Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported the name of the Washington Wizards’ team optometrist. His name is Keith Smithson, not Kevin Smithson.
“It’s gotten worse since I’ve been in the league,” said Porter, a second-year player. “I don’t know why, but I guess I’m getting older. Genetics or something. I’m just 21. Like, how can this happen?”
Contacts aren’t an option: Porter has tested every kind available, but nothing sticks to his eyes. So he has decided on prescription on-court glasses, evoking a throwback fashion that has permeated NBA history from Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to Horace Grant. Porter, who is nearsighted, explained the eyewear does not dramatically improve his vision, but it helps him see clearer and eases the strain on his eye muscles, a long-term benefit.
Now he just needs to find a satisfactory pair.
Porter wore glasses intermittently during training camp and the first week of the preseason, but the pair wasn’t sturdy and produced a glare, so he ditched it for Wednesday’s 101-95 win over Israel’s Maccabi Haifa. He filled the stat sheet in that game without the frames, pacing the Wizards with 19 points, eight rebounds and four assists.
“Imagine with them,” he said.
Wednesday’s performance, though it came against an inferior opponent, was the type of outing the Wizards envisioned when the franchise selected the Georgetown product third overall in last year’s draft. He isn’t an explosive athlete or pure shooter, but the Wizards believe he can develop into a versatile asset who can score, rebound and defend multiple positions.
“Otto’s solid. That’s kind of who he is,” Coach Randy Wittman said after Wednesday’s victory. “That’s kind of who I talked about last year to you guys in watching him practice even though he didn’t play much. I felt that Otto was progressing, and he’s just a solid player. He doesn’t do anything that’s going to ‘Whoa, did you see that Otto Porter play tonight?’ But you look at the stat sheet, and it’s kind of filled.”
As a rookie, Porter wasn’t presented with many opportunities to showcase his arsenal. A hip flexor injury kept him out of the entire preseason and the regular season’s first 18 games. The absence derailed his campaign, and he appeared in just 37 games, unable to crack Wittman’s rotation as the Wizards surpassed external expectations and advanced to the Eastern Conference semifinals.
This season, the Wizards are relying on Porter to assume a heftier workload on the wing because of his potential and the team’s reality: Options are limited. Porter is expected to play increased minutes after small forward Trevor Ariza departed for the Houston Rockets and was replaced with Paul Pierce, a veteran who will play fewer minutes.
And after five preseason games, time at shooting guard is also likely. Injuries to Martell Webster (back) and Bradley Beal (wrist) will sideline the two players for the start of the season. The predicament grew Wednesday, when Glen Rice Jr. sprained his right ankle, though Wittman said Thursday he expects Rice to be out for just a few days. The biggest challenge for the 6-foot-9 Porter at shooting guard, he and Wittman agreed, will be defending smaller, quicker players on the perimeter.
Porter is cognizant of the opportunity. He provided a glimpse of his potential in the summer league, averaging 19.0 points and 5.8 rebounds in six games, and the confidence exhibited in Las Vegas has extended to his first preseason as a participant , serving as a key cog for the Wizards’ second unit.
The development was most evident Wednesday, when the Wizards started sluggishly in front of a dormant Verizon Center crowd and the wiry Porter, who started at small forward, provided zeal for the shorthanded Wizards, who played without five players because of injuries or rest. He was a force on the glass, a pest on defense (four steals and a block) and accurate as a shooter (7 for 13 from the field and 4 for 4 at the free throw line).
“I definitely want to come out and be aggressive,” Porter said. “I just want to come out and play and play hard. I know, in a game like this, it’s easy for us to take a day off, but I wanted to show that ‘Hey, I’m not.’ This is a regular season game for me.”
A bespectacled Porter practiced with new, black-rimmed glasses Thursday. He approved of the pair: The glasses were sturdy and didn’t create a glare. He needs to grow accustomed to them, he explained, but so far, so good.
He needs them to play at his best. The fashion statement is secondary.
“If I look good, I look good,” Porter said. “I can’t help that.”