Nene tossed the ball out to Otto Porter Jr. and all that the rookie could see in front of him was open floor. Porter batted the ball ahead, took two dribbles and elevated for a ferocious, one-handed dunk over Detroit Pistons center Andre Drummond.
The slam would’ve been the first basket Porter registered as a professional basketball player at Verizon Center – a building that he once owned as an all-American at Georgetown. Except, it was negated by an offensive foul by Marcin Gortat, who erred in his attempt to give Porter an easier path to the hoop by cutting off Drummond.
“Marc did what he normally do, which is act like he’s posting up and seal the lane,” John Wall said with a laugh, “but that time they called him for a moving screen. Otto was like, ‘They took my points away, that would’ve been my first one.’ ”
Gortat cracked an uncomfortable grin as his teammates chided him and Nene was perhaps most upset. “It messed up his assist, messed up the flow,” Porter said of Nene. “He had to get on to him about that. I was like, ‘You should’ve just let him go. If he wanted to jump, he would’ve jumped. I couldn’t do nothing about that play. I didn’t say anything.”
Porter wouldn’t get another dunk during the Wizards’ 106-82 victory over Detroit but he did finally score at home for the first time in four games. With teammates and fans anxiously waiting, Porter caught a pass from Garrett Temple, drove into the lane and made a twisting, high-arcing runner over Pistons guard Will Bynum. Wall, Gortat, Trevor Ariza, Martell Webster and Kevin Seraphin all stood to applaud.
“It’s about time,” Webster said. “That’s why everybody was standing up.”
Porter would add another jumper in the final minute and flash a huge smile as he backpedaled on defense. He finished with four points on 2 of 8 shooting, and was active and aggressive on both ends, grabbing a season-high eight rebounds.
“Yeah, finally, get that bucket. Hopefully, I can move on from that, learn from the game, and continue,” said Porter, who scored 232 points in 16 home games last season at Georgetown. “I missed some chippies there that should’ve got me going, but the more and more I got comfortable, the more I was out there. Just trying to get my legs up under me a little more.”
Porter has scored in each of his past three games, but continues to progress slowly as he recovers from a strained right hip flexor that kept him sidelined for nearly three months. He is averaging just 1.8 points and 2.4 rebounds but Coach Randy Wittman didn’t expect him to come in and dominate right away.
“He’s just got to continue to play, play with confidence. He’s got to get into a rhythm,” Wittman said. “It’s tough. It’s tough for a guy, a rookie at 19, 20 years old that doesn’t do anything until December from July, and then expect to really see a finished product. He’s got sea legs right now, a little bit, as I like to call them. And it’s hard unless you get out there and continually get on the floor. You can run on that treadmill all you want, I can do that still, but I can’t get out there and run on the floor. He’s got to get his body in better condition. All that you’ve missed through October and November. He’s missed a lot, so we’ve got to be patient and continue to get him out there, but then he’s got to start also earning more minutes, too.”
Porter’s opportunity to play has coincided with the absence of Al Harrington and an injury to Bradley Beal, but Wittman has pushed him to seize more from his minutes. On many occasions, Porter has appeared content passively running up and down the court and camping out in the corner. He has rebounded the ball well, but the dunk was one of his first signs of aggressiveness. Wittman wasn’t aware that hadn’t scored at Verizon Center before Saturday.
“Marc almost kept it that way,” Wittman said with a laugh.
Gortat felt bad about wiping out the score. “I tried to get him a clear path to the basket to make sure nobody was going to block him – slightly too much. I hope I’m going to get him back.”
Porter watched the replay on the HD Jumbo screen above the court but quietly ran back down on defense. His teammates gave Gortat a hard time for the rest of the night. “We told Marc not to do that no more,” Beal said. “You got to let Otto get his first dunk. We were all kind of mad at him. Everybody snapped on him after that.”
Porter is hoping to get many more opportunities to throw down dunks with the Wizards as he continues to make the difficult transition to the NBA while recovering from a serious injury.
“I mean, to be out for so long and come to the game, it was difficult,” Porter said. “And I’m going through it now, still going through a process of getting in a rhythm, finding out my role, figuring out the team and things like that. The more and more I play, the more comfortable I get, and we’ll go from there.”