Otto Porter: Most Improved Player

— November 11th 2017

The Washington Wizards desperately need a third star. Is Otto Porter making a leap?

By Paul Headley

In this age of unaccountability, let me start with an admission of guilt: Otto Porter, I underestimated you.

I thought I knew who Otto Porter was as an NBA player: a solid defender at his position and an elite catch-and-shoot three-point shooter. The ceiling was so close, some crouching was necessary. I thought his contract extension, $106 million over four years, would be a millstone around the team’s neck.

I may have thought wrong.

The leap Porter has made from year one to the present cannot be overstated. The former third overall pick played sparingly in his first season for good reason; he was a catastrophe on both ends. He is one of the most impactful role players in the league right now. Hyperbole? Not quite.

Porter’s numbers are up across the board. He is scoring a career high 17.7 points per game on a blistering 67.3 effective field goal percentage (eFG%), good for fourth in the league. Porter has taken 61.4 percent of his shots from 16-feet-out, per  Basketball Reference. That eFG% is absurd. He has pushed his box plus minus (BPM) from minus 6.8 in his rookie year, to plus 6.9 this season (eighth-best in the association).

NBA Math on Twitter

After their 99-113 loss to the Dallas Mavericks, the Washington Wizards are now 5-5. Here’s how all #DCFamily players have fared in TPA throughout the 2017-18 season:

NBA Math’s total points added metric (TPA) has Porter on an impact island relative to his teammates. Superstar-level impact in a role player’s body.

The Wizards have been oddly flat at times, but Porter has placed himself at the top of the NBA’s Most Improved list. Is this all built on unsustainable shooting? What, if anything, is Porter doing differently?

Not The Same Old Otto

Markieff Morris’ off-court issues, limiting him to just four of the Wizards’ 11 games, left a void in the Wizards’ offense, and Porter has duly filled it. Porter’s usage rate has gone up (from 15.1 to 17.3), as have his touches (42.3 to 53.3), average time in possession (1.36 to 1.86) and drives per game (1.1 to 1.7).

One of my biggest reservations with Porter was how limited he was beyond his role, but he is starting to flap his wings outside the safety of the nest. A certain amount of know-your-role-and-shut-your-mouth is required when playing along backcourt dynamos like John Wall and Bradley Beal, but having an extra weapon to deploy and fill in the gaps is critical, if the team is to make the leap from cute to dangerous.

Porter was a prototypical low-usage 3-and-D wing last season, with just two percent of his field goal attempts classified as pull-ups (per NBA stats and info). Most of Porter’s threes are still of the catch-and-shot variety this season, but he is beginning to mix in some very fluid pull-ups in transition and off screens. Porter almost murdered Golden State alone. He went 7-of-9 on threes, looking like the second coming of, well, Klay Thompson (put down your phones, Warrior fans). Watch him call for the screen from Marcin Gortat and casually wet the pull-up:

And again, with Kelly Oubre (also breaking out this year), turning defense into offense:
As noted by ESPN’s Zach Lowe on a recent podcast, the Wizards have been particularly deadly when Oubre and Porter have shared the floor together. Per Basketball Reference lineup data, the Wizards are plus 20.7 points-per-100-possessions when rolling out the Wall-Beal-Porter-Oubre-Gortat lineup (in 133 minutes). Oubre and Porter can use their long arms and mobility to cause havoc on the defensive end, and Porter is getting better at making the correct play to capitalize when said havoc reigns:
Virtually any NBA player can make a flashy pass from time to time. Making the correct pass on a high percentage of a player’s possessions is much more difficult. Porter’s assist percentage may only show a slight uptick (from 6.7 to 8.1), but his total number of passes are up (from 29.9 per game to 36.5), as is the quality of his passes. In another example of defense-to-offense, watch him fight over Brook Lopez’s screen (no mean feat), smother Kentavious Caldwell-Pope’s pass, before threading a nice pass through the gap to Beal for the stuff on the other end:
Washington is wisely using Porter more as a pick-and-pop weapon this season. The sample size is small, obviously, but he is scoring an otherworldly 1.40 points-per-possession on the play (1.1 attempts per):

Gortat is a master of the screen assist. The master’s tricks, coupled with deadly corner shooters, make this a tough cover. Commit to taking away Porter’s look, and you risk Wall rampaging to the rim or kicking to the corners. Do not cover him, and the most likely outcome is a straight-on three for one of the best catch-and-shoot guys in the league.

Even Porter’s finishing at the rim has gotten better, from a robust 70.9 percent inside of three feet last season, to a laughable 83.3 percent this year. Porter has figured out how to use his long strides and high release point to his advantage. It is not that Porter has not shown flashes of this kind of finishing ability before; it is the consistency that is impressive. Watch how easily he steps around Lonzo Ball for the delicate finish:

Superstar role players are an essential ingredient in any championship team. Make no mistake: If the Warriors do not have Draymond Green, they are not winners in two of the last three championships. I am not claiming Porter is Green, but he is the exactly the type of player a team would want filling in the gaps. Imagine how much better the Thunder would be if Porter were in Carmelo Anthony’s place right now. Dirty work is not for everyone, and Porter plunges his hands in without gloves. He is, as the great Gregg Popovich would say, over himself. That is a beautiful thing for the future of the Wizards.
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