It's been a rough go early on for Washington Wizards' rookie Otto Porter, who's struggled to make an impact following some offseason and preseason health issues. Welcome to the club.
A hamstring injury ended Porter's summer league prematurely, while a hip injury, which would sideline him for three months, limited him in training camp and forced him to miss the first 19 games of the year.
Though it wasn't heavily questioned at the time, one of the drawbacks of taking Porter with a top-five pick was the fact that his ceiling didn't reach All-Star heights. Then again, not many 2013 prospects' ceilings' did.
But Porter projects more as a glue guy—someone who plays within the offense and does whatever is necessary on that particular possession, whether it's scoring, passing or rebounding.
He's not a guy you give the ball to in isolation or draw up a play for on the wing or in the post. Porter's appeal is driven by his ability to make plays opportunistically. Spot-up shooting, backdoor cutting, off-the-ball slashing, transition buckets—these are Porter's go-to avenues for offense. He's the guy who finishes off others' creativity; not the one who creates.
And right now, he's having trouble finding those opportunities and ultimately finishing the ones he gets.
To his credit, there's only so much a rookie can do in 10.1 minutes per game. It's tough to establish any type of rhythm or find your sweet spots in just two five-minute stretches.
But given his position on the floor and role on the team, the first order of business for Porter should be extending his range as a shooter.
Go down the list of starting small forwards and name me more than five who aren't consistent three-points threats. You won't be able to.
Three-point shooting has become a requirement for NBA wings. A small forward who doesn't threaten a defense from behind the arc can destroy offensive spacing. For a wing, the inability to knock down spot-up threes also eliminates a scoring chance frequently available to them throughout games—which is even more important for a guy like Porter, who doesn't have the skill set or freedom to create on his own.
Porter hasn't made a three-pointer yet this season, missing all seven of his attempts.
Take a look at the NBA's five starting small forwards who shoot below 30 percent from downtown:
|Small Forward||3PTM-A||Three-point Percentage||Team's Record|
That's it, folks. If you want to start at small forward in the NBA, chances are you'll need a threatening three-point stroke. There's a reason why Atlanta had Josh Smith playing power forward for all those years.
Maybe it's just a coincidence that all five of these guys play for stinkers. Or maybe their inability to space the floor makes it tougher on the rest of the offense.
Either way, it's no coincidence that all of these guys have struggled with efficiency without a consistent three-ball in their arsenals.
The fact is, a good portion of Porter's open looks will come from behind the arc. Drive-and-dishes, pick-and-rolls where the wing rotates over as a secondary option, kick outs, simple ball movement—they all result in three-point attempts for small forwards.
To jumpstart Porter's career, he's going to need to knock a few of them down given his place at the bottom of the lineup's go-to offensive pecking order. With his number unlikely to get called much, he's going to have to maximize his scoring chances, and that means converting the open looks created for him on the perimeter.
Porter hit an impressive 42.2 percent of his threes as a sophomore at Georgetown, so there's reason to believe. You wouldn't label him a sniper, but he was able to knock down the open ones, which in college, came at about 22-23 feet away. Now in the pros, he'll have to extend his range a few feet deeper, and ultimately become the spot-up shooting threat that so many of the NBA's wings are today.
Finding Easy Buckets
Let's face it—with John Wall running the show for over 37 minutes a night, Porter isn't going to have the ball in his hands all that often. And when he does, chances are he won't be in a position to work one-on-one for a bucket.
Porter's offense is all about timing and recognition—knowing when to cut, when to drift into space for a jumper, when to pull up—and ultimately the ability to capitalize opportunistically. But in order to capitalize, he has to put himself in position to do so.
Though the sample size is tiny, Porter has barely received any easy scoring chances. In 181.8 minutes of total action, he's made just five shots at the rim.
He has to find a way to get himself some easier buckets. Porter is really solid in the mid-range—he was at Georgetown as well. But in the pros, open mid-range jumpers are tough to come by (due to spacing). Usually they're created from a scorer working one-on-one (via the step-back and pull-up jumper), or by pick-and-pops that set up power forwards. But one-on-one and pick-and-pops aren't strengths of Porter's game, and those opportunities for easy mid-range buckets won't come around often enough.
It's going to take time for Porter to eventually learn the nuances and tricks of the game—picking up on defensive tendencies, gong through trial and error, getting a feel for how his teammates play. And after missing most of the offseason and getting a late start to the year, this isn't a process he's likely to complete before his rookie season ends.
Give Him Time
Porter needs to build up his basketball IQ, offensive confidence and upper-body strength. And those things take time. It's not going to happen playing sporadic minutes every other night.
“It doesn’t matter how early it is or how late it is, you’re going to have ups and downs, but you have to be patient and you have to continue to work,” Porter told Michael Lee of the Washington Post.
He's a system player. At Georgetown, he played in a Princeton motion offense that was predicated on ball movement and very little dribbling. That's obviously a huge difference from what he's playing with in Washington, where the backcourt dominates the ball for large stretches of a game.
Porter is a smart kid with a versatile skill set and physical tools that should work at the NBA level. Once he hits his stride, makes a couple of shots and adjusts to the speed and spacing of the game, I'd imagine his confidence and production will eventually start to snowball.