SAN FRANCISCO – As last season closed on the Warriors, it was logical to project Jordan Poole as their 2021-22 X-factor. He took an appreciable leap, becoming a factor, and the question was whether he could become a fixture.
Poole answered that question over the summer and into training camp. He’s making a spirited bid to start at shooting guard on a temporary basis, until Klay Thompson is deemed ready to return. Poole has elevated out of X-factor status and become a fixture.
That X-factor designation now belongs to Otto Porter Jr. History suggests he will wear it throughout the season.
If he stays healthy, plays maybe 70-75 games, he’s a blessing on the cheap.
If he spends the season navigating injuries that shuttle him in and out of the rotation, the Warriors, as currently constructed, might not be equipped to offset his absences.
“If Otto can continue to build his conditioning, his health – it’s been a tough couple years for him, so staying healthy is the biggest thing – the guy knows how to play and shoots the hell out of the ball,” coach Steve Kerr said Wednesday, after a 118-116 preseason win over Denver. “It’s fun to have him out there.”
Porter torched the Nuggets for 15 points (5-of-7 from the field, 4-of-6 from distance), while grabbing a team-high nine rebounds in 19 minutes. This followed a game Monday in Portland, where he scored 19 points in 18 minutes, including 4-of-7 from deep.
Indeed, Porter’s floor-stretching presence is high on the list of reasons Kerr is further emphasizing spacing and encouraging more 3-point shots than previously.
“That’s what I’m here for,” Porter said of his 3-point shooting, particularly from the corners. “I take pride in that, and I work on it every day because it’s a shot you’ve got to have. You’ve got to have that corner 3, especially on this team, when we’re getting it out, spacing the floor. The ball movement, that’s corner shot’s going to be there.”
Porter is something of a 3-point-shooting specialist – he makes them in his sleep, maybe even with his eyes closed – but there is more to him than that. Nine rebounds in 19 minutes? That’s more than solid. It’s his presence, though, that can make a massive impact. There was one play in particular late in the first half Wednesday that illustrated how much Porter helps the offense simply by being on the floor.
Inside the final 30 seconds of the half, Andrew Wiggins dribbled into the paint and flicked a pass to an open Porter in the corner. As defenders closed, Porter whipped a pass to Stephen Curry, who had time to breathe and set and fire. He drilled the shot with three seconds left in the half.
“Two guys actually came to guys actually came to me, thinking I was going to make the shot,” Porter said. “But I looked. They left Steph wide open. For me? OK. But, Steph? You’re going to leave him open? Bad idea, buddy.”
Well, yes. But that’s the kind of respect a great shooter like Porter has earned. In his last two back-to-back healthy seasons, with the Wizards from 2016-18, he shot 43.7 percent beyond the arc. He ranked fourth in 3-point percentage in 2016-17 and was third the next season.
In each season, Porter shot a higher percentage than Klay Thompson and Curry.
“There’s a reason Otto has done what he’s done in this league,” Kerr said. “There’s a reason he signed that big contract years ago. He can really play. He shoots the ball well. He’s got great feel. He moves the ball out of the pocket when he gets. He’s really just a good basketball player and a great fit for us.”
The “big contract,” signed in July 2017, was worth $106.5 million over four years. Porter was 23, a budding star. Until an assortment of injuries derailed him.
Porter’s Warriors contract is worth $2.39 million for one season. He was available as a bargain because he missed 26 games in 2018-19, 54 games the following season and 44 games last season.
Thus, the X-factor tag. There’s the mystery element, with the team’s potential hanging in the balance. The question for Porter is whether he can stay healthy. He’s equipped with answers for any other questions.