In a quiet offseason predicated mostly on re-signing their own guys and hoping for internal improvement, the splashiest move for the Toronto Raptors so far has been signing Otto Porter jr. to a two-year deal. Porter has had a tumultuous career to this point. Drafted third overall by the Washington Wizards, Porter’s quick ascension from bench warmer to 80-game starter and deadeye shooter earned him a $100 million contract from Washington beginning in 2017. He never lived up to it and quickly was written off as a bust. Injuries plagued him. But Porter has stayed a relevant player, with stops in Chicago and Orlando before settling with the Golden State Warriors last year, where he won a championship. His career has gone from boom to bust to underrated over the course of only a few seasons.
Which brings us to now: Porter remains firmly in the “underrated” camp. He’s 6-foot-8 with a 7-foot-1.5 wingspan. (He’ll fit right into Toronto’s length-and-strength ethos.) But most important for the Raptors, he’s a career 40-percent 3-point shooter with almost 1700 attempts in his career. The Raptors haven’t had a shooter of that quality as a purely spot-up player for some time, and he should dramatically boost some of Toronto’s lineups.
An advanced stats darling, Porter has had elite on/off differentials for the vast majority of his career; his teams have long played better with him on the court than on the bench. On one hand, they’ve done that mostly by committing fewer turnovers and forcing more on the other end — like Thad Young, he’ll fit right into Toronto’s philosophical approach on that alone. But unlike most of Toronto’s bench players, Porter has also had ridiculously positive on/off differentials for his teams’ 3-point accuracy throughout his career.
Much of that is because Porter is a role player who knows his role. He averaged 34.9 touches per game last year — fewer than even OG Anunoby and Gary Trent jr. for the Raptors — and drove less than once a game. It’s cherry picking and sort of meaningless, but here’s a fun stat: Among the 87 players who have ever recorded a season with comparably low usage and turnover rates and a comparably high 3-point percentage, Porter last season recorded the seventh-most win shares of all time. It was a shockingly great know-your-role season for a bit player. Porter is a spot-up shooter first, second, third, fourth (you get it) etc. on offense. The only player Toronto rostered last year who sported a similar combination of low turnovers and efficiency from deep was Trent, and he boasted Toronto’s second-highest on/off differential on the offensive end. The Raptors need spacing like trees need sunlight, and those who provided it were critical last season. Porter should be no different.
Perhaps the only playtype Porter used last year with any consistency beyond spot-up shooting was cutting, and he was extremely solid there. Toronto’s best cutter last season was Chris Boucher, and his abilities were lifesavers on the offensive end. Porter isn’t as dynamic, but he is smart and times everything well, and he has shot 70 percent from within 3 feet over his career. (He was even more efficient last season, but everyone is more efficient at the rim playing alongside Steph Curry.) Porter should be a play finisher for the Raptors, whether behind the arc or at the rim, and the Raptors have dire need of role players who are able to do both.
If the Raptors use him alongside Scottie Barnes and Pascal Siakam on bench lineups, it will give both stars far more maneuverability on the offensive end than they had last year in those transitional groups. Similarly, it will help to maximize Porter himself, who will not be able to carry lineups in any way; he’ll need to be glued to self-creators to be able to add much on the offensive end. When Porter plays alongside funky units including, say, Siakam, Barnes, Boucher, and Young, Toronto’s offensive may be short on spacing, but there should be enough cutting and verve to still remain relevant in the half court. Like paprika, Porter should end up being a key ingredient in more recipes than you’d expect.
On the other end, Porter is basically one more in Toronto’s seemingly endless stable of long ball stealers. He’s had a great steal rate for basically his entire career, and he rarely commits fouls, either. He’s an above-average shot blocker for his position. Perhaps most importantly though, he may be Toronto’s second-best rebounder right off jump street (Pascal Siakam is by a hugely wide margin their best). When the Raptors play units without a glass-eating center (so, you know, all of them), Porter will be crucial in the rebounding-by-committee scheme. He’ll help force turnovers and get them out in transition, but keeping opponents off the glass is almost as significant in unlocking Toronto’s identity. And while Porter is just one of several in forcing turnovers, he may end up one of Toronto’s best three or four defensive rebounders; again, paprika.
Add it all together, and according to FiveThirtyEight’s RAPTOR WAR, Porter has been a positive rotation player for his entire career. He peaked in 2016-17 and 2017-18, when he was a top-25 player in both seasons, but he has never had an unproductive season. He’s long been a productive role player, but he’s arguably never been on a team that needs him as much as this Raptors team. There are shooters, but Fred VanVleet, Trent, Anunoby, and even Precious Achiuwa all like to do something with the ball after catching it. They all like to dribble. Porter, fortunately for Toronto, does not.
That doesn’t mean Porter will be playing 30 minutes a game. He is maybe Toronto’s eighth most talented player, give or take a few. It’s hard to rely so heavily on a player like that. And if a few players pop, it might limit the necessity of Porter. If Barnes becomes a better shooter, that solves a lot of problems on its own. Even if Barnes becomes a better self creator, that would allow Siakam to spend more time off the ball, and he’s a significantly better catch-and-shoot 3-point shooter than you think. If some role player pops as a shooter — Yuta Watanabe, Dalano Banton, Justin Champagnie all come to mind — that also limits Porter’s impact. He’ll likely end up playing in most of Toronto’s games, if not all, and averaging something similar to his 20-25 minutes per game role that he played for the Warriors. But he’ll win his minutes, likely by wild amounts, and he’ll solve a lot of smaller problems that the Raptors struggled to face last season.
That’s not a bad result for a player who isn’t even being paid all of Toronto’s full Mid-Level Exception. In many ways, Porter is more of the same for Toronto — long, defensive-oriented, and low-mistake basketball. But at least he’ll hit some triples. The value of that for a team like the Raptors cannot be overstated.