The Otto Porter/Anthony Bennett debate is one that almost every organization discusses during draft season. "Should we take the safer pick, or swing for the fences?"
As the Wizards begin to form an identity and make their way toward the playoffs, Thomas Pruitt and Umair Khan argued both sides of the dispute over email.
Thomas: Otto Porter's game reminds me a lot of Trevor Ariza's or Tayshaun Prince's. That's cool and all, but does that warrant the third pick in the draft? There's a reason that glue guys cut from that mold are usually drafted late in the first round. Even when they pan out, they're usually only valuable if they're next to two or more star-caliber shot creators. As we all saw during the first few months of the season, these guys can be great when they're solely expected to hit open shots and save their energy and focus for defense.
Porter looks like he'll be a good passer and rebounder. He also looks like someone who's going to struggle to score around the basket at the pro level due to his lack of explosion.
Anthony Bennett isn't without his flaws, but his shortcomings -- namely his lack of size and aversion to defense -- aren't any worse than Porter's. Especially as the league gets smaller and faster, it becomes a lot more important that a 4 be able to switch out onto perimeter players as opposed to protect the rim or check wide-bodied post players.
This is also a very young guy who came to UNLV as the school's most highly-touted recruit since the first Bush administration and had to shoulder an enormous offensive load on an up-tempo team while frequently playing out of position at center. If this was 2010, I wouldn't trust Washington to develop him into a passable defender. In the post-knucklehead era, though? I can't imagine anyone being able to get away without defending without seeing his minutes cut and being held accountable by Wall and Beal as they attempt to finally make it into the playoffs for the first time.
Even if he's just a guy on defense, his offensive game might be too good to pass up. He can score off the dribble or off the catch and made more than 70 percent of his shots at the rim last year despite not really having anyone to get him the ball. He could be a perfect pick and roll and pick and pop partner for both Wall and Beal. If he pans out, all the team would need to win a lot of games every year would be a rim-protecting center, a good defensive small forward who can move the ball and a bunch of shooters. Oh, wait, they've already got all those things.
Don't get me wrong, both players have their good qualities and their bad ones. That said, I think it's more likely that Bennett becomes a passable defender than Porter is to become a good enough offensive player to be more than a fourth or fifth option on a good team. Wouldn't you rather take the guy who could be a 20-a-game scorer than the guy whose best-case scenario is Tayshaun Prince?
Umair: I'm not buying into the notion that Porter will simply be the next Trevor Ariza or Tayshaun Prince. I think he's far more advanced at this stage as a shooter and has more experience as a playmaker. He's capable of facilitating an offense from several areas of the court.
It's important to note that despite having two years in a structured environment to learn the nuances of the game, he did not play AAU basketball or play for a high profile team, choosing to stay at home under the watchful eye of his father while working out at his high school. Sure, he lucked out of developing the bad habits often associated with AAU ball, but it also thwarted him from gaining precious experience against top-level talent and under the very best of head coaches.
When I look at Otto Porter, I see a raw prospect that is just now finding his way. There's a lot of untapped potential that, in the right organization, could turn out to be much more than a glue guy. He's too smart of a player to cave in to his physical limitations or athletic deficiencies. He understands angles, the benefit of beating his man to a spot and the idea of funneling his man into help in order to get stops on defense. His average lateral quickness is just a minor speck in an otherwise brilliant defensive player. The idea of drafting him to a team already rendered by a tough defensive-minded coach that finished in the top 5 in defensive efficiency a year before outweighs any concerns over his offense.
He may be rough around the edges -- he's a rudimentary ball-handler and struggled to finish through contact -- but just a year ago we had similar concerns about his poor outside shooting ability, which is now a strong suit for him. No one anticipated an upturn in shooting efficiency quite like this given his poor mechanics, but he made it work. Porter isn't your prototypical "3 and D" wing or your defensive ace. His floor is more along the lines of an integral rotational player off the bench, and his ceiling is an all star, with Tayshaun Prince somewhere in the middle.
