Shootaround (May 7): Otto Porter Jr. credits mom for teaching him basketball
Plus Brandon Jennings on his childhood, Kiki VanDeWeghe on NBA discipline, and much more
No. 1: Otto Porter Jr. got game from mom — One of the Washington Wizards’ promising young players was named after his father but got his game from his mother. In short time, Porter has become of the NBA’s best 3-point shooters, and it’s a credit to the woman in the house who taught her son to play with a purpose. Here’s Jerry Brewer of the Washington Post with the details:
Mom taught Otto Porter Jr. how to shoot. Of all the gifted southeast Missouri players named Porter or Timmons — the two royal basketball families of that area — Elnora Timmons Porter influenced her son’s now-esteemed jump shot the most.
They stood on a paved slab in their backyard and went through the basics. Elnora taught young Otto, about 8, how to position his hands. She told him to focus on the rim and to see the ball roll off his fingertips. She emphasized the follow through and hold. Her husband, Otto Sr., would come home and worry about footwork and using the legs. Mom kept it simple.
“I just had one thing in mind,” Elnora said, laughing. “I just wanted him to hold it and shoot it right. He’s come a long way from when we were just trying to get a consistent form and make ’em from the free throw line. A long way.”
Now 23, Otto Jr. is one of the most efficient scorers in the NBA. His range extends well beyond the free throw line, for sure. The Washington Wizards small forward has grown from a rookie who made just four three-pointers in the 2013-14 season to the league’s fifth-most accurate deep shooter, at 43.4 percent. The improvement has transformed him from a versatile player slowly finding his way as a pro to an invaluable NBA commodity: a shooter with a diverse skill set.
This summer, when Porter will be a restricted free agent, he could command $100 million for his combination of skill, hustle, basketball smarts and knack for making winning plays. But for now, he’s focused on helping the Wizards advance past the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference semifinals. Although his three-pointer isn’t falling, Porter is shooting 57.1 percent in three games this series. He’s averaging 16 points and 9.3 rebounds.
It’s typical Porter, producing without hogging the ball, running all over the court, scoring at the rim, from midrange and from deep despite the Celtics’ determination to eliminate his clean three-point looks.
“Whenever he was in school, he never shot out on the three-point line,” Elnora said. “Whenever we’d been in the postseason, in the regionals or state, then he’d start shooting them. I always told him, ‘If you ever go to the NBA, they’re going to be looking for players to shoot the three.’“I’m glad that he’s improved on his three. He needs to start shooting more. But how far he’s come, it’s just a blessing because when he first got to the NBA, he was saying, ‘Mama, when is it going to be my turn?’ I said, ‘Boy, just hold on. God will let you know.’ Now, it’s his turn. So he’s busy making something of it.”
Elnora was born into a hoops clan, and then she married into another one. When the conversation shifts to the dribbling genes of her joint family, she likes to keep quiet and let the focus remain the grand accomplishments of Senior and Junior, and her brother, Marcus Timmons, and the dozens of relatives who have helped Scott County Central High School win a Missouri-record 18 boys’ state championships and six girls’ titles. But Mama could hoop, too. She earned all-state honors in 1985. And she had a reputation for releasing her smooth jumper at critical moments to win big games.
“She doesn’t talk about herself a whole lot, but then you hear the stories,” Otto Jr. said. “And you’re like, ‘Wow, that’s pretty cool.’ ”
No. 2: How the NBA doles out discipline — This is the tough time of year when the league’s iron fist is forced to take action when players step out of line. It’s unfortunate because at any given time, a team is short-handed during the playoffs, making it even tougher for fans, who deserve to see teams at full strength. And yet: When players earn a suspension, there really isn’t much choice. So: What goes into the decision to suspend a player such as Kelly Oubre Jr. from today’s Game 4 between the Wizards and Celtics? Tim Bontemps of the Washington Post got the scoop from league discipline czar Kiki VanDeWeghe:
From the moment Kelly Oubre, Jr. decided to charge at Kelly Olynyk and shove him to the ground early in the second quarter of the Wizards’ victory over the Celtics in Game 3 of their Eastern Conference semifinal series Thursday night, the possibility existed that the second-year forward would receive discipline from the league office beyond the ejection he was handed immediately following the altercation.
That decision rested in the hands of Kiki VanDeWeghe, the NBA’s executive vice president of basketball operations. And after spending Friday deliberating what to do, VanDeWeghe’s decision was announced Saturday: Oubre would be suspended for one game, meaning he’ll sit out Sunday’s Game 4 of this best-of-seven series.
“Kelly was suspended, really, for charging an opponent, and making forceful and unwarranted contact during a dead-ball situation,” VanDeWeghe told The Washington Post in a phone interview Saturday afternoon. “It was a non-basketball play, it was a very dangerous play, and you can’t retaliate in that type of manner.”
