HANG TIME SOUTHWEST — There’s been a lot of firsts for Washington Wizards first-round draft pick Otto Porter throughout his basketball career, and when he takes the floor on opening night, he’ll knock off more than just his first NBA game.
It appears he will also become the first Otto to play in the NBA in the league’s more than 60 years of existence.
There is a small asterisk attached to that statement. There was, of course, Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback Otto Graham, who won the 1946 National Basketball League championship in his lone season with the Rochester Royals before coach Paul Brown recruited him to lead the Cleveland Browns to pigskin glory. Before Graham came Otto Kolar, a guard-forward who averaged 5.1 ppg from 1938-42 with the NBL’s Sheboygan Redskins and Chicago Bruins, according to Basketball-reference.com. For the purists, call Otto Porter Jr., the first modern-day Otto.
“Really, Otto is supposed to be a last name,” Porter said. “But I got it as a first name.”
Otto as a first name peaked in this country in the late 1800s and early 1900s, and perhaps its rarity now is appropriate for a person as unique as Porter. These days his name is about as uncommon as was his path to the NBA. Porter played high school basketball at the same tiny school as his father, Otto Porter Sr., in rural Sikeston, Mo., about 145 miles removed from the city courts of St. Louis. Porter Sr. never allowed his son to play AAU ball, a major-college pipeline and virtual rite of passage for nearly every elite-level player.
All his life, the only other Otto that Otto Porter Jr., has come across is Otto Porter Sr. Across the sports world, there have been a few, none as legendary as the Cleveland Browns quarterback. And the majority suited up or coached in the first half of the 20th century. There are exceptions such as Otto Linwood, a defensive lineman for Miami (OH) from 2005-06, and Army quarterback/defensive back Otto Leone from 1987-90.
“I really don’t know how grandpa gave him his name,” Porter Jr., said during a phone interview with NBA.com on Tuesday following a workout as he counts down the days to the start of the Wizards’ first training-camp practice on Saturday. “People always do want to know what it means. They’re fascinated by it.”
Otto is of Germanic origin and it means “wealth.”
The Wizards, in selecting the 6-foot-8, 198-pound forward from neighbor Georgetown at No. 3, believe they acquired a wealth of talent that won’t take long to bloom. Washington certainly could have selected potential franchise-changing center Nerlens Noel, but considered Porter to be a perfect complement at small forward — long, lanky, can defend and potentially shoot the 3 — to its young and brimming backcourt of point guard John Wall, the No. 1 pick in 2010, and St. Louis-native Bradley Beal, the No. 3 pick in 2012.
“I feel like I can definitely help a team that’s on the upswing and turning things around, that needs an extra push,” said Porter, a 2012-13 consensus All-America who averaged 16.2 ppg, 7.5 rpg and 2.7 apg. “But all said and done, I’m here to help this organization win games. They’re going to continue to work harder and push and I’m going to come in and help with that as far as helping these guys get over the hump.”
That Porter, who boasts an impressive 7-foot-1 wing span, will play his NBA games at the Verizon Center, the same arena his Hoyas played their home games, has only eased his initial transition. Outside of Summer League and a brief stop back home, Porter, 20, spent the entire summer in D.C. He’d stop by Georgetown to visit friends and coach John Thompson III, but he spent most of his time working with Washington’s coaching staff and working out with Wall, Beal and other new teammates who seem to finally at least have reason to turn a cautious eye toward the playoffs.
The Wizards finished 29-53 last season, tied for 11th in the Eastern Conference, and nine games removed from the eighth playoff spot. But that comes with a rather large asterisk. With Wall out recovering from a knee injury, Washington started 0-12 and then 5-28 without him. Before a six-game losing skid to end the season, the Wizards were playing better than .500 basketball with Wall playing sensationally.
The East got tougher at the top, but the bottom three or four playoff spots could be a wild, wide-open race. Emeka Okafor‘s neck injury last week didn’t help the Wizards’ fragile frontcourt situation, but it’s not as if this group hasn’t dealt with injury before.
“The guys have a great attitude, they’re coming in and working hard,” Porter said. “They’ve seen how far they’ve come, so their work ethic just rose another level. Just playing with them, their focus, they’re working to change this organization around.”
Their newest addition plans to be a big part of a long push. If he’s successful, Otto might again become a household name.