No more talk about potential and building for the future. After five consecutive losing seasons and the addition of three top-three NBA draft picks, the Washington Wizards should return to the playoffs next season. Finally, they’re equipped to get there.
Slowly, the Wizards have assembled all the necessary parts. The one they added in Thursday night’s draft looks like a gem: wing forward Otto Porter Jr. In selecting the do-it-all Georgetown all-American with the third overall pick, the Wizards made a no-brainer move that helps them immediately.
The moment he declared for the draft in April, Porter became the top player on the Wizards’ draft board, as much for his dependability off the court as his production on it. During the past two seasons, the Wizards have made great strides in improving the professionalism in their locker room. In adding one of the most mature 20-year-old college stars you’ll ever meet, the Wizards chose someone who’s a great fit for their solid group. Porter will strengthen it.
“He has the total package,” Wizards President Ernie Grunfeld said. “He has good work ethic; he’s a team player [and] he can do multiple things out on the floor.”
Georgetown fans saw it all. Hoyas Coach John Thompson III isn’t prone to exaggeration and doesn’t offer unwarranted praise. So when Thompson said that Porter “isn’t low maintenance; he’s no maintenance,” well, that was all I needed to hear.
By all indications, the Wizards drafted a player who will be among the first to show up for practice and among the last to leave. Wizards fans can count on Porter to give everything he has during games. That’s the way the kid is wired.
“He’s going to make different players better,” Wizards Coach Randy Wittman said. “That’s a huge asset for us.”
From a roster standpoint, Porter also is a perfect match for the Wizards’ short- and long-term needs. Veteran forward Martell Webster was a pleasant surprise last season, his first with the team. Webster had career-best statistics and ranked 12th in the league in three-point field goal percentage. The Wizards plan to re-sign the free agent, which would be a solid move.
Veteran backup Trevor Ariza has one more season remaining on his contract. Ariza is good in the locker room and comfortable in whatever role he’s asked to play. With both Webster and Ariza on the team next season, Porter could ease into the rotation in his rookie year without having to shoulder the kind of responsibility many top picks face upon joining a non-playoff roster .
But if Porter makes the transition to the NBA in his rookie season as easily as he did during his freshman year in college, the Wizards would have a great situation in their front court. Trying to divide minutes between productive players is a problem any coach would welcome. The Wizards expect Porter to force the issue.
Porter’s polished game should translate well to the NBA. At 6 feet 8, Porter is a skilled ballhandler and an efficient midrange shooter and passer. He’s a relentless rebounder, extremely versatile — in the NBA, Porter should be able to guard forwards and guards — has excellent court vision and is super sharp. Porter understands concepts such as floor spacing and tempo. For these reasons, Porter was the draft’s most NBA-ready player.
Then why wasn’t Porter the first pick in the draft? Cleveland and Orlando evidently saw greater potential in power forward Anthony Bennett and guard Victor Oladipo, who were chosen first and second overall, but “Porter is the safest pick,” a Western Conference general manager said. “He’s a high-character kid [joining] a team that hasn’t valued it [character] enough in the past. Porter could be a 10-year starter . . . and you don’t have to worry about him.”
Same goes for Wizards guard Bradley Beal, whom the Wizards chose a year ago, also at No. 3 overall. Beal is headed to stardom. Before his season was cut short in early April because of a leg injury, the smooth shooter showed he has everything it takes to eventually become one of the best at his position. It could happen quickly.
And if point guard John Wall picks up where he left off last season, the Wizards figure to make a really big jump. The former No. 1 overall draft pick had the best two months of his career in March and April.
The Wizards are all-in on Wall, who’s expected to receive a huge extension next month, and Porter and Beal are exactly the kind of running mates he needs. The Wizards should be extremely strong on the perimeter.
“We’re gonna do damage next year,” Porter said on a conference call with reporters. “I already know what they [Wall and Beal] bring to the table. All I do is plug myself in there. It’s gonna be fun.”
The big guys will have to keep up. Washington needs center Nene to play in more than 61 games, which was his total last season. In the final year of his contract, center-power forward Emeka Okafor should be highly motivated. Promising power forward Kevin Seraphin took a step backward. Next season, he’ll have to show he’s getting it. Still, despite some questions, the Wizards have a whole lot to feel good about.
For the first time in so long, Washington’s NBA franchise has talent, depth and real promise. It’s a new day. Don’t be surprised if it’s a very bright one.
For previous columns by Jason Reid, visit washingtonpost.com/reid.