A smart person believes in the Chicago Bulls.
Over at The Ringer, Jonathan Tjarks writes that not only is the Bulls rebuild trending in the right direction, but also that the pre-trade deadline acquisition of Otto Porter Jr. was a critical move for a franchise looking for traction and stability.
There was concern that Porter would be asked to do too much outside the shadow of John Wall and Bradley Beal, but instead he’s blossomed so far. Porter has averaged 22.5 points per game on 62.1/57.9/77.8 shooting splits in four games with the Chicago Bulls. He’s doing this on a usage percentage that is about four percentage points higher than during his time with the Washington Wizards this season.
As Tjarks notes, Porter Jr. is a unique player.
There are not many tall wings who can space the floor and make good decisions with the ball while also being a positive on defense. Porter is one of five 6-foot-8 and taller players this season averaging at least four 3-point attempts, two assists, and one steal per game while shooting higher than 40 percent from the field. The other four are LeBron James, Paul George, Khris Middleton, and Joe Ingles.
Tjarks notes [obviously rightfully so] that Porter Jr. sizzling numbers to start his Bulls career will regress to the mean. But his mere presence on the roster makes everybody else better both now and in the future and that’s why he is so valuable to the rebuild.
It doesn’t matter; the numbers aren’t as important as the potential he unlocks for everyone around him. The threat of Porter’s jumper will still create space for his teammates even after his percentages normalize. Defenses cannot leave him open. Not only does he have a high release point that allows him to shoot over the top of close-outs, he has the ability to shoot off movement. According to the tracking numbers at Synergy Sports, he was in the 66th percentile of players leaguewide when shooting off the dribble in Washington and in the 87th percentile when shooting after coming around screens off the ball. He threatens the defense just by moving around the court, and he won’t take a bad shot once he gets the ball. If they collapse on him, he will find the open man.
As Tjarks notes, Markkanen has averaged 23 points and 14 rebounds per game since Porter Jr. started wearing red and black. LaVine has averaged 23.5 points per game on 55.6 percent from the field and 42.9 percent from 3-point land (all above his season averages). Hypothetically, if Wendell Carter Jr. wasn’t hurt Porter Jr. presence would prevent opponents from clogging up the lanes thus making things easier for him as well. Those are three key guys to the rebuild that have and/or will benefit from the Bulls newest acquisition.
It also helps that Porter Jr. plays defense well, something almost every other Bulls perimeter player hasn’t been able to do this season.
Another reason why Porter is good for the rebuild according to Tjarks is that you get all the all the good things while not affecting the Bulls tanking efforts. The Bulls are currently in 4th position there and are pretty much locked in regardless of Porter’s efforts.
The NBA evened out the lottery odds this season so that even the worst team in the league has only a 14 percent chance of getting the no. 1 overall pick. The Bulls, with the fourth-worst record, are at 12.5 percent. There is little chance they’ll finish lower than fifth, which has a 10.5 percent shot. They have seven fewer wins than the sixth-worst team (the Grizzlies) with 25 games left in the season.
Getting a player like Zion, who can single-handedly change a franchise, is more about luck than losing games. The NBA draft is like any other lottery: there is one winner and a lot of losers. Even winding up at no. 2 overall isn’t always a good thing. The difference in expected value between the no. 1 and no. 2 picks is almost identical to the difference between no. 2 and no. 7. Recent history is littered with no. 2 picks (Evan Turner, Derrick Williams, Michael Beasley, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Parker) who have not lived up to their potential. The Bulls have all the proof they need that it’s more about drafting well than where you draft. Markkanen and Carter were both acquired at no. 7 overall, and each could wind up as top-three players in their respective drafts if they continue to develop.
The Bulls may have been late to this train, and the acquisition of Porter represents another change in direction for a franchise that has had plenty even in this rebuild era. But if Porter ultimately aids the development of his teammates that’d be a huge win for this path.