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What a healthy Otto Porter Jr. can bring to the Warriors

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Porter can be a bargain acquisition for the Warriors, but that is heavily contingent on his ability to stay on the floor.

NBA: Preseason-New Orleans Pelicans at Chicago Bulls Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

It is often said that availability is a player’s best ability — a statement that applies heavily to someone like Otto Porter Jr.

Porter played 80 games during the 2016-17 season, which was followed by 77 games in the 2017-18 season — both of which, to this day, remain his most and 2nd-most played games during the regular season, respectively. It is of no coincidence that both seasons happened to be the best statistical seasons of his career. In 2016-17, he averaged 13.4 points, 6.4 rebounds, and 1.5 assists, on 52/43/83 shooting splits and 62.8% True Shooting. That was followed up by an equally impressive 2017-18 campaign: 14.7 points, 5.1 rebounds, and 2.0 assists, on 50/44/83 shooting splits and 60.2% True Shooting.

In short, when Porter was at his absolute peak — both in skill and in well-being — the man was a walking 50/40/80 basketball machine.

But a gander at his games played during subsequent seasons, however, paints the picture of a career that is seemingly headed toward its nadir, not long after reaching a promising peak. In the three seasons that followed 2017-18, Porter’s games-played count were as follows: 56, 14, 28. Those coincided with Porter accumulating various kinds of lower leg injuries, foot injuries, hip injuries, and — arguably the most debilitating of all — lower-back injuries that hampered his mobility on both ends of the floor.

A quick stat search over the past three seasons shows that Porter’s combined numbers over that period didn’t undergo a significant decline. He still averaged over 12 points a game, on shooting splits of 45/40/80. His scoring efficiency went down by a slight amount: 56.3% True Shooting. But the main concern continued to be health — even if his numbers on paper didn’t precipitously fall, what use were such metrics if he could only muster a combined 98 games over three seasons? Such a series of unfortunate events obstructed Porter from a trajectory approaching that of a high-level role-player, or even a fringe All-Star talent.

Which is probably how the Golden State Warriors were able to obtain Porter using a veteran’s minimum slot, a gamble that could either go extremely well for both him and the Warriors should he even approach the form he displayed five seasons ago — or it could come back to haunt the team, especially if Porter’s injury woes persist. The Warriors’ hopes to contend in a highly competitive Western Conference certainly won’t be made or broken solely by Porter, but the depth he provides as a 3-and-D specialist off the bench is a mouth-watering prospect that would make the former a more palatable situation than the latter.

Porter is a knockdown shooter who would immensely improve the spacing of a team that did not have the requisite floor-stretching personnel to surround its talismanic superstar. He is a career 40.3% shooter, which would slot him beside Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson as the only players on the current roster to average at least 40% on threes for their careers. Unlike Curry and Thompson, however, Porter is not a high-volume sharpshooter, averaging only 3.3 three-point attempts per game throughout his career.

The logical thought progression upon seeing Porter’s low-volume-shooting nature would be to think of him as a purely catch-and-shoot and spot-up operator — a mostly correct assertion. In 2020-21, 90.4% of Porter’s threes were of the catch-and-shoot variety, or 3.4 catch-and-shoot attempts per game. He had a success rate of 41.4% on such shots.

Porter plies his trade effectively as a stationary kick-out target. Possessions that bend and stretch defenses to their rotational limits — such as dribble penetration and short-roll-playmaking possessions — accentuate his talent as a sniper.

Synergy ranked Porter highly in terms of spot-up possessions last season: 1.192 points per possession (PPP). Take note, however, that this was on a low volume of shots, with only 70 spot-up shot attempts being recorded in 25 games with the Chicago Bulls. Go back a few seasons to 2016-17 and on a more representative sample of 292 spot-up attempts, Porter scored 1.310 PPP — 97th percentile. He maintained that excellence the following season: 1.154 PPP on 255 attempts, placing him in the 85th percentile.

Proficient shooting must also involve the mobility factor. Generating chaos and gravity by running around screens, catching the ball, and maintaining or regaining one’s balance are ingredients that are crucial to the makeup of a deadeye marksman. Porter is no different; he slithers around staggered down-screens and has no problems drilling a shot, even with a form that looks slightly askew mid-air. He makes good use of off-ball aids such as flare screens to free himself up for looks, especially against defenders dropping too far back to switch or contest. On occasion, he is a willing screener, either as part of a “double drag” alignment or as a solitary “ghost” screener, often popping out toward unguarded space and creating an open look.

