Friday, May 16, 2014

Otto Porter's Future

With one of the most successful seasons in franchise history coming to an end on Thursday, the question for the Wizards is whether they take the next step or fall back to the pack in the Eastern Conference. A big part of the answer will depend on re-signing free agents Trevor Ariza and Marcin Gortat, which leads into the other fascinating storyline for them this off-season - what happens to Otto Porter?

Ariza is a great fit in Washington. At 6'8 210 he's the epitome of the 3-and-D player - an elite athlete who can match up with all three perimeter positions and absolutely stroke the ball from three. In the playoffs, he averaged 14 points and 9 rebounds a game and shot 47% from 3 on 5 attempts a game. At 28, he's still in the prime of his career and could be a starter on an elite team until his athleticism starts to decline.

The problem is if you give Ariza a big contract, how will Porter, the No. 3 overall pick in 2013, ever get on the floor? They just signed Martell Webster to a 4-year $21 million contract last off-season and while he had a disappointing playoff run, a team expecting to contend for a top 4 seed isn't going to throw him to the curb to give an untested young player big minutes. 

The unfortunate part about it is that Porter is a really good young player. Don't let his performance in the Summer League or his poor production in extremely spotty minutes as a rookie fool you. He's a very skilled 6'8 210 wing who can put the ball on the floor, knock down mid-range jumpers and play as a point forward. However, he's not an elite athlete or a great three-point shooter, so his ceiling isn't that high.

That's what's really insane about the Porter selection - if you were going to draft a guy at No. 3 who was going to sit for a few years on a playoff contender, why not take a high-upside pick like Giannis? What kind of sense does it make to take a low ceiling, NBA ready player at No. 3 and than glue him to the bench? How is that any way to maximize a Top 3 selection?

Even if Porter did get a lot of minutes early in his career, do you really want him taking the ball out of the hands of John Wall and Bradley Beal? If you take a PG and a SG with Top 3 picks, you want a very low usage SF next to them to maximize their talents. There aren't enough basketballs to go around for three star perimeter players - that's like the Detroit Pistons taking WR's every year in the Top 10.

And where you look at the Wizards going forward, the real concern isn't on the perimeter, where it's easy to find 3-and-D wings like Ariza or Webster, it's upfront, as Nene and Gortat move deeper into their 30's. They've really got nothing behind those two - in terms of roster balance, it would have made a lot more sense to go with Alex Len, Nerlens Noel or Cody Zeller at No. 3. What happens if Nene gets hurt again?

In and of themselves, none of these issues are necessarily a big deal for the Wizards next season. They can re-sign Gortat and Ariza, cobble together some backup big men and make a run at a Top 4 seed. However, the toughest leap in the NBA is to go from good to great and not maximizing a No. 3 pick in either the short or the long-term is an awfully big opportunity the Wizards left on the board.

Otto Porter will have a long and successful NBA career, but he may need to go somewhere else besides Washington to show what he can do. Of course, if they try to trade him after they re-sign Ariza, they will be getting pennies on the dollar. None of this had to happen, but the fact that it did makes me dubious the Wizards front office is really going to put together a championship-caliber roster anytime soon.


  1. In defense, the Otto Porter pick came before anyone realized how good Ariza could shoot. The previous season, as a well-established 27-year-old, Ariza only started 15 games and was outplayed by Webster. He never owned a reputation as a knock down 3-point shooter after coming off a year at his career best 36.4% from 3 compared to the league-average 35.9% from 3. His emergence this year was a pleasant surprise.

    Porter was viewed as a perfect fit to the roster as someone to play "smart" basketball with good off-ball skills and possessed defensive versatility. He seemed like the safe, reasonable pick for a team hoping to take a playoff spot, not a team thinking about going from good to great.

    There's definitely issues with Porter's future on the wizards, but I'm hoping they re-sign Ariza and use Porter as a replacement SF and spend some time as a small-ball PF (his position in college). I don't see why he can't get minutes like Harrison Barnes in Golden State. Eventually, he still has a chance to earn his way into the starting lineup if Ariza's year was an aberration.

  2. Porter would make sense as a small-ball 4 from a skill perspective, but he needs to get a lot stronger. That seems more like a move he can make as he gets deeper into his 20's and puts on weight.