Reporting David Elfin
Not long after fellow draft pick Glen Rice Jr. blocked his shot, here came Otto Porter running the floor, grabbing a pass in transition and depositing a layup smoothly through the hoop. And after yelling out switches on defense, Porter yanked down a rebound and launched a long outlet pass worthy of Wes Unseld, not far from the banner that celebrates the Hall of Fame center’s career with the organization.
In short, as the Wizards finished their rookie camp yesterday and headed to Las Vegas for summer league competition, the 20-year-old from Georgetown has done nothing to make them regret choosing him with the third overall selection in the NBA draft two weeks ago. Porter has certainly shown that he has the ability to fit into a more up-tempo attack than the patient offense he flourished in for the Hoyas.
“It’s a quicker-paced game, quicker decision making, quicker players you’re playing against, but he did fine,” Wizards coach Randy Wittman said about Porter, who followed guards John Wall and Bradley Beal as Washington’s third top-three pick over the last four years.
“I’m trying to be a sponge, soak up everything, learning the offense, learning the flow of the game,” said Porter, who even showed some Magic Johnson-like versatility. “It’s different. We’re a running team. Most of the plays are in transition. I’m learning and applying it quickly. I can rebound and bring the ball up and set up the offense if I have to.”
While the recently re-signed Martell Webster was a pleasant surprise at small forward last year, beating out longtime NBA regular Trevor Ariza, Porter has the potential to give Washington much more of an all-around threat at the position where Webster excels as a shooter.
The 6-foot-9 Porter (apparently he has grown an inch since leaving the Hoyas) can certainly score. In a huge game at Syracuse in February, Porter hit 12 of 19 shots and scored 33 points while everyone else on the court made just 24 of 85 shots and scored 70 points.
Sure, the Wizards went 29-53 last season, nine games out of the final Eastern Conference playoff spot. Sure, that was their best season in five years. And sure, no one on the roster has ever reached postseason with Washington.
However, there’s another way of looking at Wittman’s team. Over the last 50 games of 2012-13, Washington went 25-25. That was the seventh-best record in the East, closer to Boston, which was fifth at 27-23, than to Milwaukee and Toronto, which were ninth at 22-28. Finishing seventh over the course of 82 game means a playoff spot.
“We want to be a playoff team,” said general manager Ernie Grunfeld, who began a lengthy rebuilding process with Wall’s selection with the top pick in the 2010 draft. “We feel good about the additions that we made, but we wanted to keep continuity also. Last year we added six new players. You can’t keep adding six new players every year. The way we played once John got back, we were a very competitive ballclub [24-25]. We feel good about where are, but we have a lot of work ahead of us. We still have a lot of young players.”
Of course a lot will be different in the East this year. The Celtics are rebuilding minus Doc Rivers, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett. Derrick Rose will be back in Chicago after missing last year with a knee injury. Josh Smith left Atlanta for Detroit. Cleveland picked Anthony Bennett first overall. Only two-time defending NBA champion Miami, New York, Indiana, Chicago and Brooklyn seem sure to return to postseason.
A healthy lineup of Wall and shooting guard Beal — who missed 26 games last season — Porter and big men Nene — sidelined for 21 games — and Emeka Okafor is playoff-worthy in the East. Webster, Ariza, Rice and free agent point guard pickup Eric Maynor add solid depth to a rotation that lacks a proven reserve big man. That’s why Wittman said that Washington still might add such a player through a trade or free agency while also hoping that Jan Vesely, Chris Singleton and/or Trevor Booker emerge as the 6-9 Kevin Seraphin did to an extent last year.
Other than the Heat, the East didn’t have a 50-win team last year while the West had five. Washington would’ve finished 16 games out of the playoffs out West. But after five years in the NBA wilderness, if the Wizards reach postseason next spring there won’t be any apologizing for doing so in the weak sister conference.
David Elfin began writing about sports when he was a junior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School. He is Washington’s representative on the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee and the author of seven books, most recently, “Washington Redskins: The Complete Illustrated History.” A pre-game regular on 106.7-The Fan the last three Redskins seasons, he has been its columnist since March 2011. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidElfin.