The Washington Wizards went the entire 2017-18 season with only two true small forwards on their team: Otto Porter Jr. and Kelly Oubre Jr. Both are reasonably capable of holding down the position when they are on the court, but neither of them play at the level that is needed to contend with the LeBron James and Kevin Durant’s of the NBA. If the Wizards had a player that combined Porter’s consistency and intelligence with Oubre’s athleticism and energy, then they would have one heck of a third star to match with John Wall and Bradley Beal. Alas, both have flaws in their game that have to be addressed before Washington can take the next step.
In his fifth season in the NBA and first after signing a four-year, $106.5 million max contract last summer, Porter averaged 14.7 points and 6.4 rebounds in 31.6 minutes per game. His biggest strength is his lethal shot from behind the arc where he exceeded last season’s 43.4 percent clip with 44.1 percent this season, which was good for third best in the NBA.
“He’s pretty consistent,” head coach Scott Brooks said about his starting small forward. “One thing you can count on Otto is consistency throughout the year.”
Despite those numbers, Porter is rarely able to create his own shot and continues to deal with a nagging hip injury that can then progress further down his body to his thigh and legs. The latter required an emergency left lower leg fasciotomy for compartment syndrome hours before Washington’s season ended in Game 6 against the Toronto Raptors in the first round of the playoffs, the team’s earliest exit in the Wall era. Brooks is the type of coach that will talk about a player’s positive every chance he gets even if asked about one of their lesser qualities so when he does address the downside of a player, it is certainly something that is glaringly true.
“The one complaint I have with Otto is that he doesn’t run the floor enough to get himself easy shots in transition, and the games that he does are the nights that he has big nights,” Brooks criticized. “Then he can get his cuts and he can get to the free-throw line. He needs to do that more, he doesn’t get to the free-throw line enough, but that’s definitely an area that he has to get better at.”
“We definitely need him to take more shots, especially in the fourth quarter,” Brooks said about the player that almost never has the ball in his hands with the game on the line. “He doesn’t seem to get the opportunities, I’ve said it many times, it’s a combination of him, myself and the point guard.”
One would hope that Porter can get fully healthy over the summer and leave his hip injuries in the past so that he can more easily get out on the break with Wall and the ‘Ferrari’ fast break. In addition, there is another aspect of Porter’s game that can be bolstered: putting on weight and getting stronger.
“You’ve got to lock him in the weight room for a good four months,” Marcin Gortat recommended. “He’s got to gain at least 10, 15 pounds. And I think he’s going to be at least twice better player. Skill-set wise, he’s unbelievable. He’s got everything. He can rebound. He can shoot the ball. He can post up. He can pass. He can definitely defend, if he’s healthy. As I told him and I told Kelly, they’ve both got to improve in the weight room. They’ve got to get into the weight room.”
Unlike Porter, getting out on the break and aggressively finding his shot is something Oubre accomplishes with ease. Whether those shots and decision making is always the smartest plan of attack is another story and where Oubre would be better off adapting towards Porter. Part of that is getting more experience and becoming more mature than an average 22-year old usually is.
After tweaking his jump shot last summer, Oubre played well in the first three-plus months of the season, but dropped off significantly the last couple months. Before the All-Star break, Oubre was shooting 42.1 percent from the field including 36.6 percent from beyond the arc, but those stats dropped to 36.4 percent and 29.3 percent after returning from the week off in February. The slump came at a terrible time for the Wizards as the energetic wing lost his mojo to deplete an already underwhelming amount of talent off the bench.
“He definitely had, almost like two seasons,” Brooks described. “He had a good start. Shot the ball well. We were extremely happy with the work that he’s put in over the summer and improvement. He didn’t shoot the ball well in the second half. That’s part of being a good player and the progress of becoming a good player. You have to be able to stay consistent throughout the season. You’re going to have some ups and downs but you’re got to shrink those as small as you can. He definitely has some growth and upside. He’s a young player who would have just finished his senior year in Kansas, so you’ve got to keep a lot of things in perspective with Kelly. He plays hard, he plays with passion. A lot of times it works out, sometimes it doesn’t. That’s part of growing as a player in this league, you got to find the consistency.”
The bright side is at the end of the day, Oubre will not even be 23 until December and has a strong work ethic that will likely reap benefits through another summer of work with Drew Hanlen. Oubre is planning to stay off all social media and workout twice a day on weekdays to limit the variation in his game.
“Consistency, man,” Oubre quickly responded when asked where he can improve. “I fell off crazy these past couple of months with my jump shot. It’s not that I’m not a good shooter. I’m honestly a great shooter. It’s just the fact that I’m undisciplined. You know, I have to get back in the gym and just put the reps in and put the time in. And slow my mind down and make sure that every jump shot that I shoot is perfect, and every play that I make is perfect. And just continue to get better in that aspect.”
The ‘Wave Papi’ also plans on working on fundamentals like ball handling and finishing around the rim, but one area he does not think, and rightfully so, he needs to address is the effort category.
“I just feel like I run through the wall each and every time I step on the court, good or bad. If I try and make a mistake, at least go in hard,” Oubre expressed.
Washington will never be able to get a player that can morph the best skills from Porter and Oubre, but if each is able to take a page out of the other’s playbook to better themselves individually, it will go a long way for the Wizards.