A smile crept across Otto Porter’s face before he bowed his head, ashamed and embarrassed.
The Wizards were leading the Boston Celtics by nearly 30 points midway through the fourth quarter on April 2 when Porter’s name began reverberating through Verizon Center. The crowd interspersed his four syllables with five quick claps, serenading the rookie forward as if he were a college walk-on.
In some regards, the 20-year-old Porter wishes it could still be like college. The Big East player of the year at Georgetown as a sophomore last season, Porter considered it a blessing that he would have the opportunity to begin his professional career in the same city where his college career ended.
As the Wizards embark on their first playoff run in six years on Sunday, Porter’s role \ remains a mystery. At times this season, he’s been valuable off the bench, providing a boost to the second unit. Mostly, he’s had to sit and watch as the inconsistent Wizards win games – or lose them – without him.
“This is all new,” Porter said. “Just learning this process, it’s all new.”
A lanky, 6-foot-8, multidimensional swingman, the Wizards drafted the local kid No. 3 overall in June as the next piece in their prolonged rebuilding process. They selected point guard John Wall with the No. 1 overall pick in 2010, added big man Jan Vesely, since traded to the Denver Nuggets, in 2011 and selected the sharpshooting Bradley Beal in 2012.
Porter, the Wizards thought, could fit in as a jack-of-all-trades who would complement Wall and Beal in the backcourt. In college, he was an aggressive scorer who steadily improved his long-range shooting and a versatile defender who had a nose for the boards.
He led Georgetown with 16.2 points and 7.5 rebounds per game last season, when he had seven double-doubles in 33 games and led the Hoyas to a share of the Big East regular-season title.
Among the biggest concerns about Porter was how well his slender body, at 205 pounds, could handle the bruising of the professional game, and it didn’t take long for his durability to become an issue. Porter strained his right hamstring in the third of five summer league games in July, then strained a muscle in his right hip flexor in September, keeping him from making his debut until Dec. 6.
“I think missing camp hurt him a little bit, but, you know, he’s been patient,” said Trevor Ariza. “He’s been great. He’s been working hard every day, practicing. He doesn’t complain. He comes in and does his job, and when he gets his time on the court, he comes in and produces, because he’s always ready. At an early age, he’s learning how to be a professional.”
Ariza has been among several veterans whom Porter has turned to for advice, but he’s also been one of the reasons why Porter has failed to crack the rotation. The 28-year-old journeyman, in his second season with the Wizards, has averaged 14.4 points and 6.2 rebounds per game and has shot 40.7 percent from three-point range, with each mark a career high.
Behind Ariza, Martell Webster has followed up on his own career year by averaging 9.7 points off 43.3 percent shooting in nearly 28 minutes per game off the bench.
“I kind of just roll with the flow,” Porter said. “I continue to play, try to play well and try to give a big boost off the bench for our guys. That’s what I do.”
At no point this season have the Wizards needed that boost more from Porter than last Friday, when coach Randy Wittman ushered him into a road game against the Orlando Magic for the first time with 1:56 remaining in the first quarter.
The Magic led by 14 points not a minute into the second quarter before Porter threw down a dunk off an alley-oop from Andre Miller. Two minutes later, he made a reverse lay-up, drew the foul and made the ensuing free throw, then gave the Wizards their first lead since the opening seconds when he made a lay-up in transition with 4:50 to play before halftime.