Why Playing Otto Porter at Power Forward Is Crucial for the Washington Wizards
The Washington Wizards were a bit mystifying last year.
With the best slash-and-kick point guard in the league in John Wall, there was perhaps no team that would have benefitted more from spreading the floor and going small on a consistent basis than the Wizards. With the addition of Paul Pierce, who thrived in stints as a small-ball power forward with the Nets in 2014, and the expected emergence of 2013 third-overall pick Otto Porter, Washington was primed to join the revolution.
After a successful playoff run, which included a surprising sweep of the Raptors and feisty six-game series against the top-seeded Hawks that could have turned on a waved-off buzzer beater, spreading the floor became an actual thing in D.C. In a radio interview on Wednesday, Porter confirmed what we've all wanted for a while now: the concept is here to stay for the Wizards.
When asked about playing more power forward this coming season, Porter responded straight and to the point.
"Definitely, because that’s how the NBA is transitioning, you know, to smaller lineups. So being able to stretch out as a four is going to be key, and that is something with our coaching we might end up doing. It’s definitely something I’ll be comfortable with," he said on Sirius XM.
Last year, none of that happened in the season's first 82 games. Pierce played more than 88 percent of his minutes at small forward, while coach Randy Wittman underutilized and perhaps misused Porter, playing him fewer than 20 minutes per game and almost exclusively at small forward: 95 percent of his minutes came at the three, per Basketball Reference. Only one of the Wizards' 20 most-used five-man lineup combinations featured one of those two at the power forward slot.
Then, the playoffs happened.
Wittman, either in a stroke of genius or a desperate attempt to save his job, saw the light. If you want to believe Wittman saved his small-ball lineups for the postseason, be my guest. Regardless, Pierce and Porter took over a big chunk of the work as the team's forward duo, with Porter putting everyone on notice.
After playing just 156 minutes together in total in the regular season, per NBA.com, the duo almost equaled that number in a 10-game playoff run, sharing 147 minutes on court, juicing the Wizards' offense up to 107.9 points per 100 possessions in that time.
For Porter, the results were very encouraging.
His three-point shooting jumped from 33.7 percent on 1.4 attempts per game in the regular season to 37.5 percent on 3.2 attempts per game in the playoffs. His Offensive Rating went through the roof, from 105 to 115. While Porter's counting stats weren't massive -- 10 points and 8 rebounds per game -- they indicated that he could be ready to break out, especially as he watched his minutes jump to more than 33 per game in the postseason.
Of course, Pierce is off to Los Angeles to reunite with Doc Rivers.
The Wizards did well to replace him with players who can fill a similar role. New addition Jared Dudley isn't the guy to drain clutch shots, but he's got experience playing the four, can guard multiple positions and can indeed stroke it from deep when he's on the court as a career 39.6 percent three-point shooter.
Speaking of the Wizards' two bigs, splitting them up could be a boost to the offense. Nene is a free agent after this year, and reports have it that general manager Ernie Grunfeld has shopped him around. For good reason, if you watched the playoffs.
Neither has range much outside the elbow, and playing two players at a time who need to be close to the hoop can be fatal in today's NBA. Those two logged the eighth-most minutes of any two-man combo on the Wizards during the regular season, according to NBA.com, but as Wittman went smaller in the playoffs, he split them up. The results were drastic.
With Gortat on the court and Nene on the bench in the playoffs, the team's Offensive Rating skyrocketed to 120.9 points per 100 possessions, according to nbawowy.com. The team bombed threes at an astounding rate (hitting on 47.9 percent) and didn't see any dropoff in rebounding. Put simply, the Wiz were a healthy, modern NBA offense when playing just one traditional big.
Porter says he's ready to play power forward on a more permanent basis, and the playoffs showed that giving Wall a more spread-out floor is devastating. If Wittman can actually commit to it -- which is actually an if, judging by his past decisions -- the Wizards could be ready to take a step up to challenge for a top-three spot in the East. Lineups with Gortat and Nene (or with some combination Kris Humphries and Drew Gooden) can still be effective, and Nene in a contract year is dangerous.
But for the Wizards to flourish, it's time for them to let their former third overall pick do just that in the role he was made for.