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.

NBA owners approve 22-team format for resuming season with only Trail Blazers opposing

Trail Blazers owner Jody Allen
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We already knew many key details of the NBA’s plan for resuming the season:

  • Only the top 22 teams will continue.
  • Games will be held at Disney World in Orlando.
  • Each team will play eight more games (maybe with this schedule).
  • If the ninth-place team is within four games of the eighth-place team after those eight games, there will be a play-in series between the eighth- and ninth-place teams. To advance, the ninth-place team must win two games before the eighth-place team wins one.

Now, that plan is one step closer to becoming reality.

Shams Charania of The Athletic:

It’s shocking the Trail Blazers, owned by Jody Allen, cast the protest vote. Portland – currently outside playoff position – will resume with a real chance to make the playoffs. What more did the Trail Blazers want?

Players must still approve the plan. National Basketball Players Association executive director Michele Roberts said they wouldn’t necessarily vote on it. Union leadership has worked closely with NBA commissioner Adam Silver, certainly agreeing on the system before having owners vote on it.

However, given the NBPA’s haphazard methods for polling the larger membership, I’m not sure how widespread support is. There is room for significant disagreement on how players – continuing vs. non-continuing – will have their salaries affected.

Still, I expect players approve the plan, maybe tomorrow.

Marc Stein of The New York Times:

Everything is just too far down the road to turn back now. The financial incentives are too high not to keep trying to play. Silver has successfully rallied nearly everyone toward uniting.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Most of the remaining issues are minor details… like codifying a plan for health and safety.

Tim Reynolds of the Associated Press:

Report: Knicks to interview former Knicks coach Mike Woodson

Former Knicks coach Mike Woodson
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The Knicks appear set on both hiring Tom Thibodeau and conducting a coaching search.

Mike Woodson, who coached New York from 2012-2014, will be part of the process.

Ian Begley of SNY:

New York also interviewed Woodson in 2018 before hiring David Fizdale. I understand why the Knicks can’t make up their mind on whether they want him as their coach.

Woodson won 58% of his games with New York, the third-best mark in franchise history (behind Pat Riley and Jeff Van Gundy). In 2012-13, Woodson did some really creative things with Carmelo Anthony at power forward and two-point guard lineups.

But by the end of that season, Woodson went away from what worked. His views became increasingly suspect the next season. When the Knicks fired him, it appeared to be time to move one.

Will New York return to Woodson? Probably not. The expectation remains Thibodeau will get this job. But Woodson will at least have an opportunity to make his case for a very-strange return.

When Charles Barkley tried to recruit Dirk Nowitzki to Auburn

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Dirk Nowitzki was not headed to an American college before the NBA. Like most of the best European players — Giannis Antetokounmpo, Luka Doncic, Pau Gasol, Tony Parker, even going back to Tony Kukoc and others — he was taking a straight trip from his European team to the NBA.

That didn’t stop Charles Barkley from trying to get him to go to Auburn.

It wasn’t meant to be, but Saad Yousuf at the Athletic tells the story of Barkley trying.

The Auburn alum reflected on his first meeting with Nowitzki, in 1997 at a Nike exhibition game in Germany, in which the Big German put on an offensive clinic against a team featuring Barkley, Pippen, Michael Jordan and other NBA talents…

Barkley called Nike and made a strong push to get to Nowitzki through any channel, legal or not. “Just tell him, anything he wants, we’ll get it done,” Barkley recalled in 2012. “Just give him anything he wants; he’s got to go to Auburn.”

Barkley didn’t stop there, though. Nowitzki left such an impression on Auburn’s greatest hoops export that Barkley even talked to Cliff Ellis, Auburn’s coach at the time, to encourage the program to make a run at this relatively unknown teenager in Europe.

Ellis notes that in 1997 he couldn’t just jump on YouTube and find clips of a player, there wasn’t much film of European players. Still, the coach was willing to go on Barkley’s word and reached out.

Turns out Kentucky, Stanford and other colleges did as well, but to no avail. Nowitzki went straight into the 1988 NBA Draft, where the Bucks took him ninth overall then executed a draft-night trade sending the big German to Dallas for Robert “Tractor” Traylor. The rest is Hall of Fame history.

For Barkley, Ellis, and Auburn fans, it’s quite the “what if.” That was a 29-4 Auburn team in 1997-98 that was an NCAA Tournament No. 1 seed led by a couple of future NBA players (Mamadou N’Diaye and Chris Porter). Add Nowitzki into that mix and… we will never know. But it could have been glorius.

