What Can Otto Porter Jr. Do to Live up to Max Contract with Washington Wizards?
Up until—and even during—the early stages of the 2016-17 season, that was the term commonly thrown around when Otto Porter Jr.’s name was mentioned. After all, he was the No. 3 selection in the 2013 NBA draft but had yet to live up to the expectations surrounding such a high draft pick.
During the 2015-16 campaign Porter made a significant, if unnoticed, leap in his development, averaging career highs in scoring (11.6 points per game), rebounding (5.2 per game) and shooting (36.7 percent from beyond the arc and 47.3 percent overall). However, Washington Wizards fans were still disappointed with his performance, as the team dragged itself to a 41-41 year.
Then the 2016-17 season happened. Never known as a great shooter, Porter hit 43.4 percent of his threes—good for fifth in the league. He also became a very efficient scorer, posting a 62.8 true shooting percentage and a 60.8 effective field-goal percentage. The former Georgetown Hoya cut his turnover percentage down to a league-leading 4.9 percent, and he continued his improvement as a rebounder, grabbing 6.4 per game.
In one season, the 24-year-old transformed into a sharpshooting, ultra-efficient tertiary scorer—exactly what the Wizards needed alongside their star-studded backcourt of John Wall and Bradley Beal. As you can see from NBA Math’s Play-Type Profile below, Porter made significant strides in various offensive aspects:
His improvement on spot-ups is truly incredible.
Going from providing negative value on such play types to becoming arguably the best spot-up shooter in the league is a testament to Porter’s work on improving his shot. NBA Math’s Offensive Play-Type Value Added table points out that he led the league (by a significant margin) in value added from spot-ups.
Interestingly enough, his shooting motion hasn’t changed significantly. However, his release is at least more consistent shot to shot now, and Porter himself admitted that he began to understand where his shot attempts were going to come from on a regular basis. He knew what he should work on and made slight adjustments to his fundamentals, resulting in one of the best shooting seasons from a player last year.
Additionally, it shouldn’t be overlooked that he made strides in transition, as a pick-and-roll ball-handler and on cuts. Simply put, Porter didn’t transform into a different player; he just improved in key areas.
In the end, the four-year veteran’s breakout season didn’t go unnoticed. He was in the running for Most Improved Player for most of the season, finishing behind only Giannis Antetokounmpo, Nikola Jokic and Ruddy Gobert while drawing a first-place vote of his own. He also narrowly missed out on finishing in the top 20 in win shares, posting 9.4 to rank just behind the 9.5 Hassan Whiteside earned for the 20th spot. It was a remarkable breakout season, to say the least.
However, as is often the case when a player receives an expensive max contract, expectations now increase. After hitting restricted free agency, Porter received a four-year, $106 million offer sheet from the Brooklyn Nets, which Washington went on to match. So, this begs the question: How can he live up to his new max contract?
Now, Porter received this contract due to the salary-cap climate and dearth of three-and-D wings. Had he hit restricted free agency two summers ago, people wouldn’t be going crazy about a player of his caliber earning nearly $25 million this season.
Still, he can improve in various aspects to contribute even more.
Shot-Creation Off the Dribble
Last season, Porter averaged just 1.5 dimes per game, while 66.5 percent of his two-point field goals and 96.6 percent of his three-point field goals were assisted. If that doesn’t scream limited play-making and shot-creation abilities, I don’t know what does.
Now when you play alongside Wall and Beal, you aren’t going to have the ball in your hands.
However, Porter has shown flashes of being able to handle the rock and create quality looks for himself. In the video below, several examples show him using a screen to create an open mid-range look or drive to the rim:
As you can see from the play starting at 0:11, the young wing is certainly capable of using a screen to lose his defender and attack the basket. On that particular sequence, he is able to hit an extremely contested lay-up over Gorgui Dieng, displaying his ability to create off the dribble and finish.
At the 0:27 mark, Porter’s ability to go coast-to-coast after grabbing a contested rebound is highlighted—an occurrence we routinely see from his starting point guard. Finally, the play beginning at 0:36 is a perfect example of an area in which Porter can improve. In that instance, he uses a Marcin Gortat screen to create enough separation to drill a step-back three-pointer. As mentioned earlier, this is something he rarely does, as four of his 4.3 attempts per game from beyond the arc were catch-and-shoot attempts.
Also, numerous other examples in the video above will give you a better sense of Porter’s “hidden” abilities.
If he continues to improve his ball-handling and shot-creation abilities, the Wizards would surely benefit from giving him more opportunities to show off those skills during games. This way, Wall and Beal won’t have to carry such heavy offensive burdens and will have more energy to engage defensively. Plus, the best way for players to improve as a third ball-handler is through actual experience.
One aspect he must improve upon when given such opportunities is his playmaking for others. When Porter has the ball, he becomes too focused on creating a quality look for himself, rather than keeping his eyes on the entire court to find the best shot for the team. It’s something he can develop when given more opportunities with the ball in his hands.
Adding Strength to Become a Better Defender
Porter has (for the most part) had a reputation of being a solid defender throughout his career. He has consistently ranked positively according to defensive box plus/minus, with last season no different as he posted a 0.9 DBPM. Additionally, he posted a 0.44 defensive real plus-minus, per ESPN.com, highlighting that while he is for the most part a net positive on defense, he can become an even better defender in time.
The improved forward measures in at 6’8″ and 198 pounds, which forces him to be over-matched physically when guarding bigger forwards. At this point, he simply isn’t strong enough to guard such players, something that is occurring on a more frequent basis as he continues to play more at power forward.
During the 2014-15 season, he played just 2 percent of his total minutes at the 4. Last season? That number jumped up to 23 percent. And with the way the league is trending, it’s likely Porter finds himself at power forward even more this upcoming year. Therefore, he must be able to guard big men in the post, and gaining strength is one key way he can do so.
Porter already has the length to bother guards and wings on the perimeter, but he can be taken advantage of down low. This can be seen in NBA Math’s Play-Type Profile, as he ranked in the 37.6 percentile while guarding post-ups. The profile also shows that he struggled in other key defensive play-types such as isolations, spot-ups, off-screens and defending PnR ball-handlers.
A key explanation for these defensive struggles is his lack of lateral mobility, leading him to struggle running around screens and hand-offs. Again, putting on some muscle and working on his agility would allow Porter to become an even better defender, thus placing him in the upper-echelon of three-and-D wings.
The former “bust” has a tireless mentality and focuses on improving various aspects of his game each year. Per A.J. Neuharth-Keusch of the USA Today, Wizards president Ernie Grunfeld has recognized such, pointing out after Porter was re-signed that “Otto has a great work ethic. He’s gotten better every year. He got better every year when he was in college. When you put the work in and the time that he puts in, you’re going to get results. His results are shown by the numbers he’s put up.”
If the trend continues, it would behoove him to get stronger and quicker, thus allowing him to be a more versatile defender both on the perimeter and in the post.
Additionally, Porter already has underlying shot-creation abilities off the dribble. Bringing those skills to the forefront more will benefit not only himself, but the Wizards as a team while they look to lessen the offensive burden on their backcourt.
Porter will take another step this season. He can improve in several aspects of his game. The only difference this time around is that they’ll be much more expensive improvements than in years past.
Follow Eric on Twitter @EricSpyrosNBA.