If the cost of adding a productive two-way player is simply the expiring deals of backup power forwards, it’s a trade you have to make. And so the Bulls did, dealing Jabari Parker and Bobby Portis for Otto Porter Jr., a legitimate starting-caliber small forward.
Porter has the tools. Boasting a 39.9 percent 3-point percentage and a positive defensive box plus-minus throughout his career, Porter developed from a underwhelming number-3 selection in the draft to one of the best 3 and D options in the league.
Porter is still entering his prime, only nine months older than Kris Dunn in his age-25 season. But while he’s the archetype of the type of player the Bulls need, is it a case of being the right player at the wrong time?
It could be that Porter is better suited as a complimentary piece to a playoff contender, not a piece of a rebuilding ‘core’.
In Washington, as a third option behind All-Star guards John Wall and Bradley Beal, the Wizards’ offense utilised Porter as one its primary catch-and-shoot options — 66.8 percent and 94.3 percent of Porter’s 2-point and 3-point field goals, respectively, have been assisted throughout his career.
The role in the Bulls team hierarchy is somewhat similar, as he’d be behind Zach LaVine and Lauri Markkanen in usage. But unlike the situation in Washington, these Bulls ‘foundational pieces’ are still developing on their own and as a team are struggling through a disjointed rebuild. So where it was once possible for Porter to act as an elite role player on the Wizards, he may be asked to be something more for the Bulls. And he may not be up to the task.
Used primarily as a floor spacing threat, perhaps there is scope for the six-year veteran to expand his offensive repertoire in Chicago. Thus far, however, Porter has shown little signs of morphing into a more rounded offensive player, posting extremely low assist percentage and free throw rate numbers in each of his seasons since entering the league.
Focusing on the current season in particular, relative to his new teammates, Porter’s 9.3 percent assist percentage lies comfortably between Portis and Justin Holiday, two players renowned for their tunnel vision and limited ability as passers.
Unable to create for others, Porter also hasn’t proven to be a player capable of working his way to the free throw line — only 9.5 percent of his points have come from the free throw line this season. Comparing that to the rest of the Bulls roster, well, it’s not great.
By design, Porter has largely operated as a jump shooter, so it’s unsurprising so few of his points would come from the line. Still, to see his numbers rate so low in these specific areas, should be worried that the Bulls traded for a supercharged version of Justin Holiday?
Porter’s perimeter shooting and defense will undoubtedly provide a flawed rotation the balance it needs. But based on the numbers above, it’s difficult to envision Porter being featured in a more prominent role on offense.
In that sense, Porter’s own flaws are symptomatic of a wider team issue — the Bulls rank 25th and 21st in assist percentage and percentage of points from the free throw line, respectively, this season. Those rankings won’t improve after adding Porter. In fact, it’s possible they slide even further without Portis and Parker.
For Porter to flourish, he’s best placed as a support piece to a high usage, ball-dominant guard capable of orchestrating an offense. For all his other flaws, John Wall was elite at generating open corner-3 attempts for teammates like Porter. And though a shooting guard by trade, Beal was capable of running the offense too.
Looking to Porter’s new team: Dunn and LaVine are similar versions of those players, but definitely worse versions, especially when it comes to playmaking. It’s been a season-long problem where the Bulls have focusing on two young big men without a reliable playmaker. This has only been reinforced now when adding Porter.
Knowingly or not, by committing over $45 million in salary to LaVine and Porter on the perimeter next season, management have placed an even greater premium on fixing the point guard position. They need a better playmaker, and especially after this season it’s difficult to imagine Dunn being the long-term solution. Until they find one, it may impact Porter’s production.
Still, there’s reason for optimism with this move. Especially after trading Holiday, the Bulls have sorely lacked a high volume shooter on the wing. Attempting 36.7 percent of his field goals from three over his career, Porter is that player. With his ability to spread the floor, the Bulls now have a player opposing defenses must respect from distance. Porter, too, has constantly ranked highly in most advanced metrics and peaked last year, suggesting his mere presence in a 5-man unit benefits his team greatly. Here was NBA analytics pioneer Kevin Broom on Porter at the end of last season:
there’s a lot of space to be sub-MVP level and still terrific. That’s the pool in which Porter swims. Critiquing his game is fair. He’s not a great ball handler. He’s not someone who will go one-on-one and take a defender off the dribble. He could be more aggressive looking for his shot. He could be a better on-ball defender. And like every other player in the league, he could do a better job of not getting bodied by LeBron.
Nevertheless, Porter’s production -- at just 24 years of age -- is outstanding. He wasn’t the problem with this season’s Wizards, and he’s not the reason the franchise seems stuck on early playoff exits
It should be mentioned that in that post above there was a lot of analysis in a span of games where Porter performed downright exceptionally - a time when John Wall wasn’t with the team.
Better still, Porter allows for actual positional versatility, not the square-peg-round-hole type that John Paxson had in mind with Jabari Parker. Porter playing at either forward position will allow the Bulls to experiment with smaller lineups, something that wasn’t really plausible before this trade — throwing out a lineup which features LaVine, Hutchison, and Porter running two through four could be fun.
There are valid reasons to question the fit of Porter on a Bulls team that has regressed in year two of its rebuild. But they also paid very little in getting the deal done. The opportunity cost may be a heavier price to pay, considering Porter is owed $55.7 million over the next two seasons and this takes them out of the max free agency game for 2019. But apparently management assessed their past failures and figured better to add Porter now rather than come away empty-handed in the summer again. And, as always, it cost the Bulls a second-round pick.
It won’t be a seamless transition, and Otto Porter may see his production wane with less-stable guard play around him. But turning a botched experiment (Parker) and soon-to-be costly free agent (Portis) into a capable two-way player in his prime is good value.