Washington Wizards top draft pick Otto Porter Jr. nearing return from hip injury

The Washington Wizards reached .500 after a win over the Magic on Monday night. The Post Sports Live crew discusses whether the Wizards can remain one of the top four teams in the East. (Post Sports Live/The Washington Post)
December 4, 2013

Shortly after arriving from Phoenix, Marcin Gortat joined the long list of people who have had to wait for Otto Porter Jr. Gortat didn’t have his car with him, and he had no desire to lug a heavy bag three blocks to his apartment, so he did what most veterans do: He let the rookie handle it.

Since he lives in the same building as Porter, Gortat asked the Washington Wizards’ third overall pick to drive the bag over, leave it at the front desk or take the eight-floor elevator ride and deliver it to his apartment.

“Month later, I’m like, ‘My man, where’s my bag?’ He’s like. ‘Oh my god, I completely forgot about that,’ ” Gortat recalled with a laugh. When Porter finally returned the bag, Gortat jokingly said, “I didn’t tell you you could keep it.”

For those anxious to see Porter on an NBA floor, the extended delay to his career might also be drawing to an end. Porter doesn’t want to make any firm commitments to a return date, but the all-American from Georgetown is drawing closer to making his long-awaited season debut after being sidelined for nearly three months with a strained right hip flexor.

“I feel like it’ll be soon,” Porter said.

Washington Wizards center Marcin Gortat talks about being traded from the Phoenix Suns to moving to D.C. (The Washington Post)

After Porter completed his second full practice of the season Wednesday, Coach Randy Wittman said he would like to see how Porter’s body responds to another hard, full-court practice before deciding on his availability Friday against the Milwaukee Bucks.

“I liked what I saw. At the end, he got winded. But that’s going to be expected,” Wittman said. “It’s kind of a feel. Obviously, he’s not going to come in and play 30 minutes. We’re going to ease him in and see where he is from his minutes on the floor, conditioning and stuff, and use that as guidance.”

The Wizards (9-9) practiced for nearly two hours, but Wittman held back his starters and let his reserves scrimmage most of the time, getting some much-needed competitive repetitions. Porter moved around without any complications and even stood out offensively, according to observers who were impressed by the accuracy of his jumper.

“I did miss. But I tried to make the majority of my shots,” Porter said. “I feel good for the first time, just going up and down. I don’t know about [playing] Friday, but I feel like I’m getting more in shape. I’m better aware with the plays. Right now, I’m building up my confidence back.”

Porter could provide a boost to the Wizards’ struggling bench, but the team is not desperate to rush back the wiry 6-foot-9 swingman after it won seven of the past nine games and moved up to third in the Eastern Conference in his absence. He also plays small forward, a position that is currently occupied by two of the team’s more productive veteran players in Trevor Ariza and Martell Webster.

Unlike John Wall and to a lesser extent Bradley Beal, Porter is a rare top-three pick who didn’t arrive with the expectations of having to rescue the franchise.

“No pressure at all,” Porter said. “I’m not going to come in and change anything. We’re going to come in and help keep the team winning and keep playing together. That’s all.”

Wittman certainly doesn’t want to place too much responsibility on Porter right away. Porter got hurt during summer league and started practicing last week, so Wittman is still learning his strengths and weaknesses.

“He’s a nice kid off the floor. Does he have that killer? I don’t know yet,” Wittman said. “I like what I’ve seen. . . .

“I’m sure it helps knowing that he can be eased in and it should be. I want him to feel that way. There is no pressure on him,” Wittman said. “He just needs to get out there. I guarantee you, that first game, he’s going to go home and go ‘Holy . . . I didn’t realize it was going to be like this.’ You can’t monitor it on the practice floor, only through the experience of playing against these great players night in and night out. The sooner we can get him accustomed to that, the better.”

Webster marveled at how dedicated Porter has been heeding to trainers and staying diligent, arriving early and leaving late. He has also advised Porter to take his time with his recovery. “He’s been painfully patient,” Webster said. “He feels like he needs to get out there and show the reason why he was picked No. 3. But he’s had great poise. The most important thing for him right now is to get his endurance up.”

Gortat is excited about possibly seeing Porter on the floor. “He can be the joker card in the coach’s sleeve. He might be the guy to come here and help us win games, especially off the bench,” Gortat said.

“As long as he can stay healthy. I’m laughing at him now, because his calf is the size of my wrists. Seriously, he’s got to put on some weight. He might get destroyed out there. He’s so small. But he’s a talented kid. He’s a good kid. He’s got a bright future.”

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