Otto Porter Jr. has joined the Wizards at a time when they have been hit with another wave of injuries, but Coach Randy Wittman has no intention of placing a heavy load upon a rookie who is still getting acclimated to the NBA after missing nearly three months with a strained right hip flexor.
“I can’t get the cart ahead of the horse here,” Wittman said. “I’ve got to make sure he gets comfortable, his conditioning. He said his legs felt like Jell-O out there a little bit, the first time he was out there. Keep monitoring that.”
Wittman inserted Porter at the start of the second quarter of the Wizards’ 109-105 overtime loss to the Milwaukee Bucks, right after Martell Webster ended the first period by missing a desperation three-pointer and spraining his left ankle.
Porter admitted that he was overwhelmed by emotion in his NBA debut. He traveled after touching the ball on offense the first time, picked up a quick foul and later shot an airball on his first shot attempt.
Wittman was glad to see Porter get the initial stage fright behind him. “It’s a positive. Absolutely,” Wittman said of having Porter back. “I knew there’d be some jitters there. That first 30 seconds were not the kind you’d like to open up with, with a travel, a foul and an air ball. Welcome to the league.”
Porter finished with two rebounds and an assist but missed all three of his field goal attempts in 14 minutes. “I think he was shocked to get in,” John Wall said about Porter. “I told him to be comfortable, calm down. You know you’re anxious your first game and you haven’t played in three months of not playing. I think getting in better shape and knowing that the speed of the game goes totally different in practice and I think that was a big adjustment for him.”
Webster missed the past two practices to let the ankle heal, but Wittman said there is a chance that Webster will be available when the team hosts the Denver Nuggets on Monday at Verizon Center.
The Wizards are unlikely to have Nene, who aggravated his right Achilles’ injury in the loss to the Bucks. Bradley Beal (right fibula) and Al Harrington (right knee) are both out. But Webster’s return could help provide the necessary spacing to let John Wall penetrate and create, while also giving Marcin Gortat more room to operate inside. If not, the Wizards will have to get more from Chris Singleton, Porter and possibly rookie Glen Rice Jr.
“You put a heavy on burden on a rookie to come in and try to, you want something out of him, but it’s not there yet,” Webster said of Porter. “I was talking to Otto, to help him understand the fact that it’s seldom that somebody ever just gets it right way. Unfortunately for him, he’s put in a situation where he hasn’t had an opportunity to get comfortable with that. It’s like he’s injured, and all of sudden he’s playing, and they expect something.”
Webster said Porter approached him and asked for some advice about how to handle the adjustment to the league. “I told him, never feel any pressure, I understand the adrenaline and all the emotion you have while you’re out there. Just realize it’s part of the process. This is what you’re going to go through, it’s an obstacle. It’s a roller coaster ride. The most important thing is to go back to film and see how guys were playing you and understanding that you’re going to need to come up with counters.”
Philadelphia’s Michael Carter-Williams and Orlando’s Victor Oladipo are the front-runners for rookie of the year, but several of the top choices have gotten off to slow starts. Top choice Anthony Bennett, fourth pick Cody Zeller and fifth pick Alex Len are all coming up the bench. Len has only appeared in four games and hasn’t played since Nov. 20 as he deals with a surgically-repaired right ankle. Sixth pick Nerlens Noel could possibly miss the season. So Porter doesn’t have much ground to make up with most of his peers.
But Porter also has little time to catch up and faces a challenge without having the benefit of a training camp or exhibition season. Wittman plans to bring along Porter slowly and increase his responsibilities based on what he can handle.
Wall said he would advise Porter to attack the basket to try to draw a foul to find his footing. Knock down a free throw, watch a shot drop and go from there. “It’s tough to get layups, unless you get a fast break. No teams are going to give up an easy layup. But I think if he get one to go in, he’ll find a rhythm and make a good play. But it takes time. I think he’ll be perfectly fine, because he’s been working hard to get back.”