Wizards plan to put Otto Porter’s versatility to the test

I'll play wherever you put me. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)
I’ll play wherever you put me. (Julie Jacobson/Associated Press)

Otto Porter’s versatility may be his biggest asset on the basketball court. His ability to shoot from the midrange, handle the ball, create for others and defend multiple positions is what helped elevate him to the third overall pick in last June’s draft. And during NBA summer league in Las Vegas, the Wizards plan to test Porter and see exactly what he is capable of doing on the floor.

In his debut on Saturday against the Golden State Warriors, the wiry, 6-foot-9 Porter got the start at shooting guard during the Wizards’ 56-52 loss at Cox Pavilion on the campus of UNLV. Porter seemed fine with the role initially, as he buried his first two jumpers, but he struggled offensively the rest of the game, missing nine of his last 10 shots, with two driving layups getting rejected.

“I watched him a lot at Georgetown,” John Wall said of Porter, after watching the game with Bradley Beal, seated across the Wizards’ bench. “He missed a lot of easy shots, and I think he’ll figure it out. It’s just one game, he’s got to move forward and learn from it.”

Porter’s favorite player, Kevin Durant – another long, rangy player who lacked much mass when he arrived in the NBA – started his career as a shooting guard in Seattle. But Porter got the job mostly as the result of the usual experimentation without risk that comes with summer league play.

“I’m going to have him playing shooting guard, small forward, he’s going to bring the ball up the court, sometimes,” Wizards assistant coach Sam Cassell said. “We’re trying to figure out the things he can do in our offense. That’s why I started him at the two guard. He’s got to play. The two position and the three position in our offense is the same.”

With Porter in the backcourt, the Wizards had another ball handler on the floor but the pressure to score often fell on Chris Singleton, who led the team with 13 points. Cassell urged Porter to be more aggressive and find a way to score outside of the designed offensive sets. At times, the game often seemed to be moving too quickly for Porter, with the Warriors swarming, physical defense forcing into unfavorable positions.

“They were coming pretty tough, but it’s nothing we didn’t see,” Porter said of the Warriors. “We tried to play together. We know what each other can do. Just trying to get a feel together. We had a bad start. Everybody was hype. Once we started settling down, we started getting easy buckets.”

Porter didn’t share the floor with fellow rookie Glen Rice Jr. much, until late in the game and seemed more comfortable playing in the role of point forward. He didn’t have any assists, but the Wizards shot just 31.1 percent and Jan Vesely dropped a few passes that could’ve resulted in easy layups.

Vesely and Chris Singleton had some good moments but they also had four turnovers apiece. The Wizards committed 21 turnovers and made just 19 field goals.

“It’s just execution,” Rice said of the Wizards’ offensive woes. “Something we’re going to keep getting better at as the time goes on, nothing we have to be worried about.”

Rice also started the game well as he pulled up in transition to bury his first attempt from three-point range, but he shot just 2 for 11 the rest of the way. The Warriors scored the final six points to win the game, but Rice had a fading jumper in the lane blocked with 37.8 seconds remaining. But he also matched Vesely with a team-high seven rebounds and Cassell was pleased with his aggressiveness.

“He can play. He’s not bashful. We know that,” Cassell said of Rice.

“If I got an open shot, I’m going to take it,” Rice said with a grin.

Even after a shaky debut, Porter said he is ready for whatever Cassell throws his way, believing that it will prepare him for tougher situations down the road. “Wherever coach put me, I’ll try to play that position the best way I can. I’m just learning it all right now.”

Michael Lee is the national basketball writer for The Washington Post.
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