After two years plagued by inconsistency, Bobby Portis began his third NBA season by breaking Nikola Mirotic’s face in practice. Portis received an eight-game suspension for his transgression, a seemingly bad omen for a player hoping to get his career on the right track.
The Bulls stuck by Portis, though, and he responded by taking a legitimate step forward in 2017-18. He averaged a career-high 13.2 points, 6.8 rebounds and 1.7 assists in 22.4 minutes per game, all while shooting a stellar 47.1 percent from the field and 35.9 percent from 3 for a career-high 54.8 true shooting percentage.
Ironically enough, Portis and Mirotic teamed together to form a dynamic duo off the bench after Niko returned from his busted face, helping the Bulls to a December hot streak after their tanktastic start. Even after Mirotic was traded, Portis continued to shine and flex on bums, resulting in a few more wins than fans may have hoped.
Bobby Portis Time became a thing this year, though sometimes too often given the circumstances, and now he’s eligible for a contract extension this summer. NBC Sports’ Vincent Goodwill reported back in March that the two sides would discuss an extension, and Portis himself confirmed this week that talks have been ongoing, per Bob Holt of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette:
“We’ve been talking about it for about a month now,” Portis said of an extension. “Hopefully we can come to terms.
”I feel like I’ve put myself in a great position. They know what they’re going to get out of me each and every day. I come to the gym early and leave late.
”I feel like we’ll get everything worked out. But, if not, I’ll play my fourth year and still try to ball out as much as possible. It’s been a fun ride, and hopefully I can keep riding this thing out.”
Should the Bulls make a long-term commitment to Portis? Let’s take a look back at his season and a look ahead at where he may fit with the roster moving forward.
Portis has been known as a chucker, and this year he certainly shot his shot ... a lot. He got up over 11 shots per game in those 22.4 minutes per contest, placing him 33rd in field goal attempts per 36 minutes among players who played over 20 minutes per game. His 54.8 TS% put him slightly below league average overall.
Still, Portis’ offensive versatility as a big man provided a lift to a largely terrible Bulls offense. Chicago scored 106.1 points per 100 possessions with Portis on the floor, per NBA.com, by far the highest mark on the team for players who played at least 1,000 minutes. The Bulls had a 97.8 offensive rating with him on the bench.
Portis’ ability to space the floor was key. Not only did he shoot a solid 35.9 percent from 3 on over three attempts per game, but he also made it rain from mid-range:
Portis made a killing from the two least efficient areas of the court. While that may not feel sustainable, he is over 40 percent from 16 feet and out in all three of his seasons. He’s a stellar pick-and-pop option and also showed a nice touch on in-between shots closer to the bucket.
Portis’ hook shot was a key weapon on those in-between shots, and it helped him be a reasonably effective post-up option. His 0.93 points per possession on post-ups led the Bulls and ranked in the 66.7 percentile league-wide, according to NBA.com’s Synergy data. Even when he can’t back defenders down all the way to the rim, he has nice touch with either hand to hook shots in from outside the restricted area:
Portis’ numbers at the rim weren’t nearly as good as they were last year (67.6 percent in 2016-17), but he clearly has the ability to finish down there.
Portis’ activity also created extra possessions for the Bulls in the form of 2.2 offensive boards per game. And, despite his reputation as a gunner, Portis did make strides as a playmaker. His assist percentage jumped from a puny 5.7 percent in 2016-17 to 13.2 percent this season. While he may not ever ben known for his passing, diversifying his game and at least showing a knack for occasionally making the right play instead of simply firing away all the time represented a step forward.
While Portis is a spark plug offensively, his defense holds him back. He’s a capable rebounder but struggles in most other aspects on that end of the floor. The Bulls allowed over 109 points per 100 possessions with him out there, and his minus-2.16 Defensive Real Plus-Minus placed him dead last among power forwards.
RPM has its problems, but this is a case where the number matches the eye test. Portis isn’t much of a deterrent at the rim and has laughably low block rates for a player of his size. His awareness guarding pick-and-roll is poor and he’s not the most fleet of foot.
That’s not to say Portis can’t become a passable defender. He tries and has some solid physical tools, but so far he simply hasn’t been any good.
The Future Fit
Right now, Portis looks like a good sixth man. He comes in, brings energy and gets buckets, but his defense leaves a lot to be desired and limits the amount of time he can stay on the floor. Portis and Lauri Markkanen can form a dangerous offensive duo with their ability to space the floor, but it doesn’t look like a viable long-term option given the defensive concerns (111.1 DRtg in 330 minutes this year).
So, considering this, we revisit the question about the Bulls making a long-term commitment. Unless the Bulls can get a hometown discount (maybe slightly more than Felicio money?), I’d be hesitant to hand out an extension based off one solid season when the Bulls were mostly awful. Yes, he helped the Bulls win more games than expected and clearly has value, but I still have questions about him being a consistent contributor to a contender.
Portis has talked about how much he loves Chicago, though I still would be a bit surprised if he accepted a discount (at least a significant one) on an extension. A strong 2018-19 campaign would put him in position for a 2019 payday when there’s more money to spend around the league.
I have seen some people suggest the Bulls should sell high on Portis and use him to try to move up in the draft. I wouldn’t be opposed to that given where the Bulls are in their rebuild and his likely future status as “just” a valuable bench guy, but I definitely don’t want to toss him away.
I’m still not the biggest Portis fan in the world, but I’m more than happy to keep him around and see if he can take another step next season. The Bulls shouldn’t rush into an extension, but a deal at the right price could make sense. If he continues to improve that contract could look good and even be a valuable trade piece down the line if there are opportunities to move him for something better. Either way, what once looked like a busted draft pick at No. 22 is now looking like a hit.