He was too caught up in emotion, too caught in his moment to recognize or appreciate what was going on around him. When Otto Porter Jr. made his first trek from the Wizards’ bench to scorer’s table, fans at Verizon Center stood up to applaud the NBA debut of the former Georgetown star.
Porter didn’t hear the crowd or see it.
“I was yelling at somebody, telling them I was coming in or something,” Porter said Friday, after contributing two rebounds and an assists in 14 minutes of the Wizards’ 109-105 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks. “I was excited myself, to come out, get a couple minutes and get my feet wet a little.
“I’m still emotional,” he said with a smile. “First game in the NBA. Something I’ve been working my whole life for. It’s pretty cool.”
Porter, 20, has called the arena home for the past two years, but never had he been on that red, white, blue floor with Wizards logos all around and never in a uniform with Jerry West’s silhouette near his heart. His career was delayed by an unfortunate hip injury that tested his patience while he was left inactive for nearly three months.
“I guess it’s something my mom passed down to me, being patient,” Porter, the third overall pick from the June draft, said. “Anybody else, they probably would’ve been frustrated and things like that. I allowed myself to be patient, with good people around me, my teammates, my coaching staff. Just the confidence they gave me to make sure I’d get healthy, get right.”
Without the benefit of training camp to prepare him for what the league is all about, Porter had to quickly adjust in the 19th game of the Wizards’ season. Porter’s jitters were evident the moment he stepped on the floor. He grabbed a rebound but the first time touched the ball on offense, Porter shuffled his feet trying to go left and was whistled for traveling. Ten seconds later, he picked up a personal foul trying to guard fellow rookie Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Bucks.
“Probably just nerves,” Porter said, explaining what led to his initial errors, “but all in all, I was just happy to be out there.”
Porter eventually tried to take a mid-range jumper from the left wing, but the shot came up well short after Bucks center John Henson quickly ran out to contest. “He partially got it and I was surprised he how far he came out. But it was a wakeup call. Got to change the way you get your shot up and stuff. It was the first shot. I was excited, nervous.”
The speed of the game was eye-opening for Porter. “Guys are flying by you and you’re like, ‘whoa,’ at first. But once you’re out there a while, it slows down a lot,” he said.
Porter was 0-for-3 from the field and went scoreless. He admitted that he was a little overwhelmed. “Probably ‘til halftime,” Porter said. “I came back, gathered myself, realized it’s finally done. Go out there and try to pick up the intensity more with the guys, get them going, with John [Wall] and Trevor [Ariza], hitting open shots, try to get them the ball as much as possible. Play defense, rebound. Things like that.”
Coach Randy Wittman felt Porter’s performance went the way he would expect for a rookie coming off a serious injury in his first game. “He’s a young kid. He’s going to be fine,” he said. “We’ve got to get him to understand the game, the speed, quickness and everything. That’s what I kind of wanted to accomplish.”
Porter was disappointed that the Wizards were unable to come away with a win against the team that entered the game with the worst record in the league. “It is tough, it’s my first game back,” Porter said. “I wish I could’ve helped more than I did. But you just have to bounce back from this game. I definitely got to build on it. Just getting the flow back. Getting back in a little rhythm.”