Defenses already have to worry about Curry and Thompson running around screens and creating all sorts of organized chaos; Porter being there to act as another weapon on secondary/weak-side actions isn’t going to make their jobs any easier.

Porter excels as a shooter from any point of the floor. Historically, he is an effective above-the-break shooter, peaking at an incredible 100th percentile in 2016-17 and 2017-18, per Cleaning The Glass. Even with limited minutes and appearances last season, he still posted a respectable 38% on above-the-break threes — 63rd percentile.

Curry and Thompson are both masters at stopping short of the arc in transition and pulling up for threes. Add Porter and Nemanja Bjelica — themselves deadly above-the-break shooters in transition — and it could stretch transition defenses to their limits.

Last season was Porter’s career-high in terms of corner-three percentage, burying 47% of his attempts and placing him in the 84th percentile. He can park himself on the corners with a shrewd pick-and-roll operator handling the ball, and he will punish low-man help and roll-man tags while also being capable of sprinting to corners in transition.

While Porter will most definitely not command a significant chunk of on-ball reps with the Warriors, he has shown flashes of competency as a pick-and-roll ball-handler. He knows how to use ball-screens to his advantage, making sure to run his defender smack right into them, which often frees him up for a mid-range elbow/nail jumper especially against drop coverage. He touts some playmaking and passing ability, thriving on empty-side pick-and-rolls and finding his roll partner with pocket passes and lobs.

Integration within a pass-heavy motion offense with lots of cutting won’t be a difficult process for Porter, even if it seems that the cumulative build-up of injuries over the years has somewhat hampered his mobility. He’s not as spry as he previously was years ago, but that hasn’t affected his willingness to be a cog in a machine with many moving parts.

Passing to cutters seems to be in his wheelhouse...

...as well as being a cutter himself — not through reliance on sheer athleticism or quick bursts of speed, but through deception, timing, and taking advantage of gaps within the defense.

The discussion surrounding his apparent difficulty with mobility isn’t just limited to his movement on offense, but also extends to his effectiveness on the defensive end. On paper, Porter has an excellent defensive profile, headlined by his 6-foot-8 frame and 7-foot-1 wingspan, qualities that should make him effective within the Warriors’ switch-heavy scheme.

Defensive ability is hard to gauge in a statistical manner. Counting stats aren’t wholly representative, while the few advanced stats that measure defensive effectiveness can bring a lot of noise. But based on a few of them — FiveThirty Eight’s defensive RAPTOR (-0.9), Basketball Reference’s defensive BPM (-0.5), and Dunks & Threes’ defensive EPM (-1.2) — Porter was considered neutral to a slight negative on the defensive end last season.

That is a wholly fair assessment. Porter had flashes of brilliance and excellence. His effort is undeniable; when locked-in, he has a motor that drives his persistence. But he also had instances where rickety movement clearly had an effect on his laterality and overall mobility.

Screen navigation, in particular, seemed to be a roller-coaster ride for him. On some possessions, he was able to get past screens to close the distance, while using his long arms to bother shots or garner deflections. But on other possessions, he had difficulty overcoming hard picks, often resulting in playing catch-up to ball-handlers — some of which accentuated his problems with lateral movement.

As an off-ball schematic defender, Porter can hold his own. He is a decent help defender, displaying flashes of effectiveness as the low man on the weak side. He steps up to downhill attackers and can contest shots effectively or even outright block them. He can recover fairly well to his man after tagging rollers, using his length to bother shots and close out effectively. He is rarely caught ball-watching.

What Porter lacks in terms of individual defense, he can make up for as a team defender.

In a manner of speaking, Porter is an amalgamation of the two players he virtually replaced — Kelly Oubre Jr. and Kent Bazemore — in the sense that he can play the role of a switchable wing defender (Oubre and Bazemore) while being able to act as an effective spot-up marksman (Bazemore). But while Porter’s health places some reservations on his ability to be effective as a defender, there is zero doubt that he shoots the ball way better than either Oubre (career 32.6% on threes) or Bazemore (career 35.6%) ever could.

But availability continues to be the operative word. Should Porter keep himself out of injury trouble, he is a worthy addition — and a much needed one, considering how little floor space Curry and the Warriors had to work with — to a roster that is looking to contend for a high playoff seed.