Otto Porter, the NBA All-Star Who Should Have Been
Commissioner Adam Silver’s decision was made official Wednesday night, a little more than a day after the Cleveland Cavaliers announced Kevin Love would miss the next six weeks following arthroscopic surgery on his left knee: Carmelo Anthony would join the Eastern Conference All-Star team, making his 10th overall appearance.
The outrage was…mostly nonexistent. People were perplexed, not in disbelief. Silver merely went with the coaches’ vote, and Anthony remains a premier talent on the offensive end.
Still! What about Bradley Beal? And Goran Dragic? Joel Embiid is injured, dealing with his own left knee problems, but how about Anthony’s teammate, a unicorn named Kristaps Porzingis? Or Al Horford? Or, hell, Hassan Whiteside? Couldn’t the NBA just throw an Eastern Conference jersey on Rudy Gobert and call it day?
All (mostly) valid points. But the Anthony pick isn’t egregious, at least in the sense that he’s replacing a frontcourt player and guys like Beal and Dragic are backcourtsmen. Horford is definitely more deserving. Probably Porzingis, too, and Whiteside is on the cusp.
Conspicuously missing from the 11th-hour list of snubs, though, is someone with a case as strong as anyone: Otto Porter.
Watch the Washington Wizards for an extended period of time, and you’re not always going to feel how important Porter is to the cause. There is the occasional scoring outburst, along with the nightly defensive heroics, but his dominance is understated, often overlooked in favor of higher-usage players with more oomph to their play style.
Make no mistake, though. Porter is dominating, consistently and thoroughly, on both ends of the floor.
According to NBA Math’s total points added (TPA), he is adding the most value to Washington’s on-court product. His 168.98 score exceeds even John Wall (164.32), the lone other Wizard making above-average contributions on both sides of the court.
Porter, in fact, ranks as one of the 20 most important talents in the league this season, per TPA. And only six other players are pairing his offensive value (123.92) with the number of points he’s saved on the defensive end (45.06): Giannis Antetokounmpo, DeMarcus Cousins, Kevin Durant, James Harden, LeBron James and Russell Westbrook—all top-10 stars.
Porter is not to be mistaken for a top-10 name himself. His role is specific, tightly tethered to the makeup of Washington’s core. But he’s damn good in this capacity, personifying everything NBA teams want in their second-best player.
His offense in particular is a revelation. He’s mastered his part as an orbiting sniper, going from a 19 percent three-point clip during his rookie season to a 45.9 percent knockdown rate that leads the league today.
“I mean, y’all don’t understand he’s a shooter?” Washington Wizards teammate Kelly Oubre Jr. said in half-jest, half-exasperation back in January, per the Washington Post‘s Candace Buckner. “He’s one of the best shooters in this league, man. So people keep sleeping, we keep getting points and the team keeps getting wins and that’s the only thing that really matters.”
This is not hyperbole.
Among the 145 players who have at least 125 catch-and-shoot looks to their name, Porter’s 68.3 effective field-goal percentage ranks first, edging out a 68.1 mark being posted by some dude named Stephen Curry. He stands out even more among those with at least 250 attempts:
And this spot-up accuracy isn’t much different from Porter’s overall efficiency. His general effective field-goal rate (63.2) paces the pool of 68 players averaging at least 14 points per game by a healthy margin; the 2.6 percentage points separating him from second-place Nikola Jokic (60.6!) is the same margin standing between sixth-place Klay Thompson (57.1) and 18th-ranked Kawhi Leonard (54.5).
Such is the luxury of playing alongside Wall, right? More than 80 percent of Porter’s buckets come off assists, and Wall has lent a helping hand on nearly half those conversions. Not even 12 percent of Porter’s minutes come independent of the All-Star point guard.
True to this disclaimer, the 23-year-old’s field-goal percentage plunges by nearly 10 points without Wall, from 54.7 to 44.9. But his three-point efficiency actually climbs from 45.8 percent to 51.9, and he’s averaging more shots per 36 minutes in solo(ish) situations—harbingers of his ability to assume more offensive responsibility if and when the circumstances call for it. (His three-point shooting holds steady, at 45.5 percent, in the scant time he spends without both Beal and Wall, but his overall clip dips below 40 percent, according to nbawowy.com)
Porter is shooting 51.6 percent on drives for the year after finishing at 50 percent amid similar low-key volume last season. His turnover rate on these downhill assaults is high (13.1 in 2016-17), and he’s posting the worst foul rate of anyone to stage 60-plus drives (18 percent). His pass rate on these plays (23 percent) is encouraging; he doesn’t rack up a ton of assists, but you can see the outline of someone who might be able to initiate more pick-and-rolls in the near future:
And again with this corner find:
The Wizards have experimented minimally with Porter as a pick-and-roll ball-handler—even less than last year. Head coach Scott Brooks does like to use him as the primary inbounder, a legitimate undertaking that has seen Porter read defenses well and pin down a nifty relationship with Markieff Morris whenever he comes off quick screens:
And one more time:
Burgeoning vision—which, admittedly, isn’t reflected in his assist rate—will have to supplant Porter’s development as a more self-sufficient buckets-getter. He’s not going to get iso and post-up looks playing next to Beal and Wall, at a time when those sets have never been less valuable.
And that’s fine. Porter could plateau from here on offense, and he’d remain on the fast track toward (underestimated) stardom. The load he bears on defense is that significant.
Sliding between both forward slots remains an incredibly difficult task, even though it’s expected of anyone standing 6’7” or taller these days. You’re not just prepping for bigger, burlier plodders; you’re switching onto glorified small forwards, or bodies that blend the mobility of a 3 with the strength of a traditional 4.
Viral Vines (R.I.P.) from seasons past in mind, Porter is beginning to handle these switches with ease. And it’s not just the wing-to-big swaps; he looks more comfortable assuming matchups that should, in theory, belong to Beal and when rotating onto pick-and-roll ball handlers:
Washington doesn’t always thrive defensively with Porter shimmying between so many assignments. He can get overpowered on the block and fall behind or incessantly reach in on lead ball-handlers; he fails to crack the 50th percentile in either post-up or pick-and-roll prevention.
Better numbers will come later, as Porter gets used to being the Wizards’ shape-shifter. Having someone to groom for this function is a boon in itself, and it makes Porter a rarity.
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Wesley Matthews are the only wings who have guarded as many pick-and-roll ball-handler (146) and post-up (51) possessions. Either is someone Porter can look to mirror on defense. He doesn’t have the lateral gait to match MKG’s suffocating isolation stands, but with this engagement level—he ranks fifth in total defensive miles traveled—he could match or exceed them everywhere else.
That he has turned into a viable rebounder will help prop up his defensive worth even if the rest of his armory doesn’t round out. His defensive rebounding percentage (17.6) is a top-20 mark for players standing 6’8” or shorter—good enough for Washington to play small. And he’s grabbing 21.5 percent of contested rebound opportunities off opponent misses, duplicating DeMarcus Cousins’ rate (21.5) while squeaking past Rudy Gobert’s (21.4)—an impressive feat even when you consider how many more rebounding chances Cousins and Gobert receive.
Players who can do all this, every night, without griping about touches or general offensive usage, are godsends. Porter is no different, and Washington is priming him to be something even more.
Which is why he’ll enter this summer a max-contract inevitability, his return to the Wizards a non-issue, enjoying status befitting one of the league’s most valuable role players.
Minus the “role” part.
Follow Dan on Twitter @danfavale.