When Otto Porter Jr. put on a Washington Wizards cap as the No. 3 pick in last June’s NBA draft, there was no way he could have imagined what awaited him in his rookie season, that it would be put on hold because of a hip injury and that he would rarely get the chance to learn through his mistakes during games, just as John Wall and Bradley Beal — the team’s previous top-three picks — did in their first seasons.
“With injuries and stuff, it is different than what I thought,” Porter, 20, said Thursday as the Wizards prepared to host the Chicago Bulls on Friday at Verizon Center.
But that’s the position in which Porter finds himself, backing up two veteran players at small forward and trying to make the most of perfunctory minutes that have all but disappeared during the Wizards’ two-game winning streak.
Porter, an all-American at Georgetown, didn’t see any action in the Wizards’ 102-88 win over Chicago on Monday, when Coach Randy Wittman decided to implement an eight-man rotation, and got on the court for 54 seconds in the team’s 114-97 upset of the two-time defending champion Miami Heat on Wednesday.
If he could go back in time one year and offer one bit of advice about what to expect in the NBA, Porter said he would tell his 19-year-old self, “It doesn’t matter how early it is or how late it is, you’re going to have ups and downs, but you have to be patient and you have to continue to work.”
And that’s what Porter has done during his rookie season that has been somewhat equivalent to a redshirt campaign in college, with him observing, studying and learning what it takes to be a professional. He missed out on training camp and the first month of the regular season with a right hip flexor injury and never had a chance to compete for minutes. Trevor Ariza, a nine-year veteran is having the best season of his career, and Martell Webster is coming off his best season, which earned him a four-year, $22 million contract last summer.
Though Porter has averaged just 1.9 points and 1.6 rebounds in 10.4 minutes, Wittman is confident the decision to draft the wiry, 6-foot-8 swingman will prove to be correct in due time.
“There is no worry in my mind that he was the right guy for us. No question in my mind,” Wittman said of Porter. “I never second-guess that part of it. He’s going to be a good player in this league, but right now, obviously, with Martell and Trevor, that limits that a little bit. That’s nothing against him or what he’s going to be able to provide for us. That’s a good thing for a coach to have a guy like that, that you feel good about now, tomorrow and into the future.”
Porter is in the unique predicament of having to overcome three huge hurdles in his first season. The hip injury meant he needed time to regain confidence in his body and develop his conditioning. He has had to overcome the usual hassles of being a rookie, adjusting to the nonstop grind of games and practices and the incredible talent and athleticism of the competition. He also has to prove he deserves to play over two players more familiar with the NBA and Wittman’s system to gain significant playing time.
“He worked really hard to get to this point that he’s at, and he’s got to realize that he has to enjoy the whole thing, the whole process. He’s 20 years old and in the NBA. Whenever I’m down, or I feel like I’m not playing well, I mean, what better way to live your life than being a 20-year-old in the NBA? That’s how I feel,” said Beal, the Wizards’ second-year standout who is three weeks younger than Porter but much further along in his career. “He has a chance in front of him. He’s been doing well. He’s still working hard. He’s terrific. We support him, and when his number is called, he’s definitely going to be more than ready.”
In his past four games, Porter has played a combined 19 minutes and scored just two points, but he has tried to maintain a positive attitude. He continues to show up early for practice to get in extra shots, hits the weight room to add some mass to his slight frame, studies film with assistant Don Zierden and routinely asks for pointers from Ariza and Webster about what they do to be effective while on the floor.
“This year is tough, especially for rookies. You got veteran guys that’s making a run for the playoffs, that’s playing very good every day, and you can only cheer from the sidelines,” Porter said. “The team is playing great. Right now, it’s about the team getting to the playoffs, and if I come in and play five minutes, I want it to mean something. Give somebody a breather and produce. My mind-set when I get out there, even though I have two minutes, I want to come out the game huffing and tired. That’s my goal, and to contribute defensively, rebound and stuff like that.”
Porter has played in only 17 games and has the lowest player efficiency rating of any player on the roster at 5.2, but Wittman has stressed patience with his development.
“Learning the way he is now is going to be beneficial for him,” he said. “Some people in his position are on a bad team where they’re going to get minutes, no matter what. He’s learning the aspect of, ‘I got to earn everything that I get.’ That’s also going to be good for him in his career.”