- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 5, 2017

There will be no television show to follow Otto Porter’s new excursions. He’s not traveling to exotic places to consume strange food or taking a wild expedition into the heat or daunting cold.

He instead has been venturing out to Tyson’s Corner or even all the way to Maryland. The journeys take him beyond his downtown hive, where he predominantly meanders between Chinatown, Georgetown and “chillin’” at home.

“I’m starting to branch out,” Porter said. “Usually this small bubble where I hang out, but now I’m branching out.”

Turning the calendar marks Porter’s sixth year in the District. He arrived at Georgetown in 2011 from Sikeston, Missouri, population 16,318 and 17.48 square miles of not much in the southwestern part of the state. By the middle of this summer, he could be the owner of a $100 million-plus NBA contract as a restricted free agent. Until then, he is a benefit and pending decision for the Washington Wizards.

Porter paid a limited amount of attention last summer when the NBA salary cap went through a brisk rise. Middle-of-the-road players received bounties typically reserved for more diverse talents. Those projected to still be on the come up, like teammate Bradley Beal, received massive deals. Beal was paid $128 million. He has not to been to an All-Star Game in four seasons. He had never played all 82 games in a season. He had not averaged more than 17.4 points per game.

But, Beal is only 23 years old. The phrase “future ” All-Star may as well be his middle name. Which meant the Wizards paid the restricted free agent every penny they could.

“I haven’t really thought about,” Porter recently said of his next contract. “I mean, this summer when I was looking at everybody else’s contracts, but that’s about it. I’m out here just to play ball. I leave all that stuff up to my agent.”

David Falk, one of the league’s heavies, is Porter’s agent. He, like the rest of the NBA, is watching Porter’s value rise.

Going into Thursday’s games, Porter was sixth in the league in effective field goal percentage, a measurement that takes into account the increased value of making a 3-pointer. Porter is the second highest-ranked non-center on the list, where he is ahead of players like Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry.

He is averaging a career high in field goal percentage (53.8), 3-point percentage (43), points (14.1), rebounds (6.6) and steals (1.6).

Before he was hired, Wizards coach Scott Brooks thought Porter was a competent shooter. Though, he didn’t expect these swollen numbers.

“I didn’t think he could shoot the ball as well as he’s able to shoot, and that’s great,” Brooks said. “It does open up the court for Brad and John [Wall]. I just like his versatility. I think as this season goes on and his career goes on, I think he can be a shooting four also. He’s just not going to be a three. We can add to his game and put him at the four spot because I think when you have a guy who can shoot threes at the four, it kind of changes the whole dynamic of your offensive game.”

Moving Porter to the four is part of where the discussion around his value exists. The Wizards know how Porter fits with Wall and Beal, who are both under contract for the remainder of this season and at least two more. Porter has learned when to cut and when to drift for spacing in Brooks’ offense, in part leading to his increase in efficiency and totals.

But, alone, as a team’s primary scorer, Porter is unlikely to handle his responsibilities so adroitly. He is not an isolation player. The Wizards rarely call plays for him. That combination brings into question multiple things: First, what is his value outside of a team with a pass-first point guard and skilled shooting guard? Second, how much does that decrease demand and his pending price tag? Third, can he be more aggressive?

“Aggressive” is a term that has coiled around Porter since he has been in the league. It could be a misguided tool for judgment of Porter since he rarely has emotional bursts and works in the shadows of the basketball court, cutting, spotting up and creating space.

“That’s a relatively broad term,” Porter said. “I mean, what does that mean really? But for my game, when people say “aggressive” — I let the game come to me basically, when they say he needs to be more aggressive. But, I don’t pay attention. I just go out there and play my game.”

In Washington, Porter’s future is also hooked into that of Kelly Oubre who turned 21 in December. The Wizards’ 2015 first-round pick has often played the three with Porter at the four this season. But, Oubre’s results have continued to waffle in his second season. He’s shooting just 28.2 percent from behind the 3-point line and 41.3 percent overall. His defense at times has been stifling. Others, he appears disengaged and can receive an express path back to the bench because of it.

The Wizards need to conclude what they think of those two — together and separately — because those opinions will influence their status for years. If Washington knows now it does not want to pay Porter a mighty sum in the summer, it would make sense to trade him beforehand instead of allowing him to leave for no return. If they are prepared to match any offer, that idea is moot.

Oubre and next season’s first-round pick are the only tradable assets Washington (16-18) possesses as it middles along in the Eastern Conference. Does it believe Oubre will soon become a fourth quality young player that fits alongside Wall, Beal and Porter? Or do they want to use him as a prospect in an attempt to shed bad bench contracts and obtain immediate help?

Like with most things, Porter doesn’t really see what the fuss is about. He’s worried about keeping his hip, and the rest of his body, healthy. He is not fully briefed on the parameters of being a restricted free agent for the first time, he said, but will sit down with Falk to be informed after the season. Otherwise, he’s just going to play basketball and wander outside the city on occasion.

“I’m not concerned at all,” Porter said. “I don’t know why people try to make it a concern.”

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