Dec. 29, 2013
WASHINGTON - by David Driver/Special Correspondent
Otto Porter Jr. was working on his free throws during the end of a practice session when Ernie Grunfeld, president of the Washington Wizards, saddled over to a side basket here at the east end of Verizon Center.
Grunfeld playfully put his hands over his mouth and made hissing sounds to Porter Jr., the third overall pick of the Wizards out of Georgetown, in the relative quiet following a practice session last month. "He was trying to throw off my rhythm," says the 6-foot-8 Porter, with a smile, sitting on a chair courtside a few minutes later with a red sports drink in his right hand. "He used to be a player (in the NBA). He knows little things about my game I can work on."
It was hard to throw off the rhythm of Porter Jr., 20, during his two seasons with the Hoyas, as he was the BIG EAST Player of the Year last season as a sophomore before Grunfeld tabbed him to join point guard John Wall and the Wizards.
Porter Jr. welcomed the chance to play for his new hometown. "It just made it easier, playing with a pro team in the same area where you went to college," he said. "It hardly happens. It is a plus, it is a great feeling."
The first obstacle Porter Jr. had to overcome, however, was a hip flexor injury he suffered during preseason camp. Several NBA observers, prior to the injury, were enamored with the Porter Jr. pick by the Wizards.
"I love this pick. Porter Jr. is a perfect fit for this team," wrote Chad Ford of espn.com. "He doesn't need the ball to make a big impact on the floor. I think he's the perfect wing to pair with John Wall and Bradley Beal, and could help the Wizards make the playoffs next year."
"Porter Jr. was the easy, perfect pick for Washington: a talent level fit for the No. 3 pick, a fit in his hometown community after playing at Georgetown, and he fits a team need at small forward," wrote Rodger Sherman of SB Nation.
"(Porter) is a leader. He's going to be able to attack for them. This Wizards team is really headed in the right direction," according to Matt Moore with cbs.com. . The product of a tiny small town in southeast Missouri is making the adjustment to the National Basketball Association, and one of those transitions is working on facing the basket even more on the offensive end of the floor. Porter estimates that he lofted at least 300 three-point attempts during a recent practice session at Verizon Center. . He moved around the arc, with a Wizards' staff member feeding him the ball as he showed textbook form on the backspin on his shoots. Porter knocked down at least eight treys in a row, with teammate Josh Childress rebounding at times, and the former Georgetown star says he has made up to 15 straight treys in workout sessions.
While sidelined with a hip flexor injury that limited his ability to run with the Wizards during the preseason and once the regular season started, Porter Jr. spent his time focusing on shooting drills.
"It was definitely tough when you have not been not been injured in a long time and something like that happens," said Porter, who averaged 16.2 points and 7.5 rebounds last season for Georgetown. "I didn't want to rush it and I wanted to be safe, so I worked with our trainers and we worked back slowly. It gave me the chance to pay attention to the little things that the veterans were doing while watching from the bench."
As Porter Jr. prepared for life in the NBA, he also hired a nutritionist, the same woman who has worked with former Hoya and NBA veteran Greg Monroe, who faced off against Porter Jr. and the Wizards on Saturday night at Verizon Center. (Monroe scored 14 points and had seven rebounds.) Porter Jr. said following her cuisine guidelines has not been difficult, as he strives to eat high protein food.
Eager for the chance to contribute during the regular season - Porter Jr. played in three games with the Wizards during the NBA Summer League schedule and tallied 6.3 points and 3.7 boards per outing but missed the first 19 games of the regular season - the rookie finally had the chance in early December.
"When I was hurt, I could see myself playing with those guys, being an aggressive rebounder, being aggressive on defense and just being able to run and get back to that part of my game," Porter Jr.. "That is how I see my role for this team."
He has not played a ton, but he knows he has a lot of catching up to do after missing the first 19 games of the regular season. Some of what he hopes to do came through in a 116-92 win over the Detroit Pistons on Saturday night as Porter Jr. played a career-high 21 minutes while scoring four points and grabbing eight rebounds.
"We're trying to make the playoffs," he said. "I talk to all of the veterans and that's our goal. They are willing to help you and that is fortunate for me. You have to know your veterans and the teammates around you. I'm just trying to work my way back and help our team now."
Editor's note: David Driver is a free-lance writer who has covered college and pro hoops in the Washington area for 20 years. He is a member of the U.S. Basketball Writers Association and covers college hoops for The Sports Xchange, a national content provider. He can be reached at www.davidsdriver.com.