Five games into this season I was singing the #FreeBobbyPortis tune, seeing as though his abilities could help the lackluster start from the Bulls frontcourt cluster. Eventually, due to a string of early strong performances, combined with a slew of injuries to key members, Portis found himself in the regular frontcourt rotation in mid-December. Since then, and in what could be used to describe the Bulls season in a nutshell, Portis' play has been inconsistent.
Unless you're one of the few gifted rookies that come around once every few years, ups and downs are part of the game for any first year player. On the season, Portis is currently putting up averages of 7 PPG, 4.6 RPG, on 44.9% shooting from the field and 28% from three in just over 16 MPG. In looking at his advanced metrics, they don't provide a better picture for Portis. Of rookies seeing 15 or more minutes per game and having appeared in at least 30 games, his offensive rating is 16th out of 20 at 97.7, while his defensive rating is 19th at 109.4. His overall net rating is the second worst only behind Philadelphia's Jahlil Okafor, at -11.7.
Defensively while it may be attributed to the lineups in which he's played in, his 109.4 defensive rating is staggeringly high. Yet, it cannot be unexpected given that Portis is in fact, a rookie. For all first year players in the NBA, the defensive side of the ball is the one area where most struggle, sometimes for many years before fully grasping the nuances. With the drastic change in the speed of the game, combined with the terminology, schemes and system, it's a vast amount of information to digest.
Furthermore, in what doesn't appear on stat sheets is the jump in physicality from college to the NBA. Where Portis tends to get himself in trouble is getting pushed underneath the basket whilst rebounding, allowing the opponent to get adequate position. In addition, because of Portis' strength (or lack thereof), being able to withstand opponents of the same size or larger in post-up situations or on the drive has been difficult.
And thus, this is where we find Portis currently in the midst of. The physicality of the NBA, understanding which rotations to make, when to make those, reading the pick-and-roll are all things which Portis is still learning to read. It'll take time for him, but the good thing is he's getting consistent playing time now and that'll help his learning curve for the long run.
Although all is not completely lost in the early goings for Portis, as he has shown some varying signs of promise on the defensive end. Of rookies having appeared in at least 30 games this season, Porits has the best percentage point differential (which is the difference between the normal FG% of a shooter throughout the season and the FG% when the defensive player is guarding the shooter). The average field goal percentage of the player that Portis usually defends is 44.7%, however when guarded by Portis, that number drops to 38.6%, a -6.1% differential, per NBA.com/Stats.
Portis has shown that he has the agility to defend quicker, smaller opponents as showcased in last month's contest against the Cleveland Cavaliers:
Even while he's struggled in defending the PnR, there too Portis has shown the ability to defend:
Portis and Jimmy Butler successfully defend the LeBron James and Tristan Thompson PnR, forcing James into a contested shot from an area in which he's shooting 28.4% from. Yes, Portis' defense overall hasn't been ideal, but there have been signs of optimism on that end.
As far as the opposite end of the spectrum, again, it's a give and take scenario with Portis. For someone who shot the ball well during Summer League and preseason, he's fighting for consistency during the regular season, as seen in his shot chart:
Portis isn't shy by no means offensively, looking for his shot more times than. Which, while it's great that he's been aggressive, you also want him to be smart with the shots that he is taking. He has a tendency when he receives the ball, to look for his shot almost immediately, instead of surveying the floor and possibly working to get himself or more importantly a teammate a better shot. Though given the Bulls immense struggles on that end of the floor, you can't pigeonhole him too much for his shot selection.
But it should be noted, that when Portis slows himself down, he's shown the ability to score in a variety of ways; spotting up, in the pick-and-pop (huge plus here), facing up his defender or from the block:
On this particular play, there's so much beauty from Portis. He starts off setting the on-ball screen, then moves his way down to the left block where seals his defender with a wide base looking for the ball. Taking his time, Portis gives his defender two rhythm dribbles for effectively executing the drop step into a hook shot and an and-1 opportunity.
Going back to strength and in conjunction with his post-ups, Portis has a tendency to get pushed off the block in turn forcing him further away from the basket, limiting the possibilities of an efficient play (Portis is scoring 0.74 points per possession on post-ups, which is in the 31.4 percentile, per NBA.com/Stats). But, as Portis continues to get stronger this offseason and beyond, post-up opportunities as presented above will become more commonplace.
Even more, Portis has shown to have a knack for offensive rebounding. Among rookies who've played in at least 30 games, seeing 15 or more minutes per game, Portis is sixth in offensive rebounding at 1.7 per game, 1.1 of those coming in as contested offensive rebounds, per NBA.com/Stats. Portis having a keen sense for offensive rebounding is such a valuable asset, as it can provide the offense with extra possessions.
Continuing along this theme of positive reinforcement offensively from Portis, he's also shown to have a very good understanding of when to set screens and how to position himself:
Here, Portis sees a great opportunity to set a drag screen for Kirk Hinrich, a staple of Hoiball, as the ball crosses halfcourt. It's these type of subtle plays that showcase Portis' growing basketball IQ. And moving into the second half of the season, keep an eye on when Portis and Doug McDermott share the floor together. Whereas before, McDermott and Joakim Noah had built a formidable two-man game, Portis has seemingly begun to step into that fold.
If there is one more critique of Portis on this end, when it does come to setting screens, he has a habit of not making enough contact. Though there are times where slipping the screen is necessary, depending on how the defense is playing the ball, there still needs to be contact more times than not.
As you can see in the two clips above, Portis executes the "Joakim Noah Screen" which is sticking your ass out as a way of bumping the defender off his path. If Portis were to simply step in front with a strong base and put his body on the defender in both clips, it could've made a world of difference. While it's not an enormous issue, it's a small detail that can have a substantial effect on opening up cleaner opportunities for teammates.
To put it simply, it's been inconsistent year so far for rookie Bobby Portis. There have been times throughout where we've seen his potential, but for the most part we've witnessed his struggles. Which to be fair, was expected. Nevertheless, there is a tremendous amount of promise with Portis, and in time, it'll (hopefully) come to fruition.