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Whither Bobby Portis?

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time is not on Portis’s side when it comes to getting minutes

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NBA: Chicago Bulls at Los Angeles Lakers Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

After a decent rookie year where he averaged 17.8 minutes and 7.0 points per game, Bobby Portis has suddenly found himself on the outside looking in when it comes to Fred Hoiberg’s rotation. His development has taken a major step back during his second season in the NBA, going from a backup power forward role to playing a combined total of 2:39 in the past five games.

When he was drafted, Portis was expected to be a spark off the bench for the Bulls and maybe the future at the power forward spot. Now in his second season, he can’t get any real game minutes but there is still time for him to fix it.

Offense

Coming out of college, it was clear that offense was the better side of the court for Portis. He showed that his rookie season, shooting an eFG% of 44.5 from the field and shot 58.6% from shots at the rim, a place where a majority of his shots came from. Portis has to the tools to be a good post player for Chicago but he has to make some tweaks to his game to become more efficient offensively. Last season, Portis has the 3rd worst offensive box plus/minus on the entire team at -2.4. That number needs to improve quickly.

Portis has a really fast motor and his energy is really nice to watch. Especially on the boards, where he was 4th on the entire team last year in terms of total rebound percentage at 16.1. His constant energy allows him to get 50-50 balls and be there to clean up misses.

Although it was in transition and it helped that Doug McDermott cleared some defenders with his drive to the hoop, it was a fairly impressive one-handed putback by Portis.

His constant energy can sometimes work against him, however. When it comes to offensive decision making, Portis is one of the worst on the Bulls. The ball movement literally stops when he gets the rock as explained by the Athletic’s Stephen Noh last February:

He passes out of the post only 12.5 percent of the time (the other Bulls bigs pass out of around 30 percent of their post-ups). In short, he’s a black hole whenever he touches the ball in the post.

Portis loves to go isolation. Last season he went iso in 8.5% of his total plays last year, only behind Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler respectively. But Portis only scored 0.52 points per possession (PPP), a total significantly lower than both Rose (0.81) and Butler (0.91). Basically, Portis is trying to be something he is not. The video below is a pretty good example.

Here Portis receives the ball with around the three-point line with 18 seconds left on the shot clock, more than enough time to get off a good shot. He gets the ball from Dwyane Wade and has a lot of options he could do with the ball. Rajon Rondo is at the top of the key plus Portis can possibly give the ball back to Wade in a dribble handoff situation. But instead, he chooses to drive into the lane and take a contested fadeaway jumper. Not the best shot the Bulls or Portis could have created in that scenario.

In situations like that, Portis has to be smarter and think about creating the best shot. These are the times where he his motor and wanting to play at full speed all the time hurt him. He has to take some time, slow down, and make the right decision. That decision making also plays into his shooting. Portis has developed a solid outside shot and has become a semi 3-point threat. But he needs to be smart when taking those shots as well. He can’t be jacking up three’s whenever he gets the chance.

Defense

The defensive side of the ball has been a struggle for Portis. Last year he registered a defensive box plus/minus of -0.9, 6th lowest on the Bulls. When you consider that two of the top six didn’t play more than 1000 minutes total over the season (Hinrich and Dunleavy), it puts his defensive in more of a bad light.

He’s a liability when it comes to protecting the rim, often resorting to fouling to stop a drive to the hoop. He also struggles when it comes to sticking in front of his man, especially in pick and roll situations.

When defending post-ups, Portis is strong and does decently when it comes to sticking in front of his man and contesting. He is also very strong on the defensive glass, and averaged a defensive rebounding percentage of 20 last season. He uses his body to shield away defenders and uses his energy to grab loose rebounds.

But he needs to be better all-around defensively if he wants playing time.

In this situation Portis finds himself running towards Lou Williams, who is coming off a pick. As Portis is stepping up, he takes the wrong angle against Williams and finds himself adjacent to the ball handler. By then it’s too late for Portis to even do anything and he has to resort to fouling him. In that situation and like many others, Portis has to be smarter and stay in front of his man.

With his size and energy, Portis has the tools to be a decent defender for Chicago. But like many of Chicago’s young players, he has to learn how to stay in front of his man and make smarter decisions. It will take a lot of effort but he can get there.

The jury is still out on Portis and rightfully so. It’s only his second season but he needs to get better. Cristiano Felicio needs a good backcourt partner to help compliment his game and Portis could be that guy. But he needs to fix a lot of things, including his decision-making on the offensive end and staying in front of his man on defense. He has some time, but it’s running out.