- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 22, 2013


The choice, really, should be Otto-matic.

Fortunes of an NBA franchise can turn on the bounce of a few ping-pong balls. Late Tuesday, those balls, under the watchful eye of the usual Ernst and Young representative, provided a moment for the Wizards rarer than the once-in-17-years appearance by Brood X of cicadas.

Slotted for the No. 8 pick, the Wizards held a 12.4 percent chance of moving up to the No. 3 pick in the NBA’s draft lottery. They may as well have bought tickets for the $590.5 million Powerball jackpot.

But the ping-pong balls rattled around, envelopes with the results were torn open and, behold, a gift dropped into the laps of a franchise beset by ineptitude in the locker room and on the hardwood over the last five seasons.

This is something even the Wizards can’t screw up, an ideal confluence of good fortune and need and availability. There’s no need to chase the temptation of dealing the pick for the fool’s gold of some quick-fix that, more often than not, is burdened by unmet expectations, a gargantuan contract or the sort of off-court misadventures and police-blotter mentions that dogged the Wizards of not-so-old.

No, this is the time to continue building a long-term solution to the five apocalyptic years of basketball where the once-competent franchise slumped to a .296 winning percentage and, among other problems, has been dwarfed by the arrivals of Robert Griffin III and Bryce Harper in Washington.

So, say hello to Georgetown’s Otto Porter Jr.

Look over the dizzying array of mock drafts and some combination of Kentucky big man Nerlens Noel and Kansas shooting guard Ben McLemore are popular predictions as the first two picks by the Cleveland Cavaliers and Orlando Magic. Simple enough.

Enter the Wizards.

What usually follows, of course, are the usual complaints about this being the least inspiring crop of would-be players in years and the Wizards being one pick away from landing an impact contributor. Porter, however, is different. The small forward from smaller-town Missouri isn’t the sort, though, who’d say so or, really, do much of anything to draw attention to himself. But he’s the right player (and person) at the right time for the Wizards.

This isn’t simply an opportunity for general manager Ernie Grunfeld to add to the gifted young core of John Wall and Bradley Beal while solidifying the gap at small forward, much in the same way the Oklahoma City Thunder built a juggernaut through the draft and savvy trades driven by the long view, not instant gratification. Porter brings a local face, a recognizable name with a reputation as a dependable teammate. He carries himself with maturity that belies his youth and would continue the shift away from the Wizards’ train-wreck locker room that, at times, provided more entertainment than the on-court product.

Much of the drama — along with JaVale McGee and Andray Blatche and Jordan Crawford and Nick Young — is gone. The challenge is continuing the construction of a competitive roster after an encouraging finish to the season and not continue the sort of perpetual rebuilding project there’s little patience for in Washington.

Porter doesn’t have Harper’s Mohawk haircut or Griffin’s head-shaking speed. Instead, the player is a lot like the person. Smooth. Decisive. A knack for being in the right place at the right time. Unflappable, or at least seeming so. Able to handle pressure and attention and improved competition, no matter that he skipped AAU basketball and played for tiny Scott County Central High School before John Thompson III brought him to Georgetown. Poised. Coachable. Obsessed with winning. Steady.

Porter spent his freshman season as Georgetown’s sixth man, then thrust himself into conversation for National Player of the Year as a sophomore when he sliced through Syracuse for 33 points and eight rebounds in February. That game also coincided with Porter’s leap up the mock drafts, with the potential to be Georgetown’s highest draftee since Jeff Green went No. 5 in 2007.

Those predictions elicited embarrassed nods from Porter last season. But the notoriety comes from a reliable jump shot to slashing to the basket to a Velcro-like knack for rebounding to snagging steals with his 7-foot-1 wingspan. All combined to help stuff statistics lines and transform him into an intriguing prospect who can do a bit of everything.

The gift arrived Tuesday, one the Wizards can’t afford to misuse. The response is Otto-matic.

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