Unbridled optimism runs free in the first week of the NBA preseason, and even the most radical suggestions seem possible. This time of the year allows for experimentation with lineups that might not make it past the incubation stage and into October. Nevertheless, behind the closed doors of training camp every cutting-edge idea deserves a closer look — and one of those brainstorms could place Otto Porter Jr. as the center in the Washington Wizards' super-small ball lineup.
“The more playmakers that we can put on the floor, I think it’s going to be better for us,” Coach Scott Brooks said. “The league is so small, there’s times you can go with maybe four guards and a big or Otto at the five. There’s all kinds of lineups you can do now.”
The sight of Porter playing center is akin to watching the 53-year-old Brooks dunk in Wizards' practice: Neither has ever happened.
Over his first five years in the league, Porter has not logged a single minute at the center spot, according to the website Basketball-reference.com. Also, Porter’s so lean that, at the end of last season, former teammate Marcin Gortat proposed to “lock him in the weight room for a good four months.” Porter’s 6-foot-8, 205-pound body has been a natural fit on the wing, not for the antiquated view of what a center should be.
However, in the Wizards' quest to speed up the action, launch more three-point attempts and carry more versatile lineups into every game plan, Porter could become an option at the five while still operating as normal: cutting, running the floor and hitting spot-up jumpers. Even if Porter plays just a handful of minutes in Washington’s micro lineup, Brooks likes the added flexibility in having more than just Markieff Morris as a small-ball center.
Besides, this week has been an optimal time to test out an exaggerated small lineup, since starting center Dwight Howard has not practiced because of back soreness.
“It’s part of our strategy going into every game. It’s how we want to play,” Brooks said. “Whether it’s six, seven minutes of those lineups or 25, 30 minutes of those lineups, it’s all going to depend on how the lineups are playing that particular night.
“There’s nothing that’s not going be thought about or worked on in practice,” Brooks said, emphasizing that all lineups will get a chance during the preseason.
Brooks wasted little time in trying out another innovation. Guard Austin Rivers, in what he described as his first real training camp experience due to neck spasms that held him out of earlier sessions, spent part of Thursday playing alongside starting guards John Wall and Bradley Beal.
The Wizards alluded to this three-guard lineup in July, during Rivers’s introductory news conference. But by training camp, the potential of a Wall-Beal-Rivers mash-up quickly turned into the pledge that Brooks “absolutely” planned to use the trio on the floor this season.
The 6-foot-4 Rivers applauds the fusion of three creators. With the Los Angeles Clippers last season, Rivers played alongside point guard Milos Teodosic and 6-foot-1 scorer Lou Williams in the team’s fourth-most used lineup. Now in Washington, Rivers envisions taking an assertive yet supportive role in a lineup with Beal and Wall.
“The main thing is you always have to be assured of yourself,” Rivers said. “You don’t want to go out there and not try to step on people’s toes. That’s not even my mentality anyway. I’m an aggressive guy. Guys like that are going to appreciate that. The previous years they’ve had a heavy load on their shoulders. This year, I’m going to make it a lot easier for John and Brad. Scoring, making plays, they’re not going to have to do it all. [They are] going to have a third guy who can score and make plays.”
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