LAS VEGAS — Otto Porter Jr. no longer has to concern himself with walking the ball up court, waiting for deliberate backdoor cuts and milking the clock for the most efficient shot. In his first week practicing with the Washington Wizards’ summer league team, Porter hasn’t had to forget everything he knew from playing the Princeton-style offense at Georgetown, but it won’t help him much in a new system that is more like a track meet.
“We’re a running team. Most of the plays are in transition, getting a quick basket. Things like that. So it is a lot of getting up and down,” Porter said. “The system I’m from is more slow-paced. But you know I just got to get back to my high school days, always running. So it’s not that bad.”
Porter, the third overall pick in last month’s draft, is learning to adjust to the quicker pace, which will be on full display in Las Vegas, where the Wizards will play at least five games in the NBA summer league. They open Saturday against the Golden State Warriors.
After his first practice this week, Porter acknowledged the running game was “different,” then provided a brief scare the next day during an open scrimmage on the main court at Verizon Center. Porter fell near the basket and clutched his left thigh. A few minutes later, Porter — smiling behind a pair of red-rimmed Wizards sunglasses that he wore during an autograph session with fans — said he had just experienced a leg cramp.
“He has a little bit of trouble right now understanding that we want him to turn when there is a change of possession and run,” Wizards Coach Randy Wittman said. “It’s a quicker-paced game, quicker decision making, quicker players you’re playing against. It's just a whole ’nother league. It’s another step Saturday when we get to Vegas and start playing against probably better competition then he's ever faced so far while being at Georgetown and at camp.”
Wittman said he has thrown a lot at Porter and second-round pick Glen Rice Jr. in an effort to make sure both players are prepared for the challenges that will come once training camp begins in October. “He picks things up quickly,” Wittman said of Porter. “There’s not a whole lot of times you have to say to him two or three times before he understands what you're talking about. He’s a very likable young man. He’s that way on the floor as well.”
Wizards President Ernie Grunfeld praised Porter for his versatility, and the 6-foot-9 Porter has even seen time at shooting guard during minicamp. Wittman has encouraged him to grab rebounds and display his ballhandling skills to initiate fast breaks. Porter has whipped several full-court passes and even fed unsuspecting teammates with the ball before they were aware they were even open.
“That’s something I can do real well, rebounding, bring the ball up, set up the offense if I have to,” said Porter, who displayed similar playmaking skills in college.
Rice, the son of the former three-time all-star and NBA champion, also will receive ample opportunities on the offensive end, especially after winning most valuable player honors in the NBA Development League finals, where he led the Rio Grande Valley Vipers to the championship. But Wittman doesn’t want Rice to be satisfied with just making it to the league.
“He’s got to learn to play hard and play with intensity the whole time,” Wittman said. “It’s a matter of notching it up from an intensity standpoint and understanding there are not a lot of times where he can coast being in the position he’s in now. That’s the next step he’s going to have to make.”
Rice said the past week has taught him how much he has to learn: “At some point, you think you know most of the concepts of basketball. Every time I get to the next level, I learn something new.”
Porter didn’t know that one turn in the opposite direction down a hallway at Verizon Center — where he starred for two years playing home games at Georgetown — would be so much different. But he is embracing the change and the challenges that come with it.
“I’m trying to learn as much as I can right now, trying to be a sponge. Soak up everything,” Porter said. “Learning the offense. Learning the feel of the game. This is the next stage. This is the next level, so it’s harder. You’ve got to work even harder to maintain.”