat is spectacular, the footwork that turned it into a three-ball is the pinnacle.
That's not to say Wizards fans should ever expect Porter to be a player of Allen's caliber, but he would do well to study the little things that translate into success from beyond, starting from the ground up. This is something that should come with time, as Porter grows more comfortable with his role in the Wizards offense.
Even if he can't become an elite shooter, the defensive end is where Porter will likely earn his keep over the course of his career. In the early stages of his rookie year, all signs have pointed in a positive direction.
Porter makes use of his physical gifts best while on defense—his wingspan of almost 7'2" is routinely used to alter shots—but it's his intangibles that leap off the screen on film. Lacking elite athleticism, Porter compensates as best he can by displaying a great feel for where his man is at all times.
It's obvious that he's comfortable on this end when you look how much space he gives his man when off-ball. Here you see him help off Carter:
Carter is seemingly wide-open for a shot from the top of the key. But if we fast-forward to when he releases his shot...
...we see that Porter has recovered to his man and forced a difficult shot that ends up front-rimming. Though this comes in various forms, it's a common trend watching Porter play. Scouts noticed this during his college days and remarked that it would be his calling card in the NBA. Per Jonathan Givony of DraftExpress.com:
Porter's length and instincts makes him very difficult to shoot over on the perimeter, as he does an excellent job of contesting opponents' jump-shots. He puts a terrific effort level in on every possession, as he's clearly an extremely competitive player with great awareness and activity level, constantly looking to help out teammates and not being afraid to dive on the floor for loose balls.
It's important that Porter is a defensive ace for the Wizards, because their above-average standing in the points per game rankings—they currently rank 13th with 99.6 allowed—is slightly inflated by their slow pace. The Wizards use the 22nd most possessions in the league, which lends itself to lower counting stats.
A cursory glance at the team's individual defensive ratings isn't pretty. Nobody is under triple digits in the category, and Porter's figure of 108 ranks toward the bottom of the team, tied with Beal.
Though it may seem like a low ceiling to put over a third-overall pick, becoming a souped-up "three-and-D" player would be an ideal outcome for Porter's career. Having a player who can play off the ball and plug holes on defense is essential to the success of this young Wizards team, and it's a role Porter should embrace playing.
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