By John Krolik
Special to The Examiner
To play wing in Steve Kerr’s system, a player has to be versatile, capable of playing multiple positions and willing to match up against much larger opponents.
Otto Porter Jr. has been all those things and more for the Warriors this season.
The former No. 3 overall pick is contributing in a big way, overcoming a slew of injuries that limited his playing time the past couple of years. After playing 56 games in the 2018-19 season, Porter played 42 total games over the next two seasons. That’s a major reason the Warriors were able to get the 28-year old forward in his prime for such a discount. Porter’s salary last season was $28,489,239, and he’s made $125,830,399 over the course of his career. This season, he was available for a much more palatable $2.4 million, which allowed the Warriors to sign him in free agency. Finally healthy, he’s already played 48 games this season.
It certainly helps that he fits into Kerr’s vision for what a wing could and should do. Let’s look at what that means.
First off, a Warriors wing needs to play bigger than his size. Before coming to the Warriors, Porter was primarily a small forward who occasionally moonlighted as a power forward. This season, Porter hasn’t played a minute at small forward. Instead, 65% of his minutes have come at the power forward slot, and Porter has actually played center 35% of the time he’s been on the floor this year.
The next thing a Warriors wing should be able to do is stretch the floor. Porter has been a willing and able three-point shooter throughout his career, with a career three-point percentage of 40.1%. This season, a career-high 55.6% of Porter’s shots have come from beyond the arc, and he’s made 39.1% of his shots from that distance.
The last rule for a Warriors wing has to do with efficiency. Shot creation on the Warriors comes from ball movement and man movement, with Steph Curry, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson leading the way. They don’t operate like a typical NBA offense does, where one player will force a double-team with dribble penetration or a post-up and make the defense play 4-on-5. When they do, the wings are rarely the ones creating the shots. Extemporaneous dribbling is discouraged, turnovers are abhorred, isolation situations are to be avoided and the long two-point jumper, the most inefficient shot in basketball, should be avoided whenever possible.
Porter has taken all of these principles to heart. Of his three-point tries, 94.3% have been assisted. A career-high 78% of his attempts from inside the arc have come off of an assist. Only 9.3% of Porter’s shots have come from 10-15 feet, and a career-low 7.8% of his attempts have come from the dreaded 16-23 foot range. The rest of his shots have come from either beyond the arc or at the basket, where he shoots a tidy 73.8%.
Porter’s ability to keep the basketball secure is one of his truly remarkable skills. Porter has been as good at avoiding turnovers as any player in the league through his career, and that’s continued this season. Porter averages 0.8 turnovers per game for his career, and 1.5 turnovers per 100 possessions, which are both exceptional marks. This year, Porter has turned the ball over a grand total of 23 times in 48 games, and is averaging just 1.1 turnovers per 100 possessions. That’s off-the-charts stuff.
At its core, basketball is a pretty simple game. You can help your team in one of two ways. You can help your team have more possessions than the other team by getting or preventing offensive rebounds and creating or avoiding turnovers. Or, you can help your possessions be more efficient than the other team’s, by making shots instead of missing them while forcing the opposing team to miss more shots than they would otherwise make. That’s it. The only ways to win a basketball game are to shoot the ball more than the other team does or make a higher percentage of your shots than they do.
That’s what makes Porter so fundamentally sound, in the purest form of the word. His “true shooting percentage” is 59.4%, thanks to his efficiency-heavy diet of shots, well above the league average of 56.0%. He’s stolen the ball from the other team 52 times, blocked 23 shots and only turned it over to the other team 23 times. He’s been solid on the boards and has done a good job defending multiple positions, even when his assignment is considerably larger than he is.
One more thing a Warriors wing must do? Check his ego at the door and be ready for anything. With the exceptions of Curry, Thompson and Green, nobody’s spot in the starting lineup is guaranteed, and the closing lineup could change on any given night. Minutes will go up and down as players go through hot or cold streaks or the matchups change. Porter has been phenomenal in this regard. He’s been a true professional all season, started 13 games when the Warriors needed him to, and happily came off the bench in the other 35 games he’s played. That’s just who Porter is, and one of the primary reasons he’s fit in so well.
John Krolik is a freelance contributor to The Examiner.