I marvel over the final four teams remaining in the playoffs currently. All four finished in the top 10 in defensive rating, per Basketball Reference, with Indiana and Memphis finishing 17th and 20th respectively in offensive rating. I'm all for swinging for the fences in the draft this year, but I think precedent should be placed on team direction and what this team is striving toward being.
With Bennett, he's a bit more hit or miss. I don't think his floor is particularly elating, and his ceiling isn't worth gambling on with a top 3 pick. He could just as easily turn into a one dimensional tweener, a la Brandon Bass, than an offensive juggernaut capable of carrying the load on a given night. I think there are more holes in his repertoire than people tend to cite. Sure he's shown glimpses of what an all-around Bennett game is like (see UNLV vs New Mexico), and his situation may have gotten the best of him on a number of occasions, but he's also had the benefit of playing in the Mountain West Conference.
Personally, I believe it comes down to where you view this team five years down the road. Will it be the defensive stalwart that Ted Leonsis yearned for following the 2010 draft, or has the plan changed?
Thomas: Washington could have the 33rd pick in the draft and the team would still likely field a top-10 defense next year, assuming Nene and Emeka Okafor are at least mildly healthy. The team's defense is also far easier to improve via free agency and smartly-used late first-round picks than its offense. When was the last time a team had to break the bank to bring in a defensively-minded perimeter player?
Porter's offensive game is nice in that he can score off cuts and should mesh well with the off-ball movement of Nene and Beal, but there are only so many points he'll be able to score in that manner. When you adjust for pace, Porter was basically a 19-points-per-40-minute scorer last year as his team's offensive focal point. In the NBA, he's probably going to be more like a third or fourth option, similar to the role he played as a freshman when he averaged closer to 13 points per 40 minutes. Even if he were to become an above average defender and rebounder, that's just not enough upside to justify using the third pick in the draft on him. Look at any "let's redo the draft" article. Even with the benefit of hindsight, high-usage offensive players and elite defensive bigs always wind up being the most highly valued players.
It's also far from a guarantee that Porter's going to be a great defensive player. His length and basketball IQ are both top notch, but as the game gets more and more perimeter-oriented, his lack of foot speed could become his Achilles heel. As we saw plenty of times this year, even though Ariza and Webster were technically small forwards, they were far more frequently forced to cover shooting guards than move down and cover big men. While Porter should be fine against traditional small forwards, there's no way he's going to be able to do the kind of job Ariza did this year against players like Dwyane Wade and Jamal Crawford. Unless Beal gets a whole lot stronger, someone's going to need to check elite twos. Sure, Wall can guard both backcourt positions at the end of games, but it might be too much to expect him to battle with a big-time scorer while running the offense for an entire game.
It's interesting that you'd bring up Memphis and Indiana. Both teams have very well balanced starting lineups similar to the type that Washington is probably going to need in order to contend (assuming no one on the team becomes a top five player on the planet type), and neither is spending that much on perimeter players who aren't primary offensive options. Lance Stephenson and Tony Allen, who both fill the stopper role that Washington's starting small forward is going to need to fill as long as Beal and Wall are in the backcourt, were brought in on the cheap and likely won't cost all that much to retain.
You're exactly right about Bennett's floor as a player, and that's the main misgiving I have about him. That said, the team needs to take risks if it wants to get anywhere, and Bennett's a safer bet than he's given credit for being. The Mountain West Conference generally isn't associated with great basketball, but five of the conference's nine teams made the NCAA tournament this, so it's not like Bennett was putting up numbers against scrubs. While Bennett is similar to Bass in that he's a good jump shooter, Bennett's a little taller and should be a far better finisher at the rim as a pro. I could see him being one of those guys who messes up his efficiency level by taking a bunch of bad shots, but at a minimum, I think he's going to be a capable pick and roll and pick and pop guy. Considering how often teams run that play, I don't see how he doesn't put up a lot of points at the pro level.
I'm curious, what do you realistically think both players will be like in five years? They should be near their peak and everyone from the current team other than Wall and Beal will likely be long gone. All things being equal, who's going to be a better complement to the Beal/Wall backcourt?