 

How will, should player salaries be allocated as only some NBA teams resume?

Timberwolves star Karl-Anthony Towns and Mavericks star Luka Doncic
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The Timberwolves will play 64 games this season. The Mavericks will play 75-77 games before the traditional playoffs.

Should Dallas players get paid a higher percentage of their salaries than Minnesota players?

That’s one of the thorny questions as the NBA resumes its season.

Though players have individual contracts with defined salaries, there’s an overriding factor in determining actual wages. The Collective Bargaining Agreement calls for players and owners to split revenue approximately 50-50. Salaries are adjusted to reach that 50-50 split.

Each year, the salary cap is set to a number designed to get total player salaries to about 50% of league-wide revenue. Obviously, that’s a difficult target to hit precisely. So, there are mechanisms to adjust the distribution of money if necessary. If their total slated salaries are higher than 50% of revenue, players don’t receive their full salaries. If their total salaries are lower than 50% of revenue, players get a shortfall check from owners.

Coronavirus has disrupted that well-oiled system

The league is missing a major chunk of revenue. Players’ slated salaries would call for them to earn WAY more than 50% of revenue. That’s why the NBA has been withholding a portion of players’ salaries. Force majeure allows teams to reduce players salaries for games canceled due to an epidemic.

The NBA’s reported plan reveals the number of lost games. There were 259 regular-season games remaining when the season was suspended. The continued season includes 88 regular-season games (eight each for the 22 continuing teams) plus 0-4 play-in games.* No playoff games are being canceled.

*I’m counting play-in games as regular-season games. It’s a gray area. Perhaps, owners and players will agree to count them as postseason games. It probably doesn’t matter here, anyway. In terms of force majeure, regular-season and playoff games count equally. So, it’s simple enough to count them as regular-season games.

That’s 167-171 canceled games.

Except not every team will have the same number of games canceled.

There’s a four-game spread in the number of games each team has played so far. The Warriors, Timberwolves, Cavaliers, Pistons, Hawks, Knicks, Bulls and Hornets are done now. Every other team will play at least eight more games. The Mavericks, Grizzlies, Nets, Magic, Trail Blazers, Pelicans, Kings, Spurs, Suns and Wizards could play up to two play-in games.

Based strictly on games played, here’s how much players on each team stand to lose in salary:

  • Timberwolves: 19%
  • Hornets: 18%
  • Bulls: 18%
  • Cavaliers: 18%
  • Warriors: 18%
  • Pistons: 17%
  • Knicks: 17%
  • Hawks: 16%
  • Lakers: 12%
  • Spurs: 10%-12%
  • Celtics: 11%
  • Rockets: 11%
  • Clippers: 11%
  • Thunder: 11%
  • Raptors: 11%
  • Jazz: 11%
  • Nets: 9%-11%
  • Pelicans: 9%-11%
  • Kings: 9%-11%
  • Wizards: 9%-11%
  • Nuggets: 10%
  • Pacers: 10%
  • Heat: 10%
  • Bucks: 10%
  • 76ers: 10%
  • Grizzlies: 8%-10%
  • Magic: 8%-10%
  • Suns: 8%-10%
  • Trail Blazers: 6%-9%
  • Mavericks: 5%-8%

Is that fair to players on the eight done teams? They didn’t ask for their season to end prematurely.

On the other hand, they don’t have to do any more work. Other players must travel to Orlando, live under restrictions, play games with heightened injury concerns and risk contracting coronavirus just so the league can increase its revenue. Should eliminated players reap the rewards while sitting home?

This tension also exists in normal times. Players across 16 playoff teams divvied up just $20 million total for competing in the 2018 playoffs, and the amount was similar last year. Player income is largely earned on the regular season, even though the players playing in the playoffs disproportionately draw the revenue that funds everyone.

But the disparity feels sharper now – with the worst teams not even finishing the regular season and playoff teams facing a far larger burden just to keep playing.

To a certain degree, this is a player problem. Owners are going to pay approximately 50% of league revenue to players. The CBA dictates how players on each team should have their salaries cut through force majeure. If players want to share the losses more evenly among each other, owners should accommodate.

Consider this similar to cap smoothing, which the union infamously rejected. Except in that case, it was more just luck which players were in the favored class. Now, the players who could earn more will actually be the ones putting in the additional work. Then again, there could be a push for everyone to share the losses more equally.

Like many things disrupted by coronavirus, there are no good answers.