Otto Porter's NBA debut is imminent. After sitting out the entire preseason and the first month of the season with a mysterious hip injury, the third pick in the 2013 NBA draft is set to finally suit up. Even if it's not tonight against the Milwaukee Bucks, it should happen soon, most likely within the next week or so. This is a good thing, right?
Porter's injury has had a detrimental effect on his conditioning, so at least initially, he's probably going to play limited minutes and be half a step slower than normal. The players he'll take minutes from - Trevor Ariza and Martell Webster will be the most directly affected by Porter's debut, and Chris Singleton will most likely be shifted even further down the bench - have been very effective so far. Webster and Ariza are both making more than 40% of their three pointers while playing solid defense in the case of Webster and excellent defense in the case of Ariza.
Even under the best of circumstances, there's always a learning curve for rookies. Porter's a smart player, with a more NBA ready game than almost anyone else taken in the lottery this year, and should be able to do a lot of the same things as both players. He's just not going to do them as well, at least not initially. The adjustment to the NBA three point line is difficult for a lot of players. Last season, only two rookies shot better than 40% from behind the arc and one of them was 28 year old Chris Copeland. Porter made 42% of his tries from the shorter college three point line last year, but he's not a pure shooter in the vein of Bradley Beal and is unlikely to duplicate his NCAA performance in his first year as a professional.
There's also an enormous adjustment to be made on the defensive end. Porter was an excellent defensive player in college, but a lot of the players he was matched up against were smaller and less athletic than the wings he'll be expected to guard. Forget the Lebrons and Carmelos of the league, even mediocre small forwards like Wilson Chandler and Jared Dudley are tougher covers than anyone Porter checked at Georgetown. He should eventually catch up and be one of the better defensive players in the NBA, it's just not going to happen immediately.
Even though Porter won't be as good as Webster or Ariza right off the bat, having him in the rotation should have something of a trickle down effect in which the team as a whole improves. Porter's natural position, small forward, is the same as Webster's and Ariza's, so he's going to take time away from them. That said, every minute Porter plays won't necessarily come from Ariza and Webster. Both are capable of playing shooting guard and occasionally sliding down to power forward in small ball lineups. Porter should be able to do the same things, and even saw time at shooting guard during the Summer League. No, it wasn't pretty, and all three are at their best when playing small forward, but they should be able to soak up some minutes at the four and the two. What does this mean? Less Garrett Temple, less Jan Vesely and less of a minutes burden on an already over-worked starting lineup. As much as Porter may struggle at first, he's still going to be better than anyone currently coming off the bench.
Porter's return could also mean that Ariza's days in the District are numbered. You only need so many lanky small forwards who can hit a three pointer from the corner and Washington has three (four if you count Singleton). Ariza becomes a luxury, not a necessity, once Porter's up to speed and his wing defense, shooting and expiring deal could be attractive to almost any team. New Orleans, Houston, and Brooklyn are the most obvious trading partners if Washington decides to deal him, and he should at least in theory be enough to snag a third or fourth big man to plug into the frontcourt rotation. At the same time, the Wizards are dangerously close to the luxury tax and John Wall's extension calls for him to receive a seven million dollar per year raise which, coincidentally, is about what Ariza makes. Either way, he's probably gone, but there was no way the team was going to trade him with both Porter and Bradley Beal on the shelf.
Porter's long-delayed rookie season could go in a number of different directions. His lack of shot creating abilities and middling athleticism could prevent him from being much more than a role player, while his high basketball IQ and athletic indicators in college mean that he could still find a way to be a very good pro player. And soon we'll be able to find out.