Before the Washington Wizards played the first game of an extended stretch without John Wall, Coach Scott Brooks singled out Otto Porter Jr. as someone the team would need to have step up.
“I think guys are ready to play bigger roles,” Brooks said Saturday night ahead of the Wizards’ matchup against the Portland Trail Blazers. “It’s not going to be all on Otto, but I think Otto has the ability to play a bigger role.”
Porter, in his fifth season with the Wizards, has agreed with this sentiment and suggested he will play “real aggressive in every aspect” in the games Wall misses as he recovers from left knee inflammation. But by the fourth quarter Saturday night, Porter’s presence diminished as the Wizards staggered to a bitter ending.
Porter played nearly the entire second half and responsibly carried the offensive load in the third quarter, in which he scored 13 points on 5-for-7 shooting, but the Wizards could have used a milk carton to help locate their missing small forward in his final 9:20 on the court.
Although Porter logged more fourth-quarter minutes than any of his teammates, he attempted just two shots — fewer than even second-string center Ian Mahinmi and his own backup, Kelly Oubre Jr., who took three shots a piece from the field.
In just over seven minutes of fourth-quarter action, Bradley Beal launched 11 shots, which included the two end-of-game jumpers that missed as Washington wasted a 17-point lead and lost, 108-105.
“It’s just how our offense is flowing. We want certain guys to get good looks,” Porter offered as an explanation for the shot disparity. “We got great looks. But it’s my job to make sure I’m put into position where I can be effective as far as scoring and the ball is moving.”
The case of the incredible shrinking Porter caused instant regrets following the loss and carried over days later when the Wizards (10-9) reconvened for a practice before setting out on a two-game, back-to-back road trip beginning in Minneapolis.
“I still blame it on myself,” Brooks said Monday afternoon. “I need to do a better job, and Otto can also help in that process of demanding out of himself – not demanding the ball from others but demanding out of himself to put himself in position that he can get better looks.”
This season, the Wizards’ shot attempts have followed a logical pecking order — but only in the first half. While Beal has averaged 8.5 shots in the first halves of games, followed by Wall’s 7.7 and Porter at 6.6, as the game goes on Washington’s offense favors the backcourt while veering away from Porter. Despite being one of the Wizards’ go-to players, Porter has attempted just 1.5 shots per game in the fourth quarter.
“A big part of that is on me, too, but at the same time, I’m just trying to find ways to be most effective, especially late in games,” Porter said. “Even if the ball isn’t coming my way. I can’t control that.”
As unusual as it may seem to justify a $106 million contract, one of the reasons the Wizards signed Porter to a maximum deal last summer was his no-frills attitude. Porter doesn’t need the ball in his hands all the time, and he won’t make a public fuss if he doesn’t get those touches. He balances rebounding and defense in his overall game, and this trait makes him a perfect complementing piece in the Wizards’ big three, which consists of their ball-dominant point guard (Wall) and active shooting guard (Beal).
Quiet and laid back, Porter will usually show that he wants the rock using only his wide-eyed expressions. As far as “demanding” the ball, he will let teammates know during stoppages of play about a mismatch he has. But late in the fourth quarter Saturday night, as Portland placed a smaller defender on Porter, he played on without making a demonstrative display for possessions.
When Porter checked back into the game with 3:52 remaining, the Blazers hid 6-foot-3 point guard Damian Lillard on Porter, and the Wizards didn’t take advantage. On several possessions that featured Beal, Lillard even floated off Porter as he stood beyond the arc and watched as the end of the play developed.
“He has times when he feels like he hasn’t missed much, he’ll just run down to the post,” Beal said, referring to a move Porter relies on earlier in games. “He won’t necessarily say much, but you can tell by his actions and his demeanor on the floor.”
The Wizards might have mastered the art of reading Porter’s body language, but with Wall potentially missing the next two weeks to rest his knee, the team will need a more outspoken and insistent Porter.
“We want him to be more vocal. We want him to demand the ball a little bit more, because he’s a bucket for us,” Beal said. “As much as we can, we definitely got to get him involved. He was big for us throughout the third quarter, pretty much carried the load. … Down the stretch, we definitely got to look at him more.”