On Saturday, seven hours after Georgetown basketball tips off the season against St. Francis Brooklyn at Verizon Center, Otto Porter will take to the same court as a Washington Wizard.
That was not something that could be said with any certainty a year ago.
In his first year in the NBA after the former Hoya great was picked third overall in the NBA draft, Porter struggled mightily for playing time. Wistful Georgetown fans could not help but think what might have been if Porter had stayed for his junior season, instead of spending most of his time on the Wizards bench.
But as the 2014 season unfolds, Porter is seeing increased minutes and showing improved performance. The Wizards coaching staff is showing more willingness to put him on the floor. His name is showing up in box scores.
Transformation is far from an accurate word to describe Porter’s transition from NBA rookie to sophomore. But both Porter and those close to him have emphasized a progression, a progress that has begun to show some very early results.
“First year you really don’t know what’s going on,” Porter said in an interview with The Hoya. “It’s just having the opportunity to play — last year, I couldn’t really play during the preseason or summer league because I got hurt so all that time definitely factored in.”
For Porter, time is at the center of an NBA player’s development. A hip flexor injury that held him out of the 2013 Summer League and the preseason left little time for Porter to make his mark on a franchise that wanted production for their lottery pick.
“I think a lot of people forget that he was injured,” Georgetown men’s basketball Head Coach John Thompson III said. “As a rookie, there’s no time to catch up because they’re not going to wait for you.”
Porter recognizes that becoming a good NBA player is not a quick process. But for him, his gradual development has been more of an inspiration than a frustration. Roster changes and a strong Summer League 2014 performance earned him playing time, but do not guarantee a successful season.
“I’m just going to continue to work hard, and the thing is you’ve got to take advantage of the opportunities,” Porter said. “Yes the minutes are there, but they’re not going to be handed to me. I have to continue to work for them.”
For Thompson, this attitude is representative of an attitude that propelled Porter as a Hoya.
“He put his head down. He goes to work every day. He worked extremely hard in the offseason; he and [former Georgetown forward Jeff Green] were in here [practicing] sometimes twice a day,” Thompson said.
A critical aspect of Porter’s transition has been adjusting to a new lifestyle, both in the NBA as a whole and within the workings of the Wizards organization. For rookies, a hectic nationwide schedule including team events, travel and a brutal 82-game schedule, along with adapting to the longer, fast-paced professional game, often results in disappointing first seasons.
Alongside young talented guards John Wall and Bradley Beal, Washington has arrayed a deep pool of veteran talents, from seasoned big men Nenê and Marcin Gortat to former Celtic great Paul Pierce. The result is a dynamic offense where Porter is far from the leading role he possessed at Georgetown.
At the same time, Porter sees connections between his time as a Hoya and his play today that have helped direct his development.
“I’ve learned so much from being at Georgetown, being in situations and reacting off them,” he said. “In the NBA it’s the same so I’m just reacting … . It’s definitely transported over to the NBA.”
The history between Georgetown and the NBA is a source of pride for the program, and it is evidence of past successes. A tradition that includes Patrick Ewing and Allen Iverson also includes four active players today, including Porter, who encountered another Hoya in center Greg Monroe on Wednesday night when the Wizards hosted the Detroit Pistons and won 107-103.
“We ask our guys to do so much. … We teach guys how to read and react and when they get to the next level they need to be able to adjust and adapt,” Thompson said. “The way we do things here with the premium on skills … prepares them for when they get to the next level. One thing we’ve always taken pride in is that our guys are good pros. They’re good in the League [the NBA] when they get there.”
Thompson expressed no doubt that Porter will continue to develop into a strong NBA player, and praised both his mental and physical versatility, an ability to do whatever a coach asks “anywhere on the court.”
While Porter has moved on to the Wizards, his ties to Georgetown are still evident.
“This is my home court, this is where I’ve grown and developed,” Porter said, recalling his time at Verizon Center in a Hoyas jersey.
For fans with lingering fond memories of Porter in blue and gray, witnessing his ongoing development for an impressive 6-2 Wizards team provides another reason to keep watching number 22.
“He’s going to be a terrific pro and he’s just beginning to show glimpses,” Thompson said. “I think that Otto is getting comfortable. After he gets comfortable he’s going to get confident. Once he’s confident, look out.”