The wait on Otto Porter Jr. has been a long one, but the early indications are it’s going to be worth it.
Porter Jr. joined the Raptors more than a year ago as a free agent fresh off helping the Golden State Warriors win the 2022 NBA title.
But his Raptors tenure is really only getting started after injuries limited him to just eight games in his first season with the club.
Even this season, the Raptors medical staff has been walking on eggshells around the 30-year old forward and are only now giving him the green light to get into games.
But in the two games he did appear, Porter Jr. is looking very much like an answer to a lot of what ails the Raptors bench unit.
Porter Jr. hasn’t put up big numbers, but he has been involved in two of the more impressive wins this year, starting with 16 minutes in last Wednesday’s win over Milwaukee and then 19 more impactful minutes his second time out of the gate in the win Sunday over San Antonio.
In both games, he has gone 2-for-4 with a pair of triples in each contest. But, with Porter Jr., it’s as much about getting the five-man units he’s playing in organized and playing on a string with his constant communication with teammates getting them in the positions they need to be in, both to improve the offence’s effectiveness and close up the holes on the defensive end.
Porter Jr. does all the things you need from a player, but don’t always see in a boxscore. He’s a tenacious rebounder, but is equally willing to box an opponent out to allow a teammate to corral the loose ball off the rim.
He sets screens and his moves without the ball open lanes for teammates or simply getting himself open. A career 40% three-point shooter, he has to be accounted for by defences and that alone spreads things out for teammates.
Currently both Gary Trent Jr. and rookie Gradey Dick are struggling to find their shooting rhythm. Neither man gets much alone time beyond the arc as teams know both players are capable of getting hot at any time.
Introduce a third three-point threat to that group in Porter Jr. and the looks should be a little more open for Trent Jr. and Dick.
It’s clear coach Darko Rajakovic is still feeling out his bench. He began the year with Trent Jr., Precious Achiuwa, Jalen McDaniels, Malachi Flynn and Dick as his top reserves.
Chris Boucher has appeared in five of the seven games, not seeing the court in the opener and also a DNP in the win over San Antonio.
Achiuwa has been slowed by a groin strain that he injured in training camp and then re-injured once the season began. He has played in just three of the seven games.
Flynn, Trent Jr. and Dick are the only reserves to appear in all three games.
Porter Jr. did not play the second game of a back-to-back after making his debut against Milwaukee last Wednesday, but as long as he’s healthy, he looks like a guy who will get regular minutes.
The question then remains, at whose expense do those minutes come?
It’s unlikely they’re going to cut back on Dick’s time as it appears the decision already has been made that his development is among the priorities.
Achiuwa also seems like a guy the Raptors have settled on for the rotation, assuming he can get and remain healthy.
Trent Jr. is a lock to take one of the three remaining rotation spots, given his ability to change the game with his shot.
That leaves Porter Jr., Boucher and McDaniels for the final two spots, assuming Rajakovic stays with the 10-man rotation — five starters and five players off the bench.
It has been only two games, but we’re already a believer in Porter. And while McDaniels has shown a willingness to do anything, his impact on the outcome of the six games he has appeared in has been minimal.
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His combination of size, speed and athleticism is tough to give up on, but Boucher is a consistent veteran who tends to a light a fire under reluctant teammates when he joins them on the floor.
It’s probably unfair to ask one player to fix an entire bench unit, but the skillset and experience Porter Jr. brings to the court seems to tick a lot of boxes of what that unit needs.
It’s not unfathomable that his mere presence opens things up a little more for Trent Jr. and Dick and they are able to find that elusive rhythm.
Now, if Porter Jr. can only stay healthy, perhaps the Raptors’ biggest weakness (beyond the lack of high-end shooting on the roster) can become an area of strength.