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:
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:
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:
|Klay Thompson (GSW)
|Trevor Ariza (HOU)
|Stephen Curry (GSW)
|CJ Miles (IND)
|Otto Porter Jr. (WAS)
|Kyle Korver (CLE)
|Kevin Love (CLE)
|Tony Snell (MIL)
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.