Otto Porter Jr. has spent his first week of NBA training camp with the Washington Wizards fulfilling many of his rookie duties, such as collecting Gatorades for veterans and carrying bags upon request. When the team stayed at the George Mason Inn, Porter played highly competitive games of the soccer video game, FIFA ’14, with veteran Nene. And he has shown up to the gym hours after the team practices to work on his individual game with developmental assistant Joe Connelly.
What Porter hasn’t done is practice.
The third overall pick from Georgetown, Porter suffered a strained right hip flexor before the team gathered to begin making preparations for the upcoming season. Porter has been limited to watching from the sideline, riding stationary bikes, stretching with elastic bands and doing flexibility exercises.
“I’m still not in the process of jogging or running. It’s limited. But I’m doing whatever I can,” Porter said. “You definitely want to be out there, but you also want to learn from the side. Cheer them on, tell them to keep on playing, but that’s the best I can do.”
Porter’s return remains uncertain, and he has already hinted he wouldn’t be available for either of the first two exhibition games against Brooklyn or Chicago. Porter plans to travel with the team to Rio de Janeiro for the first-ever preseason game in South America but added that he would be more excited about the trip “if I was playing.”
A wiry 6-foot-8 swingman, Porter has been struggling with various injuries since summer league in July, when he was limited by a strained right hamstring that forced him to miss the final two games in Las Vegas. On media day, Porter admitted the leg injury contributed to his underwhelming performance in Las Vegas: “It did affect me to where I couldn’t run or anything like that.”
After taking a few weeks off to heal, Porter was a regular at Verizon Center for the rest of the summer but had his latest injury when he slipped on the court during a pickup game and had what he called “a freak accident.”
When asked recently what he has learned about Porter thus far, Coach Randy Wittman replied: “I haven’t learned anything. Nothing. Hard to learn when you’re not on the floor.
“I know who Otto is. Otto is a very sound fundamental player that’s got a good basketball IQ and that’s kind of what I know. But I need to get to know Otto,” Wittman continued. “I’m frustrated for him, because these are valuable, valuable days that we’re looking at here, that he’s missing. I haven’t been able to coach him yet to understand how fast he’s going to pick things up, how long it’s going to take him, how far behind the eight ball he’s going to get. Those are questions I’m going to have to figure out once he does get out there.”
Porter, 20, doesn’t enter this season under the same pressure to produce immediately as fellow top three picks John Wall and Bradley Beal. The Wizards have considerable depth at small forward, with veterans Martell Webster and Trevor Ariza both familiar with the schemes and capable of starting, so there isn’t a high demand for Porter to hurry back for the benefit of the team. Wittman has tried to keep Porter connected by having the rookie sit down with coaches to break down film so that he can learn system before he eventually is able to practice.
“When he gets back, he’s going to have to perform,” said Webster, who has been making sure that Porter is paying attention to the focal points of the system. “This is a game that you can’t speed back. You can’t just come out here and rush it. It’s going to be times that he’s going to be frustrated because his legs won’t be there or he may not be as fast, or he may not have that first step. Getting back into the swing of things is going to be tough, but we have his back.”
With the speedy Wall leading the way, the Wizards plan to use more of a running, up-tempo style than Porter was accustoming to playing the past two seasons at Georgetown. Porter has been startled by the quicker NBA pace but is already imagining how he will fit in while studying film and practices.
“I feel like I can bring a lot of energy, a lot of excitement,” Porter said. “Somebody that can come in and give them a push over the hump. I think if I continue just to work hard, do what the coaches tell me to do, I’ll be fine.”
The first step, though, is simply get back on the court. “I’m feeling better. Taking it slowly,” Porter said. “I talk to Nene all the time. He’s been in the league a long time and he’s basically said, ‘Don’t rush. This is only the first part of the season. You’ve got a long season ahead of you.’ Just work your way back.”