Otto Porter finding rhythm in bench role
Otto Porter sat at his locker following the Wizards’ blowout win Wednesday over the Philadelphia 76ers with giant ice packs wrapped around both knees, his foot and his right hand. Without context, it would have been hard to tell the forward had just played 33 minutes.
But this is the type of maintenance Porter calls it “an old-school remedy” required as Poter tries to get over a right knee injury that caused him to miss 10 games.
Although he returned to the court last week, Porter said he’s still not completely comfortable.
“There is nothing easy about getting back,” Porter said.
That’s why the Wizards have taken their time with getting Porter reacclimated opting to bring the 25-year-old off the bench for the last five games.
And in doing so, Porter has played himself into a nice rhythm one good enough to wonder whether the Wizards should keep him in a reserve role moving forward. Despite being on a minutes-restriction for much of his return, Porter’s averaged 15.4 points per game in the last five games. The Wizards are 3-2 in that span, producing big wins over the 76ers and the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Five games can be a small sample size. But by coming off the bench, Porter is often matched up against reserve units, clearing the way for the forward to let it fly.
Coach Scott Brooks was non-committal about whether Porter will return to the starting lineup, adding “everything’s fluid” as the Wizards scramble to find the best ways to string together consistent games.
Brooks, though, suggested Porter is in a “comfort zone because he knows the second unit needs his shot-making.”
Against Philadelphia on Wednesday, Porter scored 23 points on 15 shot attempts.
“What frustrates me with Otto is he passes up five-to-six-to-seven shots a game,” Brooks said. “He should never, never anytime anybody goes under a screen, it should be an automatic pullup three. Anytime anyone’s late on a pindown, it should be an automatic shot. ... He has to continue to be aggressive.”
Of course, Porter’s shot selection or lack of it has always been a widely discussed topic for the Wizards. Star John Wall became annoyed earlier in the season when asked about Porter’s three-point attempts, telling reporters it was the last time he would address the issue.
As the Wizards’ typical third-option, Porter usually defers to Wall or co-star Bradley Beal. Since being drafted third overall in 2013, the Georgetown product has never taken more than 20 field goal attempts in a game. His career-high in points is 34.
But lately, Porter has launched the type of shots Brooks and his teammates have wanted to see. After Washington’s win over Philadelphia, Brooks said he liked how Porter attacked and got to the free throw line. Porter went 6-of-6 from the charity stripe.
The Wizards have needed Porter’s offense, in particular, with Wall out for the year with a foot injury.
“He’s pretty much a go-to guy in the second group, so it works,” Beal said. “But at the same time, we want to get him off those minutes and do a lot more because we’re going to need him, for sure.
“He’s doing everything we need him to do. He’s embracing it.”
Porter dismissed the idea that coming off the bench allows him to be in a rhythm. Still, he said by having a scorer with the reserves, it gives the Wizards’ offense “a flow.” When healthy, Markieff Morris (neck) also was a productive sixth-man.
If Porter’s role remains the same for the rest of the season, that doesn’t mean he’ll play mainly with reserves. Other teams bring starting-caliber players off the bench to play extended minutes, as Spurs coach Gregg Popovich did for years with Manu Ginobili.
Brooks has shown a willingness to do the same, and Porter’s playing time Wednesday overlapped with Beal and the other starters.
Porter said whether he starts again or stays with the reserves, he’ll have the same mindset.
“I know what I worked all summer for,” Porter said. “This is just an opportunity for me to go out and show it.”