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Tuesday, May 28, 2013

The Case for Otto Porter

Otto Porter took the road less traveled to Georgetown, by choosing not to participate in AAU basketball during the summers. Instead, Porter played pickup games with his uncles and dad. He got tougher and learned how to play the game against grown men. Porter didn't spend his summer traveling and competing for a higher spot on recruiting rankings - he spent it honing his skills in his small town in Missouri.

He still got noticed by plenty of colleges and chose to play in the nation's capital for the Hoyas. He went to a school that emphasizes team play, passing, and versatility. It proved to be a perfect fit for his style. He's established a reputation as one of the safest draft picks in his class and an upper end role player. But is that all he can be? Most seem to cut off his potential at just being a good starter in the league - the next Tayshaun Prince has been a popular comparison.

Personally, I think Porter's potential is being overlooked. A lot of it has to do with his prep and college situations. He never played in a open system that has allowed him to showcase his skills. Thats what AAU or less structured offenses like Georgetown are for. Georgetown is famous for its slowed down tempo and team play - and has done a good job of hiding talented players in the past. Georgetown was a good fit for Porter in terms of style, but it did hide his potential.

The system at Georgetown did the same with Greg Monroe and even Roy Hibbert in the past. Coming out, they were viewed as solid pros that lacked aggressiveness and athleticism. It proved to be more of a system thing as both have greatly overachieved their draft stock since entering the NBA. Right now, Otto Porter is dealing with the same questions as they were coming out. With Monroe, scouts were able to come around to him having more potential than shown at Georgetown because they were able to look back into his AAU career. With Hibbert, they didn't have that same luxury because he was extremely raw coming out of high school. And for Porter, he didn't even play AAU.

Like Greg Monroe, Otto Porter also lost in the round of 64 in the NCAA tournament. Did that have any implications on Monroe's career? No, because Georgetown's offense isn't an offense that allows you to take over and dominate a game through scoring. Its why they consistently struggle in the NCAA tournament and it has nothing to do with the players - moreso the system.

If you go back and look at game film, there are very little holes in Porter's game - if any. And most will admit that he has a very good mid-range game, is an excellent passer, handles the ball well, and can finish at the rim.

The one major knock on his skillset is his ability to shoot 3-pters. But I already made a case why I dont believe that is legitimate previously:

A lot of people think Otto Porter's shooting is a fluke because only shot 22% from 3-pt range his freshman season. While that is reasonable, people are missing how great Porter was shooting mid-range jumpers his first season. Porter didn't play AAU and the 3-pt ball wasn't stressed to him as much as most kids. Instead, shooting mechanics were a priority and his are very consistent. According to hoop-math.com, Porter shot an outstanding 51% on 2-pt jumpers last season. This season he worked to extend his range back a few feet which resulted him him taking twice as many threes while making 42.2% of them. Porter will have to adjust even farther to the NBA line, but make no mistake that he can shoot the ball. His situation from year one to two is a lot like a young power hitter who didn't hit a lot of homers his first season, but had a lot of doubles. You know the power is there, it was just shown in a different way.
So even with all the questions answered about his skillset, there are still questions about his potential. No, he isn't an elite athlete but he has skills that elite athletes will never be able to obtain. He has a feel for the game that isn't common. And he has plenty of size and length to make up for his "average" athleticism.

I don't even think Porter is that bad of an athlete. He's not a one on one player who will over dribble and attempt to beat you with his quickness. But thats not always a good thing either. Porter beats you in ways you want your players to beat you. He thinks the game. He lets the game come to him and doesn't need the ball to be effective. At the same time, there is nothing in his skillset that says he can't take over a game. He did it at Georgetown against Syracuse through his passing, but he will have freedom to be a more aggressive scorer in the NBA.

Porter may not cross guys up and create his own shots from a traditional perspective, but he had no problem getting to spots and taking guys off the dribble in college. Porter can drive with either hand and understands angles extremely well. He is able to attack the defense through drives like a point guard - he doesn't necessarily get to the rim, but knows how to draw defenses and change speeds. He doesn't force anything with the ball in his hands. And he's a great passer who can drive and kick and make skip and lead passes. His unselfishness is one of his best traits and was magnified by Georgetown's Princeton offense.

But again, don't let that make you believe he can't be a good scorer. Don't make the same mistake scouts made with previous Georgetown players. I'm still looking for a reason why he won't be able to score in the NBA and can't find one.

He's certainly creative and crafty enough to score. Its no secret that Porter is crafty, but imagine him in an offense that allows him to show that. Porter can do many things with the ball, changes directions way too well for a man of his size, and really showed off this ability in transition. You want to see what Porter is capable of? Watch him at Georgetown in transition plays. He had a knack for getting fouled, finding a teammate on the run with a lead pass, crossing someone on the move, or making an acrobatic finish. His body control in these situations is amazing.