VanDeWeghe, a two-time all-star as a player and an executive with several teams before transitioning to working for the league office, serves as the league’s disciplinarian in situations such as the one involving Oubre and Olynyk.
In deciding how to come up with decisions for what the proper level of discipline should be, or if any additional discipline need be applied at all, VanDeWeghe utilizes a variety of tools to make his decision, including studying every possible replay angle, speaking to those involved and studying comparable plays from the past and what discipline each of them received.
Part of that decision-making process also included examining the two screens Olynyk set on Oubre leading up to the altercation. But VanDeWeghe said that, despite Oubre’s contention that part of his frustration with Olynyk came from him being struck in the head multiple times, players do not have the freedom to take matters into their own hands.
So now Oubre will watch Sunday’s game from the sidelines, and will be the first player suspended for a game during this postseason.“First of all, you have to look at that moment and what happened,” VanDeWeghe said. “We go back and review all plays, and I happen to go back and review them right away postgame. I thought that the screens on Olynyk, and I think you’re referring to two screens, were properly called. Both were hard picks, and he got called for an offensive foul on the one right before the incident.
“Second, players don’t have free rein to retaliate in this manner for any reason. And I have to repeat: It was dangerous, it was intentional, non-basketball during dead ball, and discipline was really necessary, and based on comps, exactly what was necessary.”
Still, VanDeWeghe did say that he examined the screens set by Olynyk to see if anything the Celtics big man did merited any additional discipline. But, after looking at them, he decided that wasn’t necessary.
“No, there wasn’t,” VanDeWeghe said. “I looked at those plays, I looked at them with the referees, consulted with the replay center, looked at a bunch of different angles.
“They were hard screens and the offensive foul was proper [amount of discipline] in this situation.”
No. 3: Brandon Jennings was made in South Central LA — Plenty of us are products of our environment, good or bad. In the case of Jennings, it’s mostly good, given the circumstances. The backup Wizards point guard was groomed for toughness in one of the toughest places to live and he proudly wears the lessons from that. He spoke recently with Candace Buckner of the Washington Post about the experience:
In his own way, Jennings made a difference by sending Thursday’s contentious Game 3 into a spiral of bedlam. Jennings returned to his playground days, when he used to talk junk and shame adult men. Early in the fourth quarter of the Wizards’ 116-89 rout, he picked up Celtics guard Terry Rozier, nagging him the length of the court and baiting the second-year player into committing two fouls in one second of game time. Less than a minute later, a cacophony of whistles disrupted the action.
Boston Coach Brad Stevens, usually placid to the brink of apparent boredom, grew enraged. Cameras caught Wizards Coach Scott Brooks snarling and shouting even as his player, Bojan Bogdanovic, was about to attempt a free throw. On ESPN, the broadcast team couldn’t keep up with all the technical fouls.
Chaos had taken over. But, even as he was ushered off the court after being ejected with two technicals, the instigator was smiling.
Jennings had created a spark — and he left behind a game in flames.
Back in Southern California, Jahmond Dantignac watched the unraveling on his 65-inch big screen and shook his head. Turns out, he taught his baby cousin too well.
“Where we grew up, we talked a lot of smack and you didn’t want nobody talking smack to you,” Dantignac said. “So he would do whatever he had to do.”The Jennings of today — the troll who started a preseason scuffle with Wizards training camp invitee Casper Ware, shoved 7-footer JaVale McGee and pointed a finger gun at Jared Dudley — was burnished on the blacktops of Compton.
“My cousins made me that way,” said Jennings, who is listed as standing 6 feet 1 but that appears to be generous.
“When I was younger, they used to punk me and make me play against older guys. The only way I could play is if I showed toughness and didn’t cry. That’s where it comes from.”
Back then, Dantignac was a standout high school basketball player. Jennings, 14 years younger, was his shadow. Every park and playground that Dantignac visited in search of pickup games, the runt followed.
Jennings was 4 years old — all arms, big head, no body — and yet the kid thought he belonged, too. At first, the cousins shooed him away. But Jennings whined and so they made a deal: Wipe your tears and we’ll let you play.
The cousins were strapping teenagers, and they pushed Jennings around. Hacked the mess out of him. Made him fight and hold his own. This was basketball. Not babysitting.
“Not at all,” said cousin Christopher Phillips, who played high school football and is seven years older than Jennings. “I guess in today’s time it would be considered bullying. But not back then.”
Neither did they spare his feelings. If little Brandon really thought he belonged, then he’d get trash-talked just like everyone else. The big cousins didn’t realize then, but they were creating a monster.
In games played at Laurel Street Elementary in Compton and Rowley Park in Gardena, Calif., Jennings had learned a few AND 1 moves by studying the mix-tape legend known as “Hot Sauce.” And some grown man — the poor guy who had to stick Jennings — unwittingly sprawled into his highlight reel.
“He really made them look silly,” Phillips said. “Then they’d be ready to fight.”
