Taking the handoff from fellow Wizards assistant coach Sam Cassell as they tag-team leading Washington’s summer league squad in Las Vegas, Don Newman made two adjustments to the starting lineup as the team played the New York Knicks on Sunday at Cox Pavilion: He replaced veteran point guard Sundiata Gaines with Marquez Haynes and gave Dennis Horner the starting nod at power forward over Frank Hassell.
Newman, however, kept Otto Porter Jr. as his starting shooting guard, and the result was another rough outing offensively for the 6-foot-9 rookie more suited to play small forward. Porter once again got off to a decent start, scoring eight points in the first half as he caught a backdoor pass from Jan Vesely for a layup, made a mid-range jumper and even threw down two rare fast-break dunks. But he went scoreless in the second half, missing all five of his shot attempts, and finished 4 of 13 from the field in the Wizards’ 82-69 loss.
“It’s hard to get that comfortability right now, playing different positions, trying to figure it out, trying to execute,” Porter said. “It’s different.”
The Wizards have decided to bring Glen Rice Jr. off the bench thus far and use Porter, Chris Singleton and Vesely as the primary scorers early on. Porter has been running the same screens that the Wizards used to get Bradley Beal open looks last season, but he has had difficulty hitting open shots. He has had an even tougher time getting to the rim on drives, with physical defenders using the slightest nudge to bump the generously listed 205-pound Porter off-balance. Porter drove baseline in the first half but had his layup attempt rejected by Knicks guard Tony Mitchell.
“It’s just a learning process for me,” Porter said. “Just the space on the court. Learning where to move to. You’re always spaced out. So much pick-and-roll action. Learning where to move to, when to go and not to go.”
In two games, Porter is shooting just 26.9 percent (7 for 26) and has missed all five of his three-point attempts in Las Vegas. Porter had problems shooting three-pointers as a freshman in college, but he converted 42 percent as a sophomore. He has been working on extending his range to the NBA three-point line, but he knows he has a way to go.
“The shots is there, it’s just a matter of knocking them down, but I’ll definitely work on that,” Porter said.
The Wizards certainly aren’t panicking since they are obviously experimenting with Porter. In the regular season, Porter usually will be surrounded by better offensive players, which will allow his skills as a do-it-all complementary piece to stand out. Newman said the Wizards are “fishing around” to figure out how to best use Porter when the regular season begins.
Coming from a structured system at Georgetown, Porter is trying to find his way in a much more wide-open summer league style. More of a reactionary, adjusting player, Porter is still trying to get a feel for the strengths and weaknesses of his teammates.
“We just want him to get comfortable and just play and see what kind of player you are. We want him to be aggressive. We don’t want him hesitating with the shot. We don’t want him hesitating with the drives,” said Newman. “I don’t think we can be too hard on him. The kid is trying to pick things up, he’s with you. He understands basketball. He’s just got to get the confidence going.”
Haynes, an undrafted free agent who has played professionally in France, Georgia and Germany, has been one of the most pleasant surprises through the first two games. The offense has been stagnant with Gaines running the show, but Haynes has done a decent job of getting the team in its sets and looking for his own scoring opportunities. After recording a team-high six assists in the loss to Golden State, Haynes led the Wizards with 13 points on 5 of 7 shooting against the Knicks.
“We want to play with pace. If John Wall has the ball, you know we’re going to have pace. So if you’re going to make this team and play with the Wizards, you’ve got to understand that pace is important,” Newman said. “We like Haynes. He pushes the ball. He gets into people defensively and he’s coachable. That’s the things we’re looking for.”