DETROIT — Bobby Portis had intended this all-star break as a couples retreat with his girlfriend as well as a close pal from Chicago and his significant other. Then Portis was traded. While a few days off still sound nice, Portis, one of the three newest players on the Washington Wizards’ roster, may have to pack homework assignments for his vacation.
“I have to figure the plays out some more,” Portis said following the Wizards’ 121-112 loss to the Detroit Pistons on Monday. “I don’t know them really well. I just set a ball screen, pick and pop, pick and roll. That’s my game. I’ve just been trying to use that to a 'T' the last three games.”
While Portis, Jabari Parker and Wesley Johnson are still figuring out their new team, they have already found themselves in the Wizards’ rotation. Since joining the team Friday via trades, the trio has proved to be the most effective players on the floor for the Wizards. Portis, Parker and Johnson have generated the three highest plus-minus ratings on the team over the past three games, indicating that each player has played to the strengths of his individual game.
“They bring something that we didn’t have,” Coach Scott Brooks said. “I don’t want to take their game away. We’re going to have to all work together. They have a skill set, they have a talent that we’re going to utilize, and it’s something that I have to find ways to integrate them in. I don’t want them to change. I want them to play well with the group that we have.”
Johnson has found a knack for creating four-point plays with his ability to make long-range shots under duress. On Monday night in Detroit, Johnson, who has connected on 44.4 percent of his three-point attempts in the three games, manufactured his third four-point play since coming to Washington.
The 6-foot-8 Parker has eased into “point forward” duties, and though he went scoreless in Detroit the Wizards used him as one of their many ballhandlers in the absence of point guard Tomas Satoransky who missed the game for personal reasons. Parker has averaged 5.7 assists per game in his brief time with the Wizards, third on the team during that stretch behind all-star Bradley Beal (9.0) and Satoransky (7.0).
“I think it’s very suitable for our team just because of my ability to penetrate and make passes and getting people open,” Parker said of playing as a facilitator. “It’s my responsibility to do that.”
When it comes to Portis, he’s the “problem” — as Beal affectionately referred to him after watching the 6-foot-11 big man put the ball on the floor and lead a one-man fast break during his Friday night debut — a problem the Wizards like having.
As he wowed Beal, Portis scored 30 points in front of home fans then backed it up with a double-double the next night in Chicago against his former Bulls teammates. Although Portis — and every other Wizards big — did not physically match with the Pistons’ frontcourt Monday night, he once again played as a formidable bench scorer (24 points, 6-for-10 shooting from three-point range). Portis freely admits that his early success has been largely because of his ability to fit in on the fly.
“I’ve just been out there playing the game,” Portis said. “When they call a play, I just try to read and react off the team and see what they do.”
When the Wizards wrap up a three-game road trip Wednesday in Toronto and go on break, Portis isn’t so sure that he’ll be able to take his brief retreat. There’s much to learn about Washington’s concepts — the terminology may be similar to Chicago’s but mean entirely different things. Still, as the season progresses, Portis plans to just focus on what’s working: being himself.
“You can put me [at the] four to five. I just play the game how the game is supposed to be played. I just play the right way,” Portis said. “I don’t ever complain. Just try to go out there and try to play with joy, try to play with passion, try to bring some energy off the bench.”