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Almost 18 hours into free agency, the Toronto Raptors had not yet used their mid-level exception to sign anyone, leading to speculation they might have struck out in free agency once again after most of the big names already signed elsewhere. But behind the scenes Masai Ujiri and Bobby Webster were working, doing all they could to bolster the team's depth and ultimately acquire a highly coveted shooter.
Enter 29-year-old forward Otto Porter Jr., who the Raptors signed to a two-year deal on Friday, with the second year being a player option, according to Chris Haynes of Yahoo! Sports. The deal will reportedly eat into the Raptors' non-taxpayer mid-level exception, which can go up to $10.34 million per year, though it remains unclear exactly how much of the MLE Porter’s contract will eat up.
The signing comes after the Raptors retained their two existing free agents, Chris Boucher and Thaddeus Young. Boucher returns to Toronto on a three-year, $35 million deal, while Young agreed to a two-year extension worth $16 million, with incentives tied to performance (the extension part of it is significant because it means he can be traded right away rather than months into the season like Boucher).
The three signings put the Raptors at 12 players on guaranteed deals, with only three remaining roster spots to be split between Dalano Banton, Armoni Brooks, Christian Koloko, Justin Champagnie, Yuta Watanabe, or anyone else the Raptors choose to re-sign. They still could use their bi-annual exception (two-years, $8 million) to bring in another free agent, though that seems unlikely given the roster crunch.
Porter Jr. was the third overall pick in the 2013 NBA draft, starting his career in Washington where he developed alongside Bradley Beal and John Wall, helping the Wizards sweep the Raptors in 2015. However, due to nagging injuries in his foot and his back, Porter has journeyed around the league in recent years, with the Golden State Warriors signing him for the veteran minimum last offseason to rehab his value. The Raptors will become his fifth team in the last six seasons.
Porter was a key figure on the championship-winning Warriors this past season, averaging 8.2 points, 5.7 rebounds and shooting 46.4 percent from the field and 37.0 percent from three in 22.2 minutes per game in the Bay. Most impressively, Porter earned head coach Steve Kerr’s trust as the season went along, starting the final three games of the NBA Finals as the Warriors downsized and brought in Porter for Kevon Looney, where he shot 9-of-16 from three-point range in the series.
That ability to space the floor without giving up much size is exactly why the Raptors targeted Porter in free agency and why he is such a perfect fit for the roster.
Porter is a 39.8 percent three-point shooter over his nine-year career — the best career mark of any Raptor — taking more threes than twos last season as a catch-and-shoot release valve that perfectly complements almost any offensive star. He is a certified floor spacer who has shot 38 percent or better on above-the-break threes in each of the past four seasons, giving the Raptors another real floor spacer to help in the half court, which they desperately needed.
But Porter is more than a shooter, and he is the prototypically versatile forward the Raptors have lusted over in recent years. The 6-foot-9, 200-pound forward can guard multiple positions, sliding his feet fairly well for his size and guarding up a position due to his strength, which allows him to bang with bigger bodies inside. He has a 7-foot-2 wingspan, giving the Raptors eight of their 12 players listed between 6-foot-7 and 6-foot-9 in height with a 7-foot-plus wingspan.
Pascal Siakam: 6-9 with a 7-3 wingspan.
OG Anunoby: 6-7, 7-2 wingspan.
Scottie Barnes: 6-9, 7-2 wingspan.
Precious Achiuwa: 6-8, 7-2 wingspan.
Chris Boucher: 6-9, 7-4 wingspan.
Khem Birch: 6-9, 7-1 wingspan.
Thad Young: 6-8, 7-0 wingspan.
Otto Porter Jr: 6-8, 7-2 wingspan.
— Josh Lewenberg (@JLew1050) July 1, 2022
Porter is not someone who the Raptors are going to run the offence through or ask to create for himself, but he is a good ball-mover, making quick decisions when it comes to him. And he rarely turns the ball over, ranking in the 64th percentile in assist-to-usage percentage and 80th percentile in turnover percentage last season. Plus, Porter is an elite rebounder for his position on both sides of the ball, ranking in the 98th percentile as a defensive rebounder and the 90th percentile as an offensive rebounder last season, shoring up an area of weakness for the Raptors while also doubling down on a strength.
As a veteran with nine years of NBA experience, Porter should be able to fit into the Raptors' defensive system fairly quickly, and his plus-wingspan, quick hands and elite steal rate will give the Raptors another ball hawk to force turnovers and get them on the run, where they are most comfortable.
However, Porter will also help the Raptors in the half court, where they were the 26th most efficient team last season in large part due to their lack of spacing. Porter will be able to spot up on the weak side, giving Pascal Siakam, Scottie Barnes, and Fred VanVleet more room to work inside the paint, as defenders will be very hesitant to cheat off Porter. Siakam and VanVleet in particular will enjoy the added freedom that one more shooter gives them, as they were two of the most double-teamed stars in the league last season and struggled to score in the playoffs with all the defensive attention they received. Plus, Porter's presence should open up lobs for Precious Achiuwa and Koloko.
And then there is the OG Anunoby side of things, as Porter’s ability to spot-up on the weak side should allow Anunoby to branch out from that role and have more freedom to create with the ball in his hands.That should help Anunoby find a bigger role on offence after reportedly being unhappy with his limited role last season.
Porter will likely come off the bench alongside returning free agents Boucher and Young. Those three give the Raptors a nice mix of facilitating, shooting, and size and athleticism to overwhelm opposing benches on defence and on the boards. Add in a centre like Achiuwa or Koloko and either VanVleet, Siakam, Barnes, or even Gary Trent Jr. to run point, and that bench could be really fun, using their overwhelming size to crash the boards and force turnovers and get on the run, but still having the versatility to score in the half court if need be.
Of course, Porter isn’t going to turn the Raptors into championship contenders overnight. But when you look at the Raptors' disappointing history in free agency and the way the first 15 hours of this year's signing frenzy turned out, the Porter addition is a boon for the franchise. In fact, he could be one of their best free agency signings ever — not a difficult list to climb up — if he manages to stay healthy over the course of the season and helps the Raptors in the playoffs.
Porter’s shooting alone will give the Raptors’ star players so much more room to work with next season, while he also bolsters their depth and helps in case of injuries. Add in a sprinkle of championship experience, and what's not to like if you're the Raptors?
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