Otto Porter’s unassuming game lifting Wizards

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With his Wizards down three to the Bulls and a five-second difference between the game clock and shot clock, Otto Porter guarded Tony Snell off the ball in the corner while Aaron Brooked dribbled near half-court. Porter watched Brooks, peeked back at Snell, watched Brooks, peeked back at Snell, watched Brooks, peeked back at Snell, watched Brooks, peeked back at – nothing. Snell had cut to the other side of the court, leaving Porter flat-footed.

Though Snell missed his open 3-pointer, that play two years ago – heavily Vined and immortalized on Shaqtin A Fool – might remain casual fans’ main exposure to Porter.

“Just a basketball play,” Porter said earlier this season. “Shit happens.

“It’s over with. It’s over with and moved on.”

Porter is providing plenty of reason to forget about that gaffe. But it seems nobody is noticing.

His teammate, Bradley Beal, became the popular choice to replace an injured Kevin Love on the All-Star team (a spot that ultimately went to an unhappy Carmelo Anthony). And maybe Beal deserved it. But it wasn’t a certainty Beal was even the most deserving Wizard. Despite getting minimal All-Star buzz, Porter leads Beal in Win Shares (9.3 to 8.2), Value Over Replacement Player (3.9 to 2.7) and Real Plus-Minus-based wins (10.0 to 8.5).

In fact, Porter ranks 19th in the NBA in win shares (9.2) while using just 15.0% of his teams’ possessions while on the court – an outlier combination, especially for a perimeter player. It’s just hard to make such a positive impact while controlling the ball so little. Here’s the top 30 in win shares plotted by usage:

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The latest non-center to surpass nine win shares with a sub-16 usage percentage came more than a decade ago with Shane Battier, an ace defender. Though he’s not nearly the slouch he appeared to be against Snell, Porter is no more than a solid, if unspectacular, defender.

So how does Porter help Washington so much?

Start with his outside shooting. Porter is making 43.7% of his 3-pointers this season, fourth among qualified players:

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Nearly all Porter’s 3-pointers are assisted, as he spots up around the perimeter while John Wall and Beal dictate the action. And while those star guards bring an element Porter can’t match, don’t dismiss Porter’s contributions to the symbiotic relationship.

There’s a skill in getting open, and 84% of his 3-pointers have been classified as open or wide open by NBA.com. Porter moves around the perimeter, finding the right spot to receive a pass and launch. He’s one of only eight players to make 50 above-the-break and 50 corner 3-pointers this season:

Player Above break Corner
Klay Thompson (GSW) 187-457 (40.9%) 77-176 (43.8%)
Trevor Ariza (HOU) 112-343 (32.7%) 75-187 (40.1%)
Stephen Curry (GSW) 261-641 (40.7%) 50-109 (45.9%)
CJ Miles (IND) 95-263 (36.1%) 64-125 (51.2%)
Otto Porter Jr. (WAS) 89-199 (44.7%) 59-138 (42.8%)
Kyle Korver (CLE) 100-241 (41.5%) 52-95 (54.7%)
Kevin Love (CLE) 84-231 (36.4%) 56-138 (40.6%)
Tony Snell (MIL) 86-204 (42.2%) 52-139 (37.4%)

Of that group, only Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Kyle Korver – commonly accepted as the NBA’s three best 3-point shooters – and Porter are drilling 40% of their shots from both locations.

Leave Porter open, and he’ll convert the 3-pointer. Cover him tightly – no easy task give his wise off-ball movement – and Wall and Beal have more room to operate.

“You’ve got to pick your poison,” Wizards coach Scott Brooks said. “Some of our sets, we put the teams at some decision to make.”

Porter is an aggressive cutter, to the point Brooks had to tell him to ease off earlier in the year, because he too often clogged the paint. But forward mostly lets the game come to him. Even Porter gets in a highlight for scoring, it’s usually because Wall made such a flashy pass.

Porter plays so much within himself, he has just 43 turnovers in 2,591 minutes this season. The current low-water mark for a player in a 2,500-minute season is 54 turnovers, by Michael Cage for the 1995-96 Cavaliers.

Nothing about Porter’s game jumps off the page. He just plays with historic efficiency.

We’ll soon see whether the league’s decision-makers notice.

Porter will become a restricted free agent this summer, and he should be coveted – even if he’s not a traditional star like Beal.

Someone has to create, and it won’t be Porter, who dribbles just 25 times per game. That’s less than Andre Drummond, a lumbering center who plays even fewer minutes per game. Wall dribbles 524 times per game.

Despite the advanced stats, there is sound reason Beal was a trendier All-Star pick than Porter. A team full of Porters would struggle to generate the open looks that real Porter thrives on. On a team full of Beals, some would initiate the offense while others spot-up in smaller, higher-efficiency roles.

