Wizards’ Porter Ready to Make an Impact
Expectations were high for Otto Porter when he entered the NBA last season after being selected with the third overall pick in the 2013 NBA Draft by the Washington Wizards. After a successful two-year collegiate career at Georgetown, Porter was seen as the Wizards’ long-term solution at small forward. At last year’s media day, Porter was posing alongside John Wall and Bradley Beal in pictures and it seemed like Washington had a trio of potential stars to serve as the cornerstones of their franchise moving forward.
However, Porter’s rookie season didn’t go as planned. He suffered a hip injury and hamstring injury, and he didn’t make his professional debut until December. Then, once he did get on the court, he was limited physically and behind the curve since he missed summer league and training camp. His transition to the NBA was rough, and he ultimately played in just 37 games while averaging 2.1 points and 1.5 rebounds.
Now, Porter is determined to bounce back and have a much more successful sophomore campaign. This was the first offseason in which he was able to work out and play in summer league, which is always important for young players. During summer league Porter was impressive, averaging 19 points and 5.8 rebounds. He was often Washington’s best player on the floor, and he scored 25 or more points in two of the six games.
“I’m thankful to be playing at 100 percent and getting better,” Porter said. “I’m trying to play hard each and every time I step onto the court and hopefully everything else will take care of itself.”
Porter has also been very effective in Washington’s preseason games. Through six games, Porter has averaged 11.6 points, 4.6 rebounds and 1.5 steals. He looks much better than he did last season, and it seems like he could actually emerge as a contributor for Washington this year. Last week, in the Wizards’ exhibition game against Maccabi Haifa, Porter totaled 19 points, eight rebounds, four assists, four steals and a block. Porter played the most minutes of anyone on the team and was Washington’s leading scorer.
Porter’s teammates have been impressed with his growth as a player. It’s easy to forget that Porter is just 21 years old so he still has a lot of room to grow and it’s far too early to write him off as an NBA player.
“He’s day and night,” Kevin Seraphin said of Porter’s improvement. “I told him that yesterday. I’m proud of him. He’s really stepped up. He has more responsibility this season. He’s really stepped up right now. He’s more confident in everything. I love his game.”
His teammates have also noticed that he’s much stronger this season. That’s because Porter spent much of the summer with the team’s strength and conditioning staff, determined to bulk up and get stronger.
With Trevor Ariza leaving Washington this past summer via free agency, Porter could be called upon sooner than later to be the answer at small forward. Over the offseason, the Wizards signed Paul Pierce to a two-year deal (with a player option in year two), but he’s clearly just a short-term fix rather than a long-term solution since this very well could be the 37-year-old’s final contract.
Porter knows that he must continue to improve so that he’s ready when it’s time for his role to expand.
“Each game I try and improve on something,” Porter said. “It’s a process. Each game I continue to try and attack and find my shots and take them. It’s something I look to do each game.”
Head coach Randy Wittman has also experimented with Porter at shooting guard. With Beal sidelined for the near future due to a broken wrist, Porter could help fill the hole at two-guard if he’s able to successfully transition to the new position. Porter has been spending time at two-guard during practices and reports have indicated that he may start a game at shooting guard at some point.
Regardless of what position he’s playing, it seems that Porter could have a much bigger impact this season than he did last year in Washington. Now that he’s at full strength and no longer playing catch up, Porter is ready to show what he can do and finally start living up to the lofty expectations that were set for him when his name was called third overall.
Caldwell-Pope May Be Poised for Breakout Year
Detroit Pistons shooting guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope seems poised for a breakout sophomore campaign. After averaging 5.9 points per game during the 2013-14 season, his production should increase under new head coach Stan Van Gundy, who has been very impressed with the 21-year-old.
“I think he’s playing really well, he plays really hard all the time,” Van Gundy said of Caldwell-Pope. “He wants to get better. He’s a very committed guy and you know we have them, in our work and in our lives, guys you see and they kick up your own energy. He’s like that for our coaching staff. You walk in the gym and he’s upbeat and ready to go. He works hard, he brings an energy every day. Those are the guys you want in your organization and build good teams around.”
Caldwell-Pope turned heads during the Orlando Summer League, when he averaged a tournament-high 24 points per game along with 7.4 rebounds and 1.8 steals. His most impressive outing was a 30-point, 12-rebound performance against the Memphis Grizzlies.
Then, in Detroit’s first two preseason games, Caldwell-Pope continued to play well. He averaged 19 points and shot 54.2 percent from the field and 45.5 percent from three-point range.
“I’m very comfortable,” Caldwell-Pope said. “My first year was just kind of up and down, which is what rookies go through, but I just feel more comfortable with my game now. My confidence was always up, but now I’m just to the level that I’m feeling more comfortable playing and shooting.”
In the third preseason game, Caldwell-Pope had totaled 12 points when he went down with a knee strain. He has missed all of Detroit’s preseason games since suffering the injury, but he’s expected to be ready for the start of the regular season.
He should see big minutes with Jodie Meeks sidelined for two months due to a stress reaction in his lower back and Will Bynum recently traded to the Boston Celtics. Caldwell-Pope spent the offseason working on his ball-handling and becoming more consistent, so he feels he’s ready for an expanded role if his number is called.
“Every day, we’re just going to compete,” Caldwell-Pope said. “We’re all looking for spots and minutes; we’re just going to compete. Whatever happens, happens. We just have to continue to work together as a team.”
Caldwell-Pope likes the makeup of the team and how the group has come together, and he is determined to do whatever he can to help Detroit improve on last year’s 29-53 record.
“If you look up and down [the roster] we’ve got good players, good teammates,” Caldwell-Pope said. “It’s all good in the locker room, and now we’re just coming together and just building chemistry. I’m just all about the team, man. It’s all about coming together and getting wins.”
Caldwell-Pope has enjoyed playing for Van Gundy and likes the head coach’s style of play.
“It’s great,” Caldwell-Pope said of Van Gundy’s system. “I mean, the way he’s spacing the floor and the offense we’re running, you get wide open shots and you just have to knock it down. … He’s brought a lot. He’s made some good changes.”
Many Pistons fans are excited to watch the development of the second-year shooting guard who seems to have a high ceiling, but he’s focused on the present rather than worrying about his potential.
“I’m really not worrying about if I can be an All-Star or not,” Caldwell-Pope said. “I mean, if I do [eventually become an All-Star], that’s great, but I’m just trying to continue with my career and keep playing because I love to play.”
This could be a huge season for Caldwell-Pope; don’t be surprised if he becomes an important contributor for the Pistons very soon.
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