Umair: But this is all under the assumption that Porter merely scores off cuts and in transition. That's not the case. And sure, his calling card is on defense, but he brings so much more to the table.
One of the great mysteries in this draft is figuring out who Porter will be like five years from now. There are plenty of similarities you can draw from Prince, Ariza and even Shawn Marion, but ultimately its Porter's midrange prowess and late bloomer status that sets him apart.
Not enough emphasis is being placed on the latter. I truly think there's more untapped potential than currently being spewed out by fellow draftniks. There's a fallacy being thrown around that Porter had a fluke year in terms of shooting the ball, but it's all in accordance to his progression. People forget he shot a blazing 51 percent on two-point jumpers as a freshman, and has worked arduously to improve his three-ball this season. The result? 43 percent from three, with 88 percent of them being assisted on. Porter may deal with an adjustment period early on as he acclimates himself to the NBA three, but make no mistake about it, he can shoot the ball.
Will he be a legitimate third option? It's up for debate, but I'll put good money on it five years from now. I personally find it encouraging when the biggest knock on a prospect is that they're a "jack of all trades player who isn't especially great at one thing." This holds especially true to a gym rat like Porter who has his head on right and fits the teams' culture.
It's not that I hate Bennett's potential, but there are two things that will be working against him early on. The coaching staff will have to get on his butt from day 1, and they would need to really mold his game and improve on his weaknesses. His ability to score on all three levels of the court is something you can really build on, but it's his basketball IQ that brings up some glaring red flags. Simply lighting a fire under him wouldn't suffice. His understanding of pick and roll coverages, hedging on ball screens and laziness associated with recovering to his man leaves a lot to be desired. It's sugarcoating it to say a hardass along the lines of Randy Wittman will be the solution, as we've seen firsthand how a low-IQ defensive player that actually gives good energy like Trevor Booker fared in a similar situation. And we saw how this team managed without Nene on the floor to cover their tracks. It's hard to imagine Bennett playing any better defensively in an increased role.
Porter gives this team the best chance to build a contender moving forward. If you're as optimistic as I am regarding Wall and Beal's potential, it's hard finding a better fit alongside them. It's definitely within the realm of possibility this coming year for Beal to improve as a playmaker and ball handler. We saw it in spurts as a rookie where Wittman ran him off HORNS sets to get his big men easy looks inside, and we saw him steadily develop an escape dribble to attack hard closeouts later in the year when he caught fire. Sure, Bennett would be a great third option, but I think Porter fits that role better as his facilitating and off ball instincts are much farther along.
My question is, can the Wizards really afford to miss on yet another high lottery pick? We both agree Bennett's floor is much lower than Porter's, and while I shudder to even bring in Jan Vesely to this discussion, it can't bode well for this team moving forward having two of their prized picks rotting on the bench for the duration of their rookie deals. This team is one good draft pick and one great free agency period from making some serious noise (a lot of cash coming off the books after this season). It would be rather deplorable if they're forced into remedying yet another screw up by shelling out cash on a free agent rather than shoring up other holes on the team.
Thomas: Realistically, whoever Washington's third option is going to be, they're going to need to be able to create shots, not just knock them down. Beal getting almost all of his points within the flow of the offense is good in that it allows the ball to stick to Wall's hands, yet it also puts pressure on his teammates to create offense when Wall's off the court or not initiating a play. Porter's ball handling isn't good enough for him to consistently make plays off the dribble, particularly when he's forced to finish around tall big men. His two-point percentage fell from 61 percent to 50 percent when he was asked to be a primary scorer, and it's not like he was putting up 30 points a night. That's more in line with what we've seen from guys like Marvin Williams, Courtney Lee, Jeff Green and other players who struggled to score off the dribble at the NBA level. I think that the best-case scenario here is that he can string together enough free throws, threes and layups to be someone opposing teams don't need to ignore.