But many real teams already have a high-usage scorer or two. They can’t get enough good complementary players like Porter.

A max contract – which projects to be worth more than $146 million over five years – isn’t out of the question.

That’d be a lucrative reversal for Porter, who has escaped bust labels to become a Most Improved Player candidate. A max deal would finally bring attention to Porter for something other than his defensive lowlight.

It’d also separate Porter, the No. 3 pick in 2013, from other top picks in a draft that has mostly underwhelmed.

No. 1 pick Anthony Bennett is already out of the league. No. 2 pick Victor Oladipo (four years, $84 million) and No. 4 pick Cody Zeller (four years, $56 million) previously signed extensions worth well below the max. No. 5 pick Alex Len will likely receive even less.

Porter plays such a methodical style, it’s easy to forget he’s just 23, young than most of his draft-class peers. Though his athleticism limits him some defensive matchups, his ability to play both forward positions provides versatility. He could significantly help numerous teams over his next contract.

Porter can always shop for an offer sheet, but it’s hard to see him escaping Washington. Wizards president Ernie Grunfeld said he wants to keep Porter and Brooks sounds on board.

“He’s a great kid. He works hard. I like everything about him,” said Brooks, who acknowledged he didn’t fully appreciate Porter’s skills until coming to Washington.

All it takes is watching Porter closely to get on board.

Houston billionaire Dan Friedkin expresses interest in buying Rockets

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We’ve seen the flashy names – Beyonce and Hakeem Olajuwon – interested in buying the Rockets.

But what about someone who can actually afford a majority stake?

Mark Berman of Fox 26:

Houston billionaire Dan Friedkin, owner and CEO of Gulf States Toyota and the president and CEO of the Friedkin Group, acknowledged in a statement released to FOX 26 Sports that he is interested in buying the Houston Rockets franchise.

“I’ve expressed interest in exploring the purchase of the Houston Rockets,” Friedkin said in a statement released by his company.

Forbes pegs Friedkin’s net worth worth at $3.1 billion and the Rockets’ value $1.65 billion. So, while he might be able to buy the team outright, it’d likely be a stretch of his assets.

More likely, if Friedkin is serious about purchasing the team, he’ll do so as part of a group. Whether he’d spend enough to be the controlling owner is an open question.

Memphis coach David Fizdale calls confederate monuments in city “unacceptable”

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Confederate President Jefferson Davis has a statue in Memphis. So does Confederate Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest, a man who went on to be one of the early members of — and reportedly the first grand wizard of — the Ku Klux Klan (he would later deny to Congress any involvement with the group). Both men lived in Memphis.

The Memphis City Council voted in 2015 to remove those statues — part of a growing trend nationally to remove Confederate monuments — but it was stopped because the statue is under the jurisdiction of the Tennessee Historical Commission, which denied the request. The city is still fighting that legal battle.

The removal issue has been divisive is Memphis, but in the wake of violence in Charlottesville by white supremacists and Nazis — ostensibly about the removal of a Robert E. Lee statue in that city, but really about much more than that — Grizzlies coach David Fizdale spoke out on the issue. He was interviewed as part of the MLK50: Justice through Journalism program, with the translation courtesy The Commercial Appeal‘s Geoff Calkins.

“Fifty years later (Martin Luther King Jr.) is speaking to us from the grave and telling us to stand up to this crap that we’re seeing, that’s festering in our country, that our president has seemed to deem OK and label as equal as people who are fighting for love and fighting hate and bigotry and all of those things. We’ve got to listen to Dr. King. There’s no way, with me being the head coach in the city of Memphis, that I will sit on the sidelines and disgrace his legacy, my grandfather’s legacy, and let somebody destroy something that we built in America that I think can be exemplary.”

“I can’t sit and watch this, not in a city where Dr. King was assassinated 50 years ago, where we have, even today in our city a statue of a known Klansman, right here in the beautiful city of Memphis with all these incredibly wonderful people. It’s unacceptable. It will no longer stand. I think you’re seeing it all over America people are not standing for it anymore. It’s a black eye on our history.”

David Fizdale is not known for holding back his feelings — “take that for data!” — and he is spot on here on a far more important issue. Good on him for using his platform and voice to speak out.

These are statues dedicated to men who fought to uphold slavery as an institution, and as a nation that something we fought a war over. The north and the Union Army won the military campaign more than 150 years ago, but we are still fighting the Civil War in this nation in terms of ideals. Fizdale understands that. Removal of those statues is a step in the right direction, away from glorifying an ugly past built on the notion that one man was not equal to another, that one man could own another.

Don’t expect Fizdale to be quiet on this issue. Nor should he be.

US men’s basketball enters a new world – without its stars

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ASSOCIATED PRESS — The jerseys say USA, though that’s about all that will be recognizable.

