Otto Porter Jr. won’t win Most Improved Player of the Year this season — especially not while Giannis Antetokounmpo is posting Kareem Abdul-Jabbar numbers. But under normal circumstances, Porter’s league-best scoring efficiency would put him in the conversation.
The Wizards wing has seemingly transformed himself from dud to stud role player, scoring 1.19 points per possession, per Synergy Sports, which leads all NBA players with a minimum of 400 registered possessions. Since December 3, the Wizards have the fourth-best record in basketball (18–8). Over that time, the team is being outscored by four points per 100 possessions when John Wall and Bradley Beal are on the floor without Porter. When the trio shares the court, the Wizards are outscoring teams by 10.4 points per 100 possessions, per NBA Wowy.
Porter helps by scoring efficiently via transition buckets, cuts, pick-and-rolls, off-screens, and spot-ups. If it weren’t for the fact that he still dribbles the ball like he’s wearing two oven mitts, Porter would be a superstar. No one would’ve taken that statement seriously a year ago.
The biggest sign of his improvement has been his shooting. Prior to last season’s All-Star Weekend, Porter had shot 3s at a 31.5 percent clip on 289 attempts over his career. That’s horrific for a top pick who was expected to be a floor spacer, a 3-and-D energy guy who’d occasionally have explosive games. Now, suddenly, he is.
Since that break, Porter is shooting 44.9 percent from 3 on 294 attempts; this season alone he’s second in the league in 3-point percentage (of players who attempt a minimum of three triples per game). Porter notched only six games with 20-plus points over his first 155 career games; he has 12 instances over his last 75 games. This is who the Wizards thought they were drafting with the third pick in 2013.
“I’m getting into a rhythm,” Porter recently said. “You’re in that position, you know, just let it fly.” Porter’s development is a miracle. It’s not as if he made drastic changes to his shooting form, like Kawhi Leonard did while studying with shot doctor Chip Engelland. Porter’s mechanics are just as ugly now as they were his rookie season.
The missed shot is from Porter as a rookie, and the make is from this season. The angle of his feet is the same. The long gather that gives defenders time to close out is the same. The left hand that hovers over the top of the ball like he’s cradling a baby is the same. The fact that there aren’t any visible differences is stunning considering his early-career lack of shooting production.
Not all shooters are created equal. When I spoke to Hawks shooting coach Ben Sullivan for a feature on NBA shot doctors, we discussed how there’s no one right way to play guitar, or swing a golf club, or throw a baseball. That idea extends to shooting a basketball. “There has to be a comfort level and a certain type that fits each person, but there are core elements that you have to have,” Sullivan said, explaining that Jim Furyk’s herky-jerky golf swing is unique, “but 6 inches behind the ball and 6 inches in front of the ball, his club looks the same as the next guy.”
That applies to Porter. His mechanics leading up to the release of the ball are chopped and screwed, but the release itself is a clean sample. As the ball comes off his hands, his shot looks like any other shooter’s.
Porter’s mechanics are now consistently funky from shot to shot, whereas before they would produce a different shot each time. A lot of shooting coaches talk about the importance of a “repeatable motion,” and that’s the kind of shot Porter has developed, even if it looks weird. This suggests his sharpshooting is not just a hot streak.
Porter’s surge is a reminder of the randomness of player development. Just last year, in the middle of his third professional season, Porter was a disappointment. Now, he’s the league’s most efficient scorer. Now, he’s a potential max-contract recipient. Now, the Wizards have a trio leading them to the playoffs.