Fight a kid.
No. 4: Sixers looking to score big in draft — Yes, they need help. Lots of it. That being established, the Sixers are in position to use this draft to transform the franchise. Not only do they own their first-round pick, but they get the Lakers’ No. 1 if it falls out of the top three. Which means, if the ping-pong balls fall right, Philly could draft No. 1 overall and No. 4 overall. That’s a best-case scenario, and even if it doesn’t happen, the Sixers are preparing to draft at least one game-changer. The process has already begun and Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer brings the details:
The 76ers will be in Chicago this week interviewing point guards Markelle Fultz and De’Aaron Fox and a maximum of 18 other draft prospects at the NBA draft combine.
They will spend the next six and a half weeks evaluating talent and dissecting draft boards before selecting a lottery pick or two to play alongside Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, and Dario Saric. The player they will ultimately choose in the NBA draft June 22 will be celebrated as the Sixers’ next great first-rounder. And he just might be that.
But the team will need much more than another high-profile lottery pick for what it hopes is an eventual title contender.
The Golden State Warriors, two seasons ago, showed that a team can win an NBA title with a core of drafted players. That Warriors squad concluded the season with a starting lineup of Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala, Draymond Green, and Harrison Barnes. Curry (seventh overall, 2009 draft), Thompson (11th, 2011), and Barnes (seventh, 2012) were all lottery picks. Green (35th, 2012) was a second-round steal.
However, the acquisitions of former Sixer Iguodala (July 2013 from Denver) and Andrew Bogut (March 2012, Milwaukee) in trades and former Sixer Marreese Speights (July 2013) and Shaun Livingston (July 2014) via free agency helped to transform the Warriors from a 23-win team in 2011-12 to an NBA champion three seasons later.
Iguodala was even named the Finals MVP after being the Warriors’ most consistent player in the 4-2 series win over the Cleveland Cavaliers. He averaged 16.3 points on 52.1 percent shooting from the field – including 40 percent on three-pointers. The wing also averaged 5.8 rebounds, and 4.0 assists while being the primary defender against LeBron James.Curry won the first of two consecutive league MVP titles that season. He also averaged a team-best 28.3 points per game. But one can make a strong argument that the Warriors would not have won the title without Iguodala.
Miami Heat president Pat Riley would probably agree. He has said that championship teams aren’t built through the draft.
“It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to be able to see what it takes,” he told Bleacher Report in March 2015. “If you get three of those kinds of players and fill it out with some other good guys, then you might be ahead of the curve . . .. So there are a lot of ways to skin a cat.
“For me, it’s not through the draft.”
The Boston Celtics are a prime example of a team that turned into a championship contender through free agency and trades. The Celtics are the No.1 seed in the Eastern Conference after posting a 53-29 record. They have a 2-1 advantage heading into Sunday’s Game 4 of their conference semifinal series against the Washington Wizards.
This comes three seasons after Boston had the league’s fourth-worst record at 25-57. That was only six wins ahead of that season’s Sixers.Fast-forward to this season, and Avery Bradley is the lone Celtics starter drafted by the team. And the shooting guard (19th, 2010) wasn’t even a lottery pick.
Boston general manager Danny Ainge made several quality moves. He acquired Jae Crowder (December 2014 from Dallas) and Isaiah Thomas (February 2015, Phoenix) in trades. Ainge also signed Amir Johnson (July 2015) and Al Horford (July 2016) in free agency.
Ainge has an eye for talent. Thomas went from a backup point guard in Phoenix to a two-time all-star in Boston. He is averaging 26.3 points in the postseason.
The Wizards, Utah Jazz and Cavs are also thriving thanks to roster-enhancing trades and free-agent additions. Always upgrading, the Warriors are doing it for a second time.
Washington didn’t want to surround young talent in the starting lineup with draft picks John Wall (first, 2010), Bradley Beal (third, 2012), and Otto Porter (third, 2013). So they traded first-round picks to acquire their other two starters – Marcin Gortat (October 2013, Phoenix) and Markieff Morris (February 2016, Phoenix).
As a result, the Wizards finished the season with the fourth-best record (49-33) in the Eastern Conference, while the young Suns (24-58) had the second-worst record in the league.
Some Random Headlines: Orlando is trying to keep the scouting system humming along while the club searching for a new GM, however long that takes. But the draft lottery is days away … Likewise, the Suns are staring at a possible top-three pick, although the draft is guard-heavy, which is their strength. What’s a team to do in that case? … Michael Jordan spent a day last week at his old high school, and folks of course were star-struck … All sorts of names are being floated around Dallas as possible additions for next season. Can you believe Carmelo Anthony is one of them? … After signing him to a free agent contract last summer, the Pistons barely played Boban Marjanovic. That’s expected to change soon … Karl-Anthony Towns is getting lots of love from Madison Avenue so soon.