Based on his performance in last season’s playoffs, Otto Porter seems poised to have a breakout season and fulfill his potential, but his success may not be solely in his control. The coach of the Washington Wizards, Randy Wittman, generally favors traditional lineups, but that isn’t in the best interest of Porter or the team’s long-term success.
Porter flourished in small-ball lineups playing as either the small forward or stretch four. When he played in lineups that featured two conventional big men, he wasn’t nearly as effective or aggressive. Porter’s situation is reminiscent of Golden State Warriors forward Harrison Barnes in his first few years in the league.
After an inconsistent rookie year, Barnes exploded onto the scene because of David Lee’s playoffs-ending injury. The Warriors’ small-ball lineups created mismatches and space for their players to exploit and operate in, most notably Barnes. Here is a look at Barnes’s per-36 averages from the 2013 playoffs:
Now take a look at Porter’s Per 36 averages from last year’s playoffs:
Their averages bear an uncanny resemblance. Admittedly, Barnes averaged five more points and Porter nearly three more rebounds, but the field-goal percentage and three-point percentage are easily comparable. They even have similar shot charts. Harrison Barnes’s 2013 playoffs shot chart is on the left; Otto Porter’s 2015 playoff shot chart is on the right:
After his performance in the playoffs, much was expected of Barnes the following season, but he ultimately did not live up to those expectations. His field-goal percentage and three-point percentage plummeted to 39 and 35 percent respectively. While Barnes’s game can be mercurial, the most notable reason for the decline was his coach, Mark Jackson.
Barnes received more responsibility but wasn’t put in an ideal situation to succeed by his coach. Despite using small-ball to much success in the playoffs, Jackson kept exclusively playing traditional lineups with two bigs even though Barnes and Draymond Green proved better options. His stubbornness eventually cost him his job, and stalled Barnes’s development.
Otto Porter may find himself in the same situation with Wittman this upcoming season. Wittman seems to have an affinity for conventional lineups and a slow pace; a head-shake-inducing notion that becomes harder and harder to justify when his starting backcourt features John Wall and Bradley Beal. Unlike Jackson, Wittman did not use small-ball as a result of an injury to a key player but Paul Pierce–who played as a stretch four for Washington–is no longer on the team so Wittman may not feel comfortable playing such a demanding style while acclimating new players.
However, the players the Wizards acquired during the offseason have skillsets that lend themselves towards small-ball. Jared Dudley and Alan Anderson are very good three-point shooters, and Dudley played heavy minutes as a stretch four for the Milwaukee Bucks last season. Dudley is still recovering from an injury though, so Wittman may be tempted to play one of the team’s reserve big men.
It is fair to speculate at what jump Otto Porter will make this season considering what he’s displayed. He is a good three-point shooter–especially from the corners–who can defend at least three positions, and out-rebound bigger players. He has even flashed an instinctual understanding of when to cut to the basket. There are legitimate reasons to be excited, but he may be a player that can only thrive in a specific situation. If that is the case, the ceiling of what he can achieve is directly tied to how Wittman decides to play.