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What the Otto Porter problem is—and what it isn’t

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NBA: Miami Heat at Washington Wizards Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

If there’s one thing the Wizards’ first four games reveal, it’s that they don’t have a plan to achieve their stated goal of getting more shots for forward Otto Porter. There’s considerable debate over who’s to blame, and how big a share of responsibility they should shoulder, but it’s worth thinking about how the team could make a meaningful change, and even whether they should.

Let’s start with the guy himself—Porter could be more aggressive. He doesn’t seem to have go-to moves and counters that reliably produce good shots. Not blessed with elite quickness or a great first step, Porter could become effective emulating someone like Dirk Nowitzki and get comfortable with shooting fadeaways from the elbow or low block, especially against smaller defenders. Analytically speaking, those two-point attempts aren’t ideal, but Porter is one of the rare players who shoots well enough to have a green light from anywhere on the floor.

A simple thing he could do immediately (and every player at every level should apply this lesson) is run hard in transition on every possession. Want to see what that looks like, check out Shawn Marion during his years in Phoenix. Those gorgeous length-of-the-court passes by Steve Nash often had Marion on the receiving end, because he sprinted to the offensive end like he was trying to win an Olympic medal. Note: having great speed isn’t required to be a great transition player.

From the outside looking in, it would appear there’s much Brooks and the coaching staff could do to help the team accomplish what Brooks has said is a priority. Their offensive sets generally call for Porter to stand in a corner and wait for a pass while the action happens on the opposite side of the court. In some ways, this is understandable—a great shooter in the weakside corner must be accounted for by the defense, which means help defenders arrive a split second later. If the defender leaves Porter too soon or gives him too much space, he can knock down an open three. That threat—even at a low usage rate—creates more space for Wall, Beal and others to operate.

But, the Wizards say they want Porter to shoot more, which makes sense because he’s one of the game’s best shooters. To that end, they could involve Porter in some offensive actions, and they could stagger starter minutes so that he’s on the floor with reserves. Over the past couple seasons with Wall and Beal off the floor, Porter has maintained excellent efficiency at an above average usage rate.

The Wizards could likely get more shots for Porter by using him as a screener both off-ball and in pick-and-pop sets. Over the past couple seasons, Porter has been extremely efficient as the ball handler in pick-and-roll plays, albeit in limited opportunities (about once per game last season). Washington could also play the matchup game with switching defenses by forcing switches and posting Porter when he’s matched against a guard. In general, when the Wizards do force switches, it’s to isolate Wall or Beal on a big. That’s a good strategy, but there may be opportunities to include Porter in that mix. These plays wouldn’t replace what the Wizards do successfully with Wall and Beal, but could supplement and expand the team’s offensive repertoire.

One issue the coaching staff needs to consider is why Porter’s usage is low when he’s been on the floor with Wall. And yes, it’s specifically when paired with Wall because when Beal has been out of the game and Wall and Porter are on the floor together, Porter’s usage rate actually fell. When Wall left the game, but Beal was on the floor, Porter’s usage was about average and his efficiency was good. When both Wall and Beal were on the bench last season, Porter’s usage and efficiency rose to about the level of Karl-Anthony Towns. Much the same was true the previous season.

Porter with and without Wall and Beal

Combos 2017-18 USG% PPP eFG%
Combos 2017-18 USG% PPP eFG%
Wall & Beal 15.6 1.3 0.593
No Beal 14.5 1.52 0.591
No Wall 20.3 1.19 0.546
No Wall or Beal 22.9 1.38 0.645

Video review from last season indicates that this as much a coaching or strategic issue as anything else. When Wall is on the floor, the Wizards tend to run offensive sets that position Porter in the weakside corner. When the point guard sits, Porter is part of the offensive flow and his touches and shot attempts rise. It’s worth noting that when Porter’s touches increase, the most likely outcome is field goal attempts because he commits so few turnovers regardless of who else is on the floor.

Finally, it’s worth backing up and asking a basic question: is this really a problem? Two seasons ago, the Wizards had the league’s seventh best offense with a low-usage Porter. The drag on their record was the 20th ranked defense. When Wall, Beal, and Porter are on the floor together, the Wizards have been excellent the past couple years. Maybe positioning Porter in the corner when he’s on the floor with Wall is an effective way to space the floor, keep offensive decision-making in the hands of an elite playmaker, and have an efficient team offense.

Looked at this way, the primary path to getting more shots for Porter could also boost production from the team’s bench. The idea here would be to keep Porter in his current role when he’s on the floor with Wall, but to get him out of the corner and into the action when Wall sits. This could have the effect of helping maintain an efficient primary lineup offense, improving the bench’s performance, and increasing Porter’s usage.