No one needed to explain the situation to Georgetown forward Otto Porter Jr. When you’re the star on a team that expects to play in the NCAA tournament, you know what must be done during tough times. Porter took on a bigger role this season, and the Hoyas are headed in the right direction again.
“Just talking more and setting an example . . . I feel I’m doing a very good job of that,” Porter said.
His scoring and leadership has helped Georgetown shake off an 0-2 start in Big East play and overcome the loss of second-leading scorer and rebounder Greg Whittington, who was declared academically ineligible in January. The Hoyas have settled into a nice groove while winning four straight and six of seven in conference play. NBA executives have noticed.
League scouts were impressed with Porter’s versatility and production when he was among the nation’s best freshmen last season. Now, Porter is getting high marks for his ability to spark a turnaround during turbulent times. He’s building the type of résumé that could land him in the next NBA draft lottery. There’s nothing like a little adversity to show what you’ve got – and Porter stepped forward.
Early on this season, he wasn’t needed as much. In a November tournament, the Hoyas defeated UCLA and then pushed top-ranked Indiana to overtime before losing. The Hoyas went 10-1 in their nonconference schedule, and you began to wonder if Coach John Thompson III’s surprising squad would keep on rolling in the Big East. The answer came quickly: No.
Georgetown was brutal on offense in losses to Marquette and Pittsburgh. It’s hard to win at any level of hoops when you make less than 40 percent of your shots from the field. “You could say we had a lot of things to work on,” Thompson said. Porter included.
Porter is a true all-around player. He scores, rebounds and plays defense. In the losses, he didn’t do any of those things particularly well. Porter missed
8 of 13 field goal attempts and scored 13 points against Marquette. He was even less of a factor against Pittsburgh: nine points (on 2-of-6 shooting) and three rebounds.
Anyone can have a couple of bad games. The Hoyas, however, needed Porter to get his head in the game on offense. “We wanted him to be more aggressive,” Thompson said. “We needed him to be more assertive.”
Porter knew it. He read the stat sheets and watched the game tapes. A bad start in the Big East was rough enough; there was also the problem of Whittington’s status.
In addition to being the Hoyas’ second-best player, the sophomore forward is sensational on defense. Thompson has made lineup adjustments to help compensate for the loss of Whittington’s scoring (the Hoyas have had success with three-guard lineups). But Georgetown’s roster isn’t equipped to replace a player with Whittington’s athleticism and defensive instincts. The Hoyas’ defense simply hasn’t been as tight without him. More scoring punch was necessary.
Porter, who averages a team-leading 14.8 points, has scored at least 19 points in five of Georgetown’s past seven games. He’s shooting 55.1 percent from the field during the hot stretch. Porter had only one game with
19 or more points in the first 13.
Finally, Thompson is getting what he expected.
“Otto is so unselfish,” Thompson said. “As a coach, you know he’s not going to be greedy. That’s just not Otto. So you have the luxury of letting him be aggressive.
“He’s a pretty good shooter. He can score in the post. He scores in different ways in transition . . . and you like to see that.”
Porter would be just as happy making a solid bounce pass that led to a layup, or setting a textbook screen that resulted in an uncontested jumper. He enjoys rebounding – Porter leads the Hoyas with an average of 7.6 per game – as much as he does shooting three-pointers. He would be content if he went scoreless in a victory as long as he was perfect in his defensive rotations. “He’s so good at everything,” Thompson said. “He makes his teammates better.”
When you’re 6 feet 8 and as versatile as Porter is, you don’t want to focus on doing just one thing well. His performance against Louisville was a good example of what makes Porter special.
On Jan. 26, Porter had 17 points and 12 rebounds in the Hoyas’ 53-51 victory over the then-No. 5 Cardinals. he had impressive stats in the team’s biggest win of the season – and his numbers didn’t tell the whole story.
Porter’s toughness in boxing out was the best part of his game that day. Time after time, he was in the right position to prevent Cardinals players from getting rebounds. Porter didn’t always get the ball. And he didn’t care – as long as Louisville didn’t get it.
“He’s still doing all the other aspects of the game,” Thompson said. “From rebounding, to communication with his teammates, to defending . . . he’s doing everything he always has.”
The leadership thing is a little different. From the moment Porter stepped on campus, it was clear he wasn’t your average freshman. Taking charge in the locker room, however, isn’t the sort of thing newcomers regularly do in high school, college or the pros. But this is clearly Porter’s team.
“I took it upon myself . . . to step up and lead,” Porter said. “Talking in the locker room and keeping the team together . . . just trying to have that intensity every night.”
Porter’s maturity also helps him stand out with NBA talent evaluators. They like the fact that he seems to possess the physical and mental chops to handle the grind of life in their league. “The combination of his feel for the game and his production . . . should land him somewhere in the lottery,” said a Western Conference general manager who requested anonymity so he could talk freely about Porter.
For Porter, leading the Hoyas past their rough patch was only a start. They’ll need him to keep doing more. And he won’t have to be told to get ready.
For previous columns by Jason Reid, go to washingtonpost.com/reid.