After his coach had shared his vision for how the Washington Wizards must play moving forward, and after the team’s starting point guard had just talked to local reporters for the last time before undergoing season-ending surgery, forward Otto Porter Jr. strolled through the team’s practice facility with a little extra bounce.
Porter, who has been sidelined for 10 games with a quadriceps strain, spent Monday afternoon running, cutting and shooting with his teammates for the first time in weeks. After participating in practice and feeling free of pain, Porter is slated to return to the lineup Wednesday night against the Atlanta Hawks.
“I’m back,” he said through a wide smile. “I love playing basketball.”
Porter had to temper his enthusiasm, though. When he returns, the Wizards (14-23) will be a different team in light of John Wall’s pending surgery on his left heel. The Wizards have played for long stints without Wall, including when he missed 41 games last season, so losing him isn’t a shock. Still, without Wall, changes are afoot within the Wizards’ ecosystem.
“We all have to step up,” Porter said, “including me.”
Last season, in the 27 consecutive games Wall missed after surgery on his left knee, the Wizards relied on moving the ball and created 28.5 assists per game, three more than their team average for the season.
Porter benefited from the distribution; 95.9 percent of his made three-point shots came from assists. Although Bradley Beal emerged as the go-to scorer, Porter stepped into the “Robin” role during Wall’s absence and averaged 16.6 points during that stretch.
For the remaining 45 games of this season, Coach Scott Brooks said he does not want to burden Beal with all of the responsibility. Brooks predicted the Wizards will embrace more ball movement, giving more players freedom to create for their teammates.
“There’s definitely things that we have to do, because we don’t have [Wall’s] playmaking and speed and ability to be a one-man fast break,” Brooks said. “We do a lot more pass-aheads, and then other guys are going to have to be playmakers as well. It’s not just going to be put on Brad’s shoulders to make a play for everyone. We had 35 assists last game, and a lot of guys had it.”
This philosophy should open more opportunities for Porter. While Porter believes his biggest impact will come in securing rebounds, the upcoming stretch should reset the Wizards to their preseason pledge to give Porter space to grab a rebound and push the ball in the open court.
“We want to play that way, and we have to,” Brooks said, looking back on the team’s preseason emphasis on passing. “With John, there’s always a balance. We’re not going to take away one of our best players’ strengths that has been so effective for a lot of years and just say, ‘You’re just going to be a pass-ahead guy, and you’re going to go to the corner and you’re going to come off of a down-screen or a pin-down action.’ But now, we have to have more of it.
“Brad is still going to be able to take that role. He can now be that guy, and he can initiate our offense with his playmaking. So we can still play that way,” Brooks continued, “but we’re going to have to have definitely more opportunities for other guys to make decisions.”
Porter has not played since Dec. 12, and Brooks was noncommittal about putting him back in the starting lineup for his first game back. Still, Porter’s arrival should help make up for the loss of Wall.
“He feels good. He looked good,” Brooks said. “We obviously missed him and [are] glad that he’s back.”