Bennett's got the quickness necessary to get to the rim against most power forwards and I could even see him playing spot minutes as a spot-up-shooting small forward in big lineups. People tend to focus on his flaws, but there really aren't a ton of guys who can rebound, hit a three and finish around the basket. The few that can are making a lot of money. I'm not denying that Porter's skillset is valuable. It just tends to cost a lot less to acquire a competent two-way player than it does to bring in a big time scorer.
Bennett averaged 22 points per pace adjusted 40 minutes last year while maintaining a high level of efficiency. He scored more frequently than Shabazz Muhammad, Luol Deng, Derrick Williams or Blake Griffin did as freshmen and, again, he did it without any highly-skilled guards to get him the ball in a position to score. While he's not a once-in-a-generation type of scorer, his ability to create shots is being overlooked quite a bit by scouts and commentators. He could very well lead all rookies in scoring and might even be a candidate for Rookie of the Year if he's immediately given about 30 minutes a night. With the number of high basketball IQ veterans around him, it's not a stretch to imagine him doing that in Washington.
Porter could easily bring home some hardware, too, especially if he winds up in Cleveland. I think that, at best, he plays a Harrison Barnes-esque role on a playoff team if things break his way, but he's not going to be in a position to maximize his potential.
I'd like it if Porter could play the role you described as a facilitator who can set up Beal and Nene when they cut to the basket, and his experience as the focal point of a Princeton offense has probably helped his development as a passer. At the same time, he might be given too much credit for his passing ability as a result of the system he plays in. Green and Greg Monroe played relatively similar roles in the same offense and averaged one or two more assists per game than Porter when they were his age. He can pass, sure, but I don't think his court vision is as special as we're giving it credit for being.
We're in agreement that Washington can't afford to whiff here, at least if they want to have any chance of making it out of the league's upper-middle class and truly contend for a championship a few years down the line. Regardless of who they draft, it's unlikely they have much more than MLE money to play with in free agency any time soon (gotta renew Wall and replace or re-sign Okariza, neither of which will be cheap). Are there many 20 a game scorers that can be had for that kind of money?
Umair: I really can't foresee a situation where Anthony plays 30 or more minutes unless a) he magically improves on defense or b) puts up big numbers on moderate efficiency for a team like the Bobcats, much less a chance at Rookie of the Year honors.
But this is where we're at a bit of a rift here. Without putting words into your mouth, it seems like you're on board with Bennett playing big minutes and being a reliable third option that fills the void of another shot creator. But I fear his style of play is suited for a second or first option, which not only is a conflict of interest, but completely screws with the chemistry that Ernie envisioned after years of retooling and cleaning house. Not only is he the inferior prospect of the two, but he's also a worse fit.
As is the question every year about Georgetown prospects, their slowed down tempo and emphasis on team play has everyone questioning whether Porter's skill-set will translate to a more open NBA game. Both Roy Hibbert and Monroe debunked this myth at the center position; question did arise about their toughness, athleticism and will to dominate. But this proved to be a defect in the system as opposed to an individual shortcoming. Porter may not have the elite athleticism that's become such a hot topic around this time (seriously, how many more athletes does this team need?), but he has skills that many of those athletes only dream of obtaining. He has a tremendous feel for the game, can serve as a secondary facilitator, and could become a real game changer with his midrange prowess.
Believe me, I've tried watching Georgetown from an objective standpoint, and I struggle to see these concerns about him scoring at the next level. Want to know why hall of fame coach Jim Boeheim constantly raves about him? It's because he tore up his vaunted zone defense with his midrange shooting. Imagine what he's going to do in more open space to dissect a defense. He's not your run-of-the-mill jack of all trades player.
He may not throw thunderous dunks off the dribble a la LeBron James, and he won't cross you over a la Kevin Durant, but he's extremely crafty finishing around the rim, and really showed off his ability in transition. His body control is terrific for a man his size, he can change directions, always has his head up to advance the ball, can hit you with a skip pass to spot up shooters in the corner, and can get to the line. Coaches may never run isolation sets for him, but he can play alongside both poor ball handling PG's and ball dominant guards which makes him so coveted during this next month.
OK, folks. Who do you think won this "debate?"