Draft Preview: Otto Porter

Georgetown soph brings Prince’s versatility to the table

Otto Porter
Georgetown small forward Otto Porter
Al Bello (NBAE/Getty)
(Editor’s note: Seventh in a recurring series previewing the 2013 NBA draft. Coming Wednesday: Alex Len.)

In a draft filled with uncertainty at the top, Otto Porter stands apart as a player seen as relatively fool-proof. Scouts might wonder about his athleticism and doubt he’ll ever rise to the level of All-Star, perhaps, but the general manager who takes the Georgetown sophomore on June 27 probably will sleep pretty well that night, even if his dreams don’t start with championship parades.

The current NBA player most often evoked in a Porter comparison is Tayshaun Prince, who was a rock for the Goin’ to Work era Pistons and a 2004 NBA champion. But he was never an All-Star and he was taken 23rd in a historically weak draft. Porter, it seems, is destined to be a top-five pick, perhaps a top-three pick.

Over the past month, I’ve separated Nerlens Noel and Ben McLemore as the only two players who would certainly be unavailable to the Pistons unless they pulled a top-three lottery pick, which they failed to do, falling instead from seventh to eighth.

The next player most likely to be out of reach for them is Porter. In fact, if Cleveland doesn’t trade the No. 1 pick and is scared away by doubts over presumptive top pick Nerlens Noel’s prognosis for a quick and full recovery from a torn ACL, Porter is a logical candidate for the Cavs, who finished last season with journeyman Alonzo Gee as their starting small forward.

Even Porter points to Prince as a player whose career he’s likely to emulate.

“Long, lanky, can do a lot of things on the court,” Porter said by way of drawing on their parallels. “Can defend, can rebound. He’s kind of a glue guy.”

Of course, teams that pick in the top five hope to inject the roster with more than a “glue guy,” and the team that takes Porter will be looking for more of what he gave Georgetown in a breakout sophomore season. Porter came to the Hoyas as a four-star recruit, but not a McDonald’s All-American, and stepped into their starting lineup to average 9.7 points and nearly seven rebounds as a freshman in 30 minutes a game. He stretched those numbers significantly as a sophomore, finishing with a 16. 2 scoring average to go with 7.5 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 1.8 steals and nearly a blocked shot a game – precisely the all-around profile struck by Prince over his decade in Detroit.

Another NBA player to whom Porter is compared is fellow Georgetown product Jeff Green. At 6-foot-8½ in shoes as measured at the Chicago combine last month, Porter weighed 198 pounds with a wing span of 7-foot-1½. But only eight of the 53 players who tested in the three-quarters court sprint clocked worse than Porter’s 3.47 seconds. Only five of 52 tested registered a lower standing vertical leap than Porter’s 27 inches.

Nobody will let those numbers dissuade them from drafting Porter, but it underscores the thinking that his ceiling probably isn’t what’s to be expected from a high lottery pick. Then again, Larry Bird probably wouldn’t have dazzled anyone in 1979 had the NBA administered such tests at the time.

Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim would scoff at concerns over Porter’s athleticism, calling him the best small forward in Big East history – this from the guy who saw freshman Carmelo Anthony carry the Orange to the 2003 Big East title.

“If I’m picking, I pick him first in the draft,” Boeheim told reporters during the Big East tournament. “I don’t even look at anybody else. I think he’s the best. I think he’ll be a great pro. … I don’t see a weakness in his game.”

“That’s a great compliment by him,” Porter said in Chicago. “I never thought I would be anything like that, what he said, but that’s the type of person he is. He knows talent. He knows basketball, so it was the ultimate compliment.”

Porter started his sophomore season strong, dominating in a Georgetown win over UCLA to ruin the debut of Shabazz Muhammad, but he really picked it up during the home stretch of the Big East season. He was particularly good in a 33-point, eight-rebound, five-steal outing during an 11-point win at Syracuse on Feb. 23, then came back with 22 points and the game-winner four nights later in a double-overtime win over UConn.

The Pistons had just won at Washington and got to their locker room in time to see Porter’s heroics, Greg Monroe celebrating the win by rubbing it in the noses of UConn teammates Andre Drummond and Charlie Villanueva, perhaps even picking up the proceeds of a friendly wager in the process.

Porter knows Monroe via their Georgetown connection and has played and worked out with him at McDonough Gym, where the Hoyas practice. Monroe has spent a month or more of his off-seasons at Georgetown taking classes toward his degree and working out with many current or former Hoyas who’ve gone on to the NBA, with Othella Harrington a frequent mentor.

“During the NBA lockout, he came back to Georgetown and worked out with us,” Porter said. “I talk to him a lot. We have a connection. Just enjoy the whole process, that’s what he told me, and just take care of business.”

Familiar with the Pistons’ roster, Porter could see himself slotting in at small forward in an all-Big East frontcourt with Monroe and Drummond.

“To be able to play with Greg Monroe, that’s beautiful, to play with your friend,” he said. “I think the style of play there is great.”

The likelier landing spot for Porter – assuming Cleveland does something else with the No. 1 pick – is Washington, which picks third. The Wizards and Pistons finished the season with identical records with the Pistons subsequently winning an April 19 tiebreaker for the right to go into the draft lottery in the No. 7 position to Washington’s eighth slot, but the Wizards vaulted into the No. 3 spot at the May 21 lottery. Washington has its backcourt with 2010 and ’12 lottery picks John Wall and Bradley Beal but no long-term answer at small forward.

But the Wizards might decide they’re after more sizzle with the No. 3 pick, opting instead for the higher upside of UNLV freshman forward Anthony Bennett. Phoenix, New Orleans and Sacramento – picking 5-6-7 ahead of the Pistons – could be expected to take long looks at Porter should he get past the Wizards.

Yet all of those teams could find another player they like better by just enough to keep Porter tumbling. Phoenix could opt for Victor Oladipo’s athleticism, if he’s there at No. 5. New Orleans could grab a big man to pair with Anthony Davis, perhaps 7-footer Alex Len. Sacramento might prefer one of the point guard, Trey Burke, Michael Carter-Williams or C.J. McCollum. It’s a long shot that Otto Porter’s name hasn’t been called with the Pistons’ turn comes up at No. 8.

But as Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond could attest, it wouldn’t be the first time a Big East player got passed up unexpectedly and wound up in Detroit.