When news came down that John Wall would miss at least two weeks with a left knee injury, Washington Wizards coach Scott Brooks knew how much they needed Otto Porter Jr. to stem the tide of a season that was already showing signs of slipping from last year’s promising playoff run.
“I think guys are ready to play bigger roles,” Brooks told reporters over the weekend, via The Washington Post. “It’s not going to be all on Otto, but I think Otto has the ability to play a bigger role.”
For one night, at least, Porter played the biggest of roles, draining a last-minute jumper that proved to be the game-winner in Washington’s 92-89 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves on Tuesday night:
— NBA (@NBA) November 29, 2017
Porter’s dagger over a hard-charging Karl-Anthony Towns gave him a game-high 22 points. He added eight rebounds and proved to be the best player on the floor in the second half of a nail-biting game that also featured budding stars Towns, Jimmy Butler, Andrew Wiggins and teammate Bradley Beal.
That effort followed a 24-point, 10-rebound double-double in Washington’s first game of this stretch without Wall — a 108-105 loss to the Portland Trail Blazers after which the Wizards conceded they should’ve fed Porter more often. “Down the stretch,” Beal said, “we definitely got to look at him more.”
That sentiment is probably more true than the Wizards even realize. They’ve got one of the league’s most efficient players on their roster, and they’re using him less often than the Indiana Pacers are using ex-Wizards reserve Bojan Bogdanovic this season. It’s time to take this Otto out of the garage.
(Sorry, couldn’t help myself.)
Porter’s recent performances pushed his averages to career highs of 16.3 points and 7.3 rebounds, to go along with 1.6 steals and 1.5 assists in just 33.3 minutes per game. He’s shooting 53.9 percent from the field and a whopping 48.7 percent on 4.1 3-point attempts per game for a healthy true shooting percentage of 64 — also a career high and one of the best marks of any quick forward playing more than 30 minutes a night, just a hair below LeBron James (65.7 percent) and Kevin Durant (64.7).
And that doesn’t even begin to describe Porter’s contributions to the Wizards. With him on the floor, Washington’s offense and defense operate at top-five NBA levels per 100 possessions, scoring 108 and allowing 100.6 points, respectively, for a net rating of plus-7.4 — the highest such mark of any regular rotational player on the team. When Porter goes to the bench, the Wizards run the NBA equivalent of a bottom-10 offense (103.6 points scored per 100 possessions) and the worst defense in the league (109.3 points allowed per 100) for a minus-5.7 net rating — lower than when any other Wiz regular sits.
Add it all up, and the Wizards are 13.1 points per 100 possessions better with Porter in the fold. That’s definitely a better on/off rating than either Wall (10.6) or Beal (9.9) and slightly closer to the difference someone like Milwaukee Bucks sensation and MVP candidate Giannis Antetokounmpo (14.7) is making.
Can Porter do everything Antetokounmpo can on a basketball court? No, especially as a playmaker, but he’s also long and athletic and does a lot of things you don’t always notice when watching the Wizards. Porter shows up on the front page of NBA.com’s hustle stats page for both deflections and loose balls recovered, and he’s in the league’s top 25th percentile of total contested shots.
Take this play, for example, when the Wolves were clinging to a three-point lead that was once 13 and looking to deliver their knockout punch. Porter picked up Wiggins on the right arc, fought through a Taj Gibson screen to force a Wiggins pass as the shot clock wound down, and then covered 20 feet in the blink of an eye to challenge a 3-pointer from Butler, who Beal and Kelly Oubre Jr. completely lost:
You might find this hard to believe, but not many guys can guard Wiggins and Butler on the same play. The Wizards followed Butler’s miss with a Mike Scott 3-pointer on the other end that tied the game for the first time since midway through the second quarter. Porter finished plus-11 in the second half of a game Washington trailed by eight at the break and won by three in the final minute. Not bad.
Drafted third overall in 2013, Porter has improved drastically each year. His 48.7 percent shooting from three is tied with Blazers guard C.J. McCollum for the league’s best clip among players attempting at least four threes per game, he’s a top-five rebounder for his position, and he’s generally disruptive on defense.
And he’s still only 24 years old. It is for these reasons that we ranked him the top unsung hero in our “NBA 25 Under 25” series, why the Brooklyn Nets offered Porter a $106.5 million max contract in free agency and why the Wizards had little choice but to match. Six weeks into that contract, he’s been well worth the investment, and given his history, it’s hard to imagine he can’t be even more valuable.
The Wizards certainly understand that, and that’s why they’re asking more out of him without Wall.
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