One of the things that makes the NBA great is that fans can have passionate debates about how good or how trash a player is relative to their peers. As anyone who has gotten into a debate about hoops can attest, it’s easier to agree about where certain players fall in the NBA talent hierarchy than others.
That isn’t the case with Otto Porter. After three seasons in the NBA, it seems like we’re no closer to having a consensus of how good he is than when the Wizards took him with the third overall pick in 2013. Some people think he’s still on track to be an All-Star, others think Kelly Oubre should be taking his place in the starting lineup this season. Even people who think they’re in the middle of the Otto Porter spectrum quickly realize they may not agree on much regarding what he’s proven to this point in his NBA career and how he can develop next season. So let’s talk about a few reasons why Porter’s value varies so much from person to person.
The lost rookie season
The way a player starts their rookie season is an underrated part of what shapes how people view a player. Fans understand the NBA season is a grind, and it’s hard to form conclusive opinions about who will be contenders in November, but they can start forming opinions on which rookies are standing out, based on how they handle their first tests at the professional level.
Unfortunately for Otto Porter, he missed out on his chance to make a good first impression. He missed all of training camp and the first month of the season while recovering from injury, so not only was he behind the curve in terms of getting in shape but he was behind the curve in getting a feel for Randy Wittman’s schemes. Plus, the Wizards were well stocked at his position, with Trevor Ariza and Martell Webster already on the roster.
In hindsight, it’s easy to see how Porter would have gotten off to a rough start given those circumstances, but the fact still remains that it made people worry off the bat about whether or not he could live up to his draft billing.
If you search for “Otto Porter mixtape” on YouTube, the search results are pretty bleak. Porter doesn’t play with the ball in his hands much on offense, and when he does he usually isn’t exploding for an impressive dunk or a silky jumper. Even when he’s doing something well, it just looks a bit clunky.
It’s hard to show where he’s good using a highlight reel. It’s a lot easier to show on a spreadsheet. Last season, he was 14th among small forwards in RPM last season, had a better PPA than Gordon Hayward, and he had a higher VORP than guys like Klay Thompson, Khris Middleton, and C.J. McCollum.
The Hoya paranoia
There’s no way around it: Playing college hoops in the same town where you play pro ball will always warp how fans view you. If you’re a Georgetown fan, you’re more likely to forgive his flaws because you’ve seen him be successful. If you’re a fan of Maryland or a Big East rival or Georgetown, you’re more likely to skew the other way, if for no other reason than to counteract the bias you perceive from Hoya fans.
This wouldn’t be such a big deal if not for Porter’s impending free agency in 2017. At some point between now and next July, this stops being a debate between fans and starts turning into a negotiation between NBA executives and Otto Porter’s agent about how much he should be making as he enters the prime of his career. Hopefully Scott Brooks can put Porter in a position to show off the best of what he can offer to those who believe in his talent and those who are still unconvinced.