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.

Western Conference, NBA Finals predictions: Is another title coming to Los Angeles?

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The NBA season tips-off tonight night, which leaves us time for one last thing:

Our Western Conference and NBA Finals predictions.

We’ve run through some postseason awards — MVP, Rookie of the Year, Coach of the Year, Sixth Man of the Year — and yesterday we laid out who we thought would win the East. Today we stick our neck out and make our predictions on how the Western Conference will shake out.

As a disclaimer, we get it: making NBA preseason awards predictions is like nailing Jell-O to a tree. We’ll be wrong. But it’s fun, so the NBA staff here at NBC is making our picks.

THE WESTERN CONFERENCE

Kurt Helin
1. Denver
2. Utah
3. L.A. Clippers
4. Houston
5. L.A.Lakers
6. Portland
7. Golden State
8. San Antonio
Western Conference Finals: L.A. Clippers over L.A. Lakers.
NBA Finals: L.A. Clippers over Philadelphia

I’ve never gone into a season less confident in my predictions. For example, I think Dallas has a very good shot at the eight seed (maybe Sacramento, too), but I simply cannot pick against the Spurs. The order of these teams could easily shift, the West will be so close that just losing a star for a few weeks to a sprained ankle could dramatically change a team’s seeding. I’m comfortable that systems and continuity will keep Denver and Utah at the top of the regular season standings, but the playoffs will feel completely different. The Los Angeles teams are better built for the postseason than anyone else (although I think Utah has a chance to crash the party). I trust the depth and the wing defense of the Clippers more than the Lakers, so Doc Rivers will get back to playing in June. For the Finals, I’ll take the Clippers over the Sixers, but I don’t say that with a lot of confidence.

Dan Feldman:

1. Houston
2. Denver
3. L.A. Clippers
4. L.A. Lakers
5. Utah
6. Portland
7. Golden State
8. Dallas
Western Conference Finals: L.A. Clippers over L.A. Lakers.
NBA Finals: L.A. Clippers over Milwaukee

There’s a rare divergence between teams prepared for the regular season and teams prepared for the playoffs, which makes this prediction difficult enough. Adding to the complications: The West is so deep, leaving few postseason locks. For some teams, a few moderate breaks in either direction could make the difference between making the Western Conference finals and missing the playoffs entirely.

The last playoff spot was an extremely tough call between the Mavericks and Spurs. The Kings weren’t that far behind, either. Kawhi Leonard just showed an ability to get through the regular season and bring elite production to a deep postseason run. LeBron James has done it the previous several years. That’s why the Clippers and Lakers get so much benefit of the doubt. The Lakers’ Anthony Davis is a better second star than the Clippers’ Paul George, but I have more trust in the Clippers’ depth — from the front office to the coaching staff to other players.

Dane Delgado:
Western Conference Finals: L.A. Clippers over L.A. Lakers.

Everyone is picking the Los Angeles Clippers in the Western Conference, and for good reason. This is not just a team that lumped together several superstars trying to make a playoff push. This time around, it’s a bit different. Los Angeles was already a solid team before both Kawhi Leonard and Paul George arrived and their most important players from last year — Lou Williams, Montrezl Harrell, Patrick Beverley — are all back. Doc Rivers, whose reputation as a coach was in question heading into last season, has solidified is legacy simply by what he could squeeze out of this the Clippers team last season. If L.A. can make it to the Western Conference Finals this year, it would not surprise anyone. The real question will be health. Leonard has shown he is willing to battle through various ailments to perform on the highest stage, but George’s shoulders are a real concern. Still, if you were placing bets on the best team in the west, it makes sense to go with the team that’s been able to stay intact while at the same time adding to generational superstars. It may be a bridge too far to pick the Clippers to win the NBA championship in 2020, but it’d be a safe move at this juncture to slot them in as the West champs.

Michael Jordan says Stephen Curry is not a Hall of Famer, yet

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Three-time NBA Champion. Two-time MVP. Six-time All-NBA. Six-time All-Star. Scoring champion. And the best pure shooter the game has ever seen, a player whose style helped revolutionize the way the game is played. A player idolized and imitated by youth on blacktop courts around the globe.

Even if he quit the sport today and walked away, Stephen Curry is a lock first-ballot Hall of Famer…

Unless you ask Michael Jordan.

Jordan just did a few interviews around the opening of a medical clinic he paid for in Charlotte to help the underserved, and Hoops & Brews caught this gem in Jordan’s interview on NBC’s The Today Show (h/t Bleacher Report).

Yes, he is.

Technically Curry can’t be let into the club until five years after he retires, and at age 31 he’s got a few more good years in him — including this one, where he could have an MVP-level season. However, in practical terms, he is in. It’s not close. Done deal. Move along, nothing to see here.

It’s good the NBA games are starting because we need things to talk about other than this silliness.

