Fred Hoiberg has used over 40 different lineups through the Chicago Bulls' first five games of the season. As a first time head coach, it's not uncommon to see someone in Fred's position tinker with numerous lineups as a means of seeing what works and what doesn't early on in the season. However, through these various lineups Hoiberg has used thus far, rookie Bobby Portis' only minutes came in garbage time during Tuesday night's dumpster fire in Charlotte.
Going into the season it was well-known that it would be very difficult for a rookie in Portis to find minutes with the log-jam in the froncourt consisting of Nikola Mirotic, Pau Gasol, Taj Gibson and Joakim Noah. Hell, it would be hard enough for Hoiberg to figure out how to rotate those four bigs let alone try and find time for Portis. But as the season has unfolded in the early start, what we're seeing from the big man rotation is creating some cause for concern.
Our own Chris Terzic put it bluntly:
Welp. Bigs who can shoot hurt the Bulls. Bigs who are athletic hurt the Bulls. Bigs who can post hurt the Bulls.— Chris Terzic (@cterzz) November 4, 2015
Is it time to hit the panic button? Of course not, we're only five games into the season. Hoiberg may mix up the big man rotation soon and try out different pairings. The system is still being learned offensively, and the Bulls are adjusting to a few new elements to their defensive schemes. Nevertheless, there are some signs early on that are worrisome with regards to the Bulls current frontcourt rotation.
But where, and how can a rookie in Bobby Portis help?
For starters, he can bring a shot of life into the rotation. Outside of Mirotic, it's like watching an episode of The Walking Dead. Right now, his youth, energy and tenacity (something Noah could bring on a nightly basis) is sorely missed.
Chicago's current pace of play stands at 101.12 possessions per 48 minutes, which is 16th in the league at this point. For a coach who's system relies on pace, league average isn't ideal. Though Portis thrives in one key area that can improve this, and that's rim-running; an underrated, often overlooked part of the game. Being able to sprint down court, foul line to foul line once the ball is secured, can put the opposing defense on its heals and create advantages for the offense.
Look at Portis bust his ass, sprinting down the floor on the fast break. How many of the current bigs in the regular rotation are doing this?
Even if the result isn't like the one above, having a big do as such puts the defense in a scramble mode, everyone becomes sucked in, and in turn creates open looks for the others running their proper lanes. It's a chain reaction.
Running the floor like Portis does can also help the Bulls get into sets quicker as well. Whereas at times, if the Bulls have to wait for Noah or Gasol to trot back, having a big like Portis already down court would allow the Bulls to get into their offense within the first few seconds of the shot clock. Portis excelled in this realm during July's summer league, but also during the preseason and even last night as we saw. Hoiberg wants to push the pace and be a running team, Portis can push the Bulls one step closer to becoming that.
the current backup bigs have not performed well
the current backup bigs have not performed well
As it stands right now, the Bulls are 26th in rebound percentage overall at 44.7%, 15th in defensive rebounding percentage at 71.8%, and 29th in offensive rebounding percentage at a whopping 16.3%. Gasol is 35, only able to grab uncontested rebounds, meanwhile the recent surgeries to Noah and Gibson have all but zapped their second jumps.
During the Bulls preseason (when Portis received regular minutes), Portis' Per36 numbers were 15.2 rebounds per 36 minutes adjusted, 5.2(!) offensive, 10 defensive. His per100 numbers are even better. Per 100 possessions adjusted, Portis grabbed 20 rebounds, 6.5(!) offensive, with 13.4 defensive. Yes, the phrase "it's only preseason" should be noted, although anyone who watched Portis throughout can tell the kid has a knack for finding the ball. For a team that has and is struggling on the boards, Portis' presence could be refreshing.
Where the Bulls have struggled offensively early on is when either Noah or Taj, more so the combination of the two are on the floor. Neither can stretch the floor with their outside shooting, and Noah's at the point where teams are blatantly ignoring him offensively. Portis can assist in this regard seeing as though he can stretch the floor all the way out to the three point line. He's shown that he's comfortable hitting jumpers out of the pick-and-roll and or pick-and-pop, but also the ability to back up and knock down the NBA three without hesitation. Pairing Portis with either Noah or Taj instead of those two together could help with the spacing issue and offset their shooting weaknesses.
Hoiberg on Portis: "He says practices are his games. He’s getting out there, stirring things up."— K.C. Johnson (@KCJHoop) November 3, 2015
Though what this all comes down to of course is, where will the minutes come from? With the way the rotation is set as of now, it's seems damn near impossible to fit in another big, a rookie at that. And it should be noted that this isn't meant to say Portis should be receiving 15-20 mpg. But Gasol is currently averaging right around 28 minutes per game, which at this stage in his career still might be too much for him. Allocating five of those minutes and using them to pair Portis with both Noah and Taj at various moments to spell that drastic pairing could be a valid option.
For Bobby Portis to fit, someone is going to lose minutes, in which feelings may be hurt. But if the end goal for this team is to succeed come playoff time, sacrifices for the greater good of the team will need to be made. Yes, Portis is a rookie, bound to make rookie mistakes, but he provides strengths to the weaknesses of a Bulls frontcourt showing early signs of struggle.