LAS VEGAS — After fizzling as a rookie, Wizards forward Otto Porter sizzled in his 2014 Las Vegas Summer League. Despite an irrelevant first NBA campaign, the No. 3 overall pick in last year’s draft remains a key part of Washington’s future along with John Wall and Bradley Beal.
With the news that free agent Trevor Ariza will sign with the Houston Rockets, Porter’s game needs to improve enough to help the Wizards in the present.
“I mean, hey, the door opens up,” Porter said on Saturday following Washington’s summer league opener. “(Trevor) had a tremendous year last year. … Now it’s time for people to step up and fill those shoes.”
If the former Georgetown star’s performance on Saturday in the Wizards 90-74 win over the Atlanta Hawks at the Thomas & Mack Center carries forward, Porter might become Washington’s best post-Ariza world solution.
Playing with confidence and aggression not seen since his college days, Porter led the Wizards with 25 points — including 14 in the third quarter — on 11-of-16 shooting from the field with seven rebounds. The deft mid-range that helped carry him to All-American honors in 2013 helped carry Washington to an easy win. Porter also shined as a passer and controlled the game along with fellow rising second-year wing Glen Rice Jr., who added 22 points.
“Glen and Otto have been working hard all summer,” Wizards summer league head coach Sam Cassell said. “It shows what hard work does. It pays off. … Second half, I told Otto I don’t care how many shots you miss. I just want you to put J’s up. He played well.”
Rarely did Porter play well as a rookie. Actually, he rarely played as a rookie after missing the opening weeks with a hip injury. In 37 games, Porter averaged 2.1 points, never reaching double digits in a single game. That came after hamstring woes kept Porter out for most of last year’s summer league.
The soft-spoken forward loudly dominated in his return to Las Vegas.
“That’s why Sam gave me control of the team. ‘Hey, this is your team. It falls on you and Glen. You’ve got to lead these guys to victory,’” Porter said of his leadership role.
The last time he scored at least 25 points, March 2, 2013. Against Rutgers. That season was also the last time Porter said he felt as comfortable on the court as he did Saturday.
“He took a whole year off last year,” Cassell said, referring to Porter’s limited role. “His mechanics (are) coming back, his fundamentals (are) coming back. Glen and Otto, they’re my least worries on this basketball team.”
Moments after the game, Porter learned that Ariza, a mentor last season, was no longer his teammate.
“He was one of my veteran guys,” Porter said. “I was kind of hoping he would (stay). But at the same time, hey, this is a business.”
Part of the reason why minutes were scarce last season stemmed from playing behind Ariza and Martell Webster. Now Ariza is gone and Webster is recovering from his third back surgery since 2010. Now might be time for Porter to show Washington’s front office that they don’t need to worry or add a notable player in free agency. The small forward solution already exists.
“To have (Trevor) gone – he taught me so much, especially on offense and defense,” Porter said. “Being there, showing me the right things, tricks ins and outs. Got to put them to work, put them to use.”