With his body control, Porter is able to be a good finisher. No, he isn't the next LeBron James or even Paul George when it comes to finishing at the rim. You won't see him throwing down many powerful dunks at the next level. But he has very good touch and finishes well with either hand. He is also very underrated when it comes to toughness and strength. He has a frame that could stand to add weight, but he is one of the toughest players in the draft. He loves playing inside and boxes out/crashes the offensive glass at all opportunities.

The best part of his offensive game is his mid-range game, something he showed quite often at Georgetown. He ate up the Syracuse zone twice by working the high post area. The mid-range game in college basketball is a dying breed, but Porter still managed to make it effective. Thats a testament to how good his mid-range game is. In the NBA, the mid-range game is so much more important and its scary to think what Porter could do with the much space to dissect a defense. His mid-range game is worlds ahead of most small forwards at this stage.

He is nearly impossible to cover in the mid-range area because he can beat you in multiple ways. The first is with his passing. He was the director of the offense at Georgetown and understands the game so well. He has outstanding vision in the high post, utilizes bounce passes, and can see over the defense. Finding a cutting teammate is always his first thought when getting the ball in the lane.

Porter also is a very polished jump shooter in the high post though. He has a turnaround jumper in the post, a faceup fadeaway jump shot, and a pullup jumper off the dribble. His release is quick and high. He gets his shoulders squared to the basket and gets good elevation through leg power. With his size, his shot is very hard to contest and he makes a very high percentage of these shots. Its why I trust that he can continue to shoot well from beyond the arc as well.

Porter is extremely versatile on the offensive end and understands mismatches for not only himself, but for his teammates as well. In the NBA game, his ability to see and take advantage of these mismatches will be even more valuable.

His ability to play without the ball in his hand will be valuable as well. He can play alongside a poor handling backcourt because he is such a good ball handler and passer for a 3, but he can also play next to ball dominant guys because he does a lot of his work off the ball. He will never be an isolation guy.

Porter works so hard off the ball, he usually gets to the foul line at least once a game simply because he was fouled without the ball in his hands. Whether a defender is trying to battled him in the post, keep him off the boards, or contain him on a screen Porter keeps his defender working. He knows how to come off screens, find soft spots in the defense (again, see Syracuse regular season games), cut to the rim, run the give and go, and get the ball off the rim.

Just because the most comparable player in terms of style may be Tayshaun Prince, it doesn't mean that is where Porter's upside ends. He is more advanced than Prince at this age and has a better frame. There really isnt a player better than Prince that you can compare to Porter in terms of style, but Porter has a clear advantage from a talent and upside perspective. If you compare Porter's sophomore year numbers to Prince in his senior year, Porter has the advantage (make sure you use pace adjusted numbers due to Georgetown's slow pace).

In my opinion, Porter will safely be a top 10 SF in the league. He won't surpass the top guys like LeBron, Melo, KD, Paul George, and say Andrew Wiggins but he will be right behind them. He doesn't have the ability to dominate like any of those guys, but he can help a team win more than any other small forward in the league other than that group.

Thats just him on offense. From a defense perspective, Otto Porter should be very good as well - if not better. The biggest knock on him as a defender is he lacks top notch lateral quickness to stay in front of quicker small forwards. But what he lacks in lateral quickness, he makes up for with his length and anticipation skills. I dont think we will have to worry about him being consistently beat off the dribble by many players, but for those ones that do - Porter does a great job funneling them into the teeth of the defense.

Defense these days is mainly about versatility and Porter should be able to switch on a lot of screens to cover bigger forwards and even some guards. He does a good job keeping his balance against quicker guys and recovering to contest shots. He communicates on defense, knows when it is appropriate to switch or gamble, and provides excellent help defense. He has a very high basketball IQ and it really shows on both ends of the court. Porter also rebounders very well. He boxes out and doesn't hesitate going into a crowd with stronger players.

Otto Porter has as much of a chance to be an all-star at the next level than anyone else in this draft and should be in consideration for the #1 pick. Cleveland was a big fan of Porter when they were projected to pick third in the draft, but things do change a bit at the #1 spot. Noel has to be considered heavily, but if they choose to be weary of his injuries, Porter should be the only other guy they consider. He is a perfect fit next to Kyrie Irving. If he slips past Cleveland, the Wizards will be in prime position to get him at #3 but could look to choose Anthony Bennett over him. If they do, that means Porter could slip to #5 or even farther which would make him a huge steal in this draft. 

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