Washington Wizards President Ernie Grunfeld misspoke last week after his team jumped up from eighth to third in the NBA draft lottery. Grunfeld said this is a “three-player draft.” Actually, there’s only one right guy for the Wizards: Otto Porter Jr.
Porter has everything it would take to fill the team’s long-term need at wing forward. He possesses the physical skills to play as fast as point guard John Wall and shooting guard Bradley Beal and the smarts to know when to slow down. The next time Porter relaxes on defense will be the first. When tough assignments are being handed out, Porter sprints to the front of the line. And many of the franchise’s starving-for-success fans enjoy rooting for players with local ties. The Georgetown all-American qualifies.
But of all the reasons Porter and the Wizards would be such a great fit, the most important is what Porter would provide both on and off the court: professionalism. For years under Grunfeld, key Wizards players displayed little of it. Grunfeld finally cleaned house, in part, to change the organization’s culture. Last season, the Wizards made a lot of progress along the road to becoming an organization that does things the right way. With Porter, the Wizards would get there sooner.
I can almost hear the doubters as I type this: “Some 19-year-old kid will help the Wizards act like grown-ups?” Yes. And that’s because Porter’s game isn’t the only area in which he’s advanced beyond his years.
You won’t find a more mature teenager with a great shooting touch, outstanding court vision and the desire to do whatever it takes to win. At Georgetown, Porter wasn’t a low-maintenance star. He was a no-maintenance star. That’s a rarity these days in the one-and-done and two-and-flew world of big-time college hoops.
Hoyas Coach John Thompson III never had to worry about Porter missing team meetings, slacking off in practice or making bad late-night decisions. For years, Wizards coaches could only dream about working with young players who are as talented and committed to improving as Porter. Having too many knuckleheads on the roster resulted in coaching changes. It’s hard to teach people who aren’t interested in learning. Porter is a sponge.
Now that Porter is headed to the NBA, I’m sure Thompson wouldn’t mind me sharing something he told me privately (and sorry in advance if you do, Coach). Thompson is convinced Porter will be a very good pro for a long time, as much for his steadiness as a person as everything he is capable of doing with a basketball in his hands. While at Georgetown, Thompson has developed some very good NBA players (any general manager would love to have Jeff Green, Roy Hibbert or Greg Monroe on his roster), and Porter is right there with the best of them.
League talent evaluators feel similarly. “He is the best basketball player in the draft,” one Western Conference general manager texted me Wednesday. “He is a high-character kid. If [the Wizards] get him, he’d complete a young and talented perimeter with Wall and Beal.”
Wall, Beal and Porter would give the Wizards a rock-solid foundation for a decade or so. They share the same work-hard philosophy. When Wall joined the Wizards, it was like he came from another planet. Players would ignore coaches. They would goof around and wind up in the wrong places at the worst times. With Beal and Porter sharing the court, Wall would never again have to rely on clowns.
Porter isn’t perfect. He struggled as Georgetown, which finished with a share of the Big East regular-season title, lost to Syracuse during the semifinals of the conference tournament. Then there was Florida Gulf Coast’s stunning first-round upset of second-seeded Georgetown in the NCAA tournament. Porter never got going.
Anyone, however, can have a bad game or two. Porter’s overall body of work is strong. That’s what he’s being judged on. Combined with his calm demeanor and focus, there’s a lot for any club to like about Porter. Apparently, Porter also looks good to the teams drafting ahead of the Wizards.
In the weeks before the draft lottery, center Nerlens Noel and shooting guard Ben McLemore were considered the top two players in the draft. Recently, though, the buzz around the league is that Cleveland might select Porter first overall. Orlando could take Porter with the second pick. Gifted, reliable youngsters who understand the game don’t come around often.
So what should the Wizards do if Porter is off the board before they pick? It’s simple. They should punt: Trade the pick for a dependable veteran.
The Wizards are confident they’re on the cusp of becoming a playoff team. Grunfeld and Coach Randy Wittman believe they finally have a roster they can count on. Soon it will be time for the Wizards to back up their words. Next season the Wizards have to return to the playoffs for the first time since the 2007-08 season. Otherwise, owner Ted Leonsis should make some really big changes.
Getting Porter would help the Wizards win next season and in the future. But focusing on the present — by acquiring a solid player with NBA experience who also must be a solid person — would be a good fallback plan.
The Wizards beat the odds by moving up in the draft. They’ve been given a great opportunity. They would maximize it if they could get Porter.
For previous columns by Jason Reid, visit washingtonpost.com/