All through the college basketball season, many fans of the Cleveland Cavaliers had a favorite prospect that seemed to be a perfect fit for the young roster being built around Kyrie Irving. That prospect was Otto Porter. Porter was one of the best players in college basketball for a good team in a good conference. He played a position, small forward, that the Cavaliers needed a deperate fix for. In game threads near the end of the season, each Alonzo Gee blown fast break would usually be followed by a post or two about how good Porter would be Cleveland. Posters on this site, as well as other Cavaliers blogs, went with the screen name Otto Porter. An early tournament exit wasn't enough to dampen the Porter fever; he seemed like an excellent fit for the Cavs, likely picking somewhere between three and five in the NBA draft.
And then the Cavaliers won the lottery. Everything changed. Did it? All through the season, the whispers and rumors were that the Cavs Big Board was Nerlens Noel, Otto Porter, and Alex Len, in that order. While there have been scattered reports and rumors about Victor Oladipo, Ben McLemore, and Anthony Bennett, it actually seems like we are probably pretty close to where we have always been. Is Nerlens Noel's knee alright? Cleveland will take a look on the 20th. Does the team love Porter? Probably, but they might think the top pick is too high, especially when the need for a young center with starting potential is so obvious. Are there members of the organization that think Alex Len has tantalizing potential? It sure looks like it. Is Chris Grant one of them? We don't know.
Otto Porter: Safe, fits a need, and has a lot of upside
I am on the record as saying the Cavaliers don't need a star at small forward to make the playoffs, or be a really good team. You are all sick of hearing me say it, actually. But that doesn't mean I think the idea of a star at the position is a bad one. Porter could be a star, while doing exactly what Cleveland needs him to do to fit with Irving and Dion Waiters. Let's take a look at the measureables first. Porter turned 20 two weeks ago, making him young for a sophomore. He is 6'8.5 with a wingspan at 7'2. Kevin Hetrick has done work over at Cavs: the Blog indicating that height and length is hugely important for small forwards when predicting future success. Porter, at a really young age, already knows how to use his body effectively. He is an excellent passer out of the high post, and elsewhere, using his height to help his excellent court vision. He uses his length defensively to disrupt shots and block passing lanes. His lack of elite quickness is made up for in part because he can afford to give up space to the man he guards- his arms' reach means the buffer he provides isn't used for clean looks. It also helps him defend without fouling.
If there is a measureable that worries me, it is his 198 pound frame. Due to a teammates' injury, Porter spent much of his sophomore season at Georgetown playing power forward, and he carries the promise of being able to play some stretch 4 at the NBA level, similar to what Harrison Barnes did this season. With his passing, he carries even more potential than Barnes. I want to say that in a different way; Harrison Barnes is almost always talked about in terms of potential, while Porter is usually talked about as a safe player. At least in terms of stealing minutes as a power forward, Porter's potential in my view is higher than Barnes. To do this, though, he will have to put on weight. He just turned 20 years old, and will be able to get into an NBA training regimen. It won't happen overnight (see: Zeller, Tyler) but if Porter can play at 210-215 pounds, he won't get muscled by strong small forwards, and will be able to hold his own against more than a few power forwards the league has to offer.
A few things I like
While Porter showed the ability a few times this season to take over basketball games and put the team on his shoulders (he played amazing against Syracuse, earning unprecedented praise from Jim Boeheim) it isn't something he forces. He can play off ball, he can create for others, he is willing to accept a variety of roles, and the consensus is that he is a smart guy. He never played AAU ball, which has helped him stay humble. Too humble, in fact. He compares himself to Tayshaun Prince, who for a period of 6-7 years was a really good NBA player. Porter can be better. He has already shown tremendous growth as a shooter, is a bit more athletic, has a frame that can put on more weight, and should be able to play the point forward role better than Prince ever could. I have a high opinion of Prince; I have a higher opinion of Porter.
While the fact that he could be labeled passive would be a problem for most teams selecting first overall, it wouldn't be for Cleveland. Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters can both create for themselves and others. Porter, if he becomes a proficient three point shooter, could help make each player more efficient. Remember all those open looks Irving got for Luke Walton this season? Substitute Porter in, and swipe out the sound of air as Walton whiffs for the sound of a net splashing. Remember all those great passes Walton made over the course of the season? Porter might not get to Walton's level passing, but it isn't out of the question. Off ball he will be able to cut to the basket and pick off easy baskets. His natural role is as a facilitator. Cleveland would be a wonderful situation.
A few things I don't like
The Cavs need 3 point shooting. Badly. Porter made a huge jump from his freshman year to his sophomore year in 3 point field goal percentage, and I don't know how much I trust it. In 1100 minutes he took 102 of them, which isn't a huge sample size, and shows his game didn't revolve around an outside shot. In Cleveland, it might. His form is less than perfect, and the NBA line is a bit further out than the college line. In time, I think he can become a 38% 3 point shooter. It might take a couple years. He is a hard worker by all accounts, and he likes to win. If he wants to become a great small forward, he will need to be able to shoot. In the mid-range, his shot is quite effective, though all of the advanced analytics coming out downplay the importance of this shot.
He also isn't the world's greatest athlete. As I wrote above, his length mitigates a bit of this. Conrad has noted a scout he is in touch with commenting that Porter's athleticism isn't any worse than Kawhi Leonard's. Chandler Parsons isn't the world's greatest athlete, and neither is Danny Green. If you play smart, play hard, and have Porter's length, being an all-world athlete probably isn't necessary.
Where does that leave him? I think Nerlens Noel, if he is healthy, is sure to become a dominating presence inside, and a passable offensive player. He is in a tier by himself. If Cleveland doesn't want to go that way, though, Porter would be my guy. He affects the game in so many little ways that the Cavs sorely lack. He would be a worthy addition to Cleveland's young core.