Frankly, the 2015-16 Bulls have been pretty flat. There's just not a whole lot there to inspire confidence in the bigger picture. Most everything feels inconsequential if not entirely predictable, but that's more a byproduct of an inactive front office than anything else, which is a conversation for another day. However, the one thing Gar Forman and John Paxson do have a knack for is drafting. While the the jury is still out on their reputation at large -- hard to ignore blatant misses like Marquis Teague and Tony Snell -- GarPax seem to have found another late round gem in Bobby Portis.
Many considered Portis falling to the Bulls at pick No. 22 pretty fortunate, but that might be more a testament to the strength of Portis' draft class. Nevertheless, the Bulls did the right thing by selecting the best player available with Portis on the board. For an ultra-conservative franchise, going Best Player Available over Drafting For Need was a pretty big deal, and not one anyone could've anticipated. Especially when you factor in how badly the team needs a backup point guard and athleticism on the wing.
Still, the Portis pick didn't scream no-brainer when the composition of the roster was clearly frontcourt heavy. How would Portis get minutes with Pau Gasol being contractually obligated to play entire first quarters and about 30 minutes a game? If the team planned on offering any defensive resistance at all, then Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson would need major burn. And that's all before mentioning that the Bulls lone personification of modern day basketball, Nikola Mirotic, absolutely had to be on the floor. In retrospect, things were cramped and mostly out of Portis' control.
Of course, as the season has run its course, some of these obstructions to Portis' playing time have taken care of themselves. An injury was inevitable, and unfortunately it had to be Jo. (Doesn't seem like a coincidence that the defense has gone completely to hell since Noah went down, but that's neither here nor there). Mirotic didn't make the leap most had expected, and an appendectomy gone wrong -- only the Bulls, right? -- forced him out of action for a month.
One way or another Bobby Portis started playing and people started taking notice. It's hard not to notice a near 7-footer with a sweet jump shot and fiercely intense eyes. In many ways, Portis just fit the fabric of what the Bulls
used to represent. He treats every minute on the floor like it might be his last, and that's an infectious, lovable trait. Quite frankly, the organization needs more people -- not necessarily players even, just people in a general sense -- that approach basketball like Bobby Portis does. It's unquantifiable, but it's by far the best thing Portis has going for him.
As for the quantifiable things, to this point, Portis has earned himself over 700 NBA minutes, which is about the mark where a sample size is large enough to gather real calculations. Unfortunately, there are some things that are fairly concerning. For example, per Basketball Reference, about 25 percent of Portis' total shots come from at least 16-feet (non 3s) away from the basket, which, in others words, is the dreaded long 2. And even worse, only 29 percent of his total shots are coming at the rim. In contrast, Mirotic is at nearly a 50/50 split for his career in terms of percentage of shots at the rim and from 3-point range. Sometimes, where a player's shots are coming from can be more useful than simply looking at shooting splits.
In layman's terms, Mirotic is the example of a player who, in practice, is taking the most desirable shots on the court. Of course, if one were to watch Mirotic long enough, they would soon realize that Mirotic is bad at actually making shots, which sort of nullifies the fact he takes the smartest of the available opportunities. Portis, however, does not take nearly enough 3s nor does he get to the foul line enough -- he basically never gets fouled, which is an issue unto itself -- in order to compensate for his less than ideal shot selection. In 300 more minutes, Mirotic (120) has nearly tripled the amount of free throw attempts Portis (43) has this season despite Mirotic's free throw rate taking a pretty dramatic dive this season.
Additionally, Portis really needs to learn how to pass. If he can find a way to channel his aggressiveness into playmaking, it'd open up so many more elements to his game. Not to say that's an easy fix as he doesn't possess the handle, vision or ball skills that Mirotic does, but it's an area of his game that could stand to improve. There's nothing wrong with being a shoot-first player, but Portis doesn't seem to even entertain the idea of passing until it's far too late. The good news, though, is that it's not uncommon for rookies to predetermine their decisions. Passing is a feel thing, it comes with time and, if properly harnessed to the tune of an offensive system, can be developed.
Speaking of offensive system, it seems rather obvious that Portis fits Fred Hoiberg's ideals more so than, say, Pau Gasol. Portis is mobile and active; Gasol is neither. In a world where small ball has become the ultimate ace in the hole, it appears Portis' best days might eventually come at the 5 position. Behind drafting a star, the small ball center is perhaps the rarest and most treasured of all commodities, which bodes well for Portis' potential usefulness in the league.
However, almost counterintuitively, the key to being afforded the luxury of playing small is defense, not offense. With Portis, defense is an area where he needs major work. The team is 5.7 points worse per 100 possessions with Portis on the floor, per NBA.com. He has some great tools to work with, though. For one, as I alluded to earlier, he has a gift in terms of effort, energy and tenacity. He seems extremely coachable, and if you don't think that matters then you're only kidding yourself. Also, he's a physical player equipped with a long wing span. That combination generally translates into positive things even if he's not an athlete like Wilie Cauley-Stein.
All said, Portis is one of the few players the Bulls have that generates some excitement, both in the long-term and the short view. In my opinion, if Hoiberg had his way and didn't have to manage certain egos, Portis would've received more minutes earlier on in the season (he only played in six games prior to Christmas) and he would've been inserted into the rotation sooner.
The kid just turned 21, and while I do think some fans and writers have mistaken Portis' temperament for his production, there most certainly is a lot to be excited about. Like, simply put, he's not a good player yet, but if I had to bet on him figuring it out, I'd feel confident that he gets there. And for what it's worth, he's someone you want to root for. He'll likely be a cornerstone in the next era of Bulls basketball which, believe it or not, is coming sooner rather than later.