When the U.S. men’s basketball team returns to action later this month, fans might be left wondering, “the red, white and who?”

The Americans are cautiously entering a whole new basketball world, one in which not only are the best U.S. players not available, but neither are any in the NBA. LeBron James, Kevin Durant and the stars might show up in a few years for the Basketball World Cup and Olympics, but only if a group of minor leaguers can get them there.

It’s all part of FIBA’s new qualifying format and the road starts at the AmeriCup 2017. It’s a tournament the Americans don’t need to win – and aren’t sure they can – but one they have to play to make themselves eligible for the events that will matter.

“It’s going to be really interesting,” USA Basketball men’s national team director Sean Ford said. “We don’t know. We’re flying blind a little bit.”

Even the Americans’ best-known commodity is a bit of an unknown now.

Jeff Van Gundy coached in the NBA Finals and is analyst for them every year on ABC, but he’s leading the U.S. team as an international basketball rookie. He is busy brushing up on the nuances of a game that can be played and officiated completely differently than in the U.S.

He begins Thursday in Houston for training camp, where he will seek the 12 players who will travel to Uruguay and possibly Argentina for the AmeriCup and the potentially better-prepared opponents who wait.

“What we have to do is match and exceed their passion, how hard we play, how together we are as a group,” Van Gundy said, “because when the U.S. has not succeeded in international competitions, it’s because there wasn’t as much maybe sacrifice as you need, or maybe you were deficient in one skill that was important.”

It’s the Americans’ first appearance in the former FIBA Americas tournament since 2007. Their starting lineup in that romp to gold – James, Kobe Bryant, Carmelo Anthony, Jason Kidd and Dwight Howard – was one of the strongest the U.S. has ever assembled.

The 17 players in camp with Van Gundy include Kendall Marshall, Reggie Williams, Darius Morris and Marshall Plumlee, players good enough to play in the NBA but not stick.

The Americans haven’t needed to play in their zone championship since because they’ve won every Olympic and world title, exempting them from qualifying. But FIBA has revamped its qualification system to look more like soccer’s, where national teams will play home-and-away games against teams in their pool.

But some of the windows are during the NBA season – the opening games are scheduled for Thanksgiving weekend – and players under NBA contract won’t be permitted to play. So the Americans plan to primarily use players from the NBA G League, with perhaps some who have been playing overseas.

“Look, no one’s going to feel sorry for us. But we know that this is different and we’re going to have to figure out how to be successful in a different model,” Ford said. “There’s always unknowns, but there’s probably more unknowns because No. 1, we don’t know how good we need to be. We don’t know how good we can be.”

Ford considers the prospective players a notch below the NBA, calling them “survivors, grinders, competitors.” That’s far from the level that suited up for Mike Krzyzewski for a decade or would play for Gregg Popovich in 2019 and 2020, but Van Gundy is eager to work with them in his first coaching assignment – not counting his daughter’s youth league – since he was fired by the Rockets in 2007.

“There’s very few LeBron James of the world – obviously one – or great players who have it easy. These guys’ careers have not been easy and so I really admire their persistence, their grit and their determination,” Van Gundy said. “To get to work with them and coach them, that was part of the pull for me.”

With limited time and options, the Americans know the AmeriCup could be a challenge. Ford said they hope to reach the semifinals in Argentina and see what happens from there.

They will need to start winning come November, when they open their first-round pool that includes Puerto Rico, Mexico and Cuba.

The U.S. has to finish in the top three there, playing their other windows of games in February and June-July, to advance to another pool that will include three teams among Argentina, Panama, Paraguay and Uruguay, from Sept. 2018 to Feb. 2019.

Another top-three finish then would clinch their spot in China in 2019.

They will have a deeper field of candidates later who will be in shape from playing with their G League teams. But, they also could lose a player they like if he plays well enough for them in August to get a contract in the NBA or overseas.

There are many uncertainties, though Ford said there is one constant.

“From a USA Basketball standpoint,” he said, “if we’re going to put a team together, we’re going to try to put the best team together that we can and go out and try to win.”

Former Lakers forward Tommy Hawkins dies

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LOS ANGELES (AP) — Tommy Hawkins, the first black athlete to earn All-America honors in basketball at Notre Dame and who played for the Los Angeles Lakers during a 10-year NBA career, has died. He was 80.

Hawkins died Wednesday in Malibu, according to the Los Angeles Dodgers, for whom he once worked as director of communications.

He graduated from Notre Dame in 1959. Hawkins was inducted into the school’s Ring of Honor and his 1,318 career rebounds remain the oldest record on the books in Fighting Irish basketball history.

Hawkins was selected by the Minneapolis Lakers in the first round of the 1959 NBA draft. He played for them as well as the Cincinnati Royals, and notched 6,672 career points and 4,607 rebounds.