 

Charlotte GM Mitch Kupchak: Hornets won’t build through free agency

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Mitch Kupchak doesn’t see the Charlotte Hornets being major players in free agency as they attempt to build a winning franchise in the post-Kemba Walker era – at least not right away.

Instead, the second-year general manager said Monday he anticipates the Hornets will construct the roster through draft picks and “savvy trades” during the season, while compiling as many assets as possible.

“We will not be an active player” in free agency, Kupchak said. “I think we can build a culture here and get enough assets and have a promising enough future and really attract the kind of free agent you want to spend that kind of money on – but I don’t think you can do it right now.”

So in the meantime, the Hornets will give young players like Dwayne Bacon, Miles Bridges, Malik Monk, Devonte Graham and even rookie PJ Washington extensive playing time this season as part of their No. 1 overall goal of player development after going 39-43 last season and losing Walker, a three-time All-Star, to the Boston Celtics.

Kupchak said that will take patience, but he and owner Michael Jordan and coach James Borrego are on the same page.

Kupchak said he won’t measure this season’s success in terms of wins and losses, but rather on how the team’s younger players continue to progress.

“Win or lose, I want our players to play with energy and our coaches to coach with energy,” Kupchak said. “As the season goes on I want to see improvement. That’s how I’m looking at the season.”

Kupchak said that concept may not be easy for Borrego.

“I am hoping he is better than he was last season,” Kupchak said with a grin. “At the beginning of the season last year he took each loss really, really hard. Hopefully this year he will be able to handle the losses a little bit better.”

Borrego has yet to name a starting lineup for Wednesday night’s home opener against the Chicago Bulls. Point guard Terry Rozier and center Cody Zeller are locks to start, but the combination of the other three remains a mystery.

That lineup could include Washington, who has impressed Kupchak with his 3-point shooting in the preseason since being selected No. 12 overall earlier this year.

Originally, the Hornets planned for the former Kentucky forward to split time between Charlotte’s G League team and the NBA to gain maximum playing experience. But Kupchak said Washington has been the team’s most impressive young player during the preseason and will likely remain in Charlotte, provided he’s seeing 15-plus minutes per game.

“He does have to play, and, based on his production of late, he will play,” Kupchak said. “… He has worked on his game and has turned himself into not only a big man that can be productive down in the paint, but in our game today he can also make 3s.”

Win or lose, Kupchak expects the Hornets to use a “fast-paced style of play.”

 

Doc Rivers says Los Angeles Lakers counting Minnesota titles “actually bugs me a little bit”

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Los Angeles is a Lakers town.

The Dodgers can get close to energizing the city the same way, although Dodger fans are a little cautious after the past few playoffs. The Rams and Chargers are in a league that ignored Los Angeles for a couple of decades, lost a couple of generations of fans, and it’s going to take time to win them back. The Kings’ following is passionate but not massive (same with the two MLS teams in town).

The Lakers are the team that fathers take their sons to see, like their fathers did before them. The Lakers have won 16 NBA titles…

About that, it’s really 11 in Los Angeles. The first five carried over from Minnesota (where the name Lakers makes more sense). That kind of bothers’ Clippers coach Doc Rivers, something he told Marc Spears of The Undefeated in a story previewing the Clippers’ season.

“It is a Lakers town. I’m good with that. I have no issues with that,” Clippers head coach Doc Rivers told The Undefeated from his Staples Center office recently. “They have how many titles that they’ve won here? You know, they claim them all, but they only won a certain amount here. I will say that. That actually bugs me a little bit. … Having said that, that’s generations of loyalty.

“I look at us as, we’re creating our own movement. … We’re not trying to take away shine from the other. We’ve got our own thing going. I never thought we could get our own thing going. That was what I was so frustrated with being here. And now we got our own thing going.”

Carrying titles over is common… and controversial. Should the Dodgers be able to count Brooklyn titles? It feels wrong to think Oklahoma City could count Seattle’s titles. Should Sacramento be able to count the 1951 Rochester title? Personally, the Lakers carrying Minnesota’s doesn’t seem a big issue, but you know Rivers is going to take a shot at the Lakers when he can.

That hallway rivalry at Staples Center is building.

Few things seem to irritate Lakers fans like the Clippers putting posters of players over the Lakers’ title banners at Staples Center for Clippers home games. Lakers fans think of Staples as their building — and it might not exist but for the draw of the Shaq/Kobe Lakers. However, Staples is owned by AEG (whose primary owner is Philip Anschutz, who owns the NHL’s Kings), not the Lakers. It’s a hockey building.

Doc is right about one thing: The Clippers have their own thing going.

The Clippers, on paper, are the better Los Angeles team and better built for the playoffs with versatile wings such as Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. The Clippers have more trusted depth with Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell. Tuesday night’s Clippers’ home opener will go how it goes — LeBron James and Anthony Davis will go for the Lakers, Paul George is out for weeks still for the Clippers — but a playoff battle between these teams this season could be epic.

And decide who gets to hang the next banner in Staples Center.