A college player who isn't an elite athlete is frequently labeled as one with limited upside. The same is true for those who are bad at nothing, but also brilliant at nothing. To wrap up the final cliché that applies to Bobby Portis, is the fact that college players who spend more than one year in school, usually has his weaknesses under the microscope, instead of his strengths.
These old sayings must have been slung around in plenty of draft day war rooms last month, when Portis went 22nd to the Bulls. It's literally the only explanation as to how Portis slipped that far, and was selected about ten spots lower than he could have been. Take a look at these two sophomore statlines, albeit with the notion that Player B played in the Big 12, and not the SEC.
17.5 points - 8.9 rebounds - 1.4 blocks - 1.6 turnovers - 29.9 minutes
15.0 points - 9.2 rebounds - 2.0 blocks - 1.6 turnovers - 33.7 minutes
Stats, obviously, aren't everything. Intangibles in form of attitude, intensity, role, responsibilities, and leadership qualities are of even more importance, especially when making the leap to the NBA. However, it's difficult to point a finger towards Portis for lacking in any of these areas. His intensity is, well, this, and his attitude is summed up with one of his own quotes:
“Because 18 to 19 years from now, when you look at the players in this draft, they’re going to say Bobby Portis [was] the best player in this draft,” Portis said confidently. “I think I’m one of the best kept secrets in the draft.”
His measuring stick? Kevin Garnett.
He was the leading scorer and rebounder on the Razorbacks last season, and served as the team's sparkplug with head coach Mike Anderson stating that Portis plays with a motor that's "on fire". That speaks volumes to not just his role, but responsibilities in terms of being counted on to receive, and produce, on a team-leading 12.9 shot attempts a night.
Player B is LaMarcus Aldridge, by the way.
I'm not going to project Portis as the second coming of neither Garnett or Aldridge, but I'm saying his combination in production, and mentality is special. The similarity in production to Aldridge, while roughly sharing a similar set of skills, is further optimistic given an otherwise uninspiring draft position at #22. As was evident in Summer League, Portis works for every inch when at an athletic disadvantage. He runs the floor extremely hard, is able to step back and shoot over defenders, goes to the low block when he's got a mismatch, and generally understands what qualifies as good opportunities. That sort of clever thinking is what turned Paul Pierce into a perennial All-Star, while not gifted with Vince Carter-esque jumping abilities either. It's the sort of understanding that usually has role players carve out ten-year careers, which further decreases the bust factor on Portis, as he appears as likely as anyone to become at least that. At an agile 6'11, and with a jump shot and defensive interest, it's difficult to not project that.
But moreso than that, is the security you have in him. Despite a 26.7% usage rate, Portis coughed the ball up just 1.6 times a game. He had 56 turnovers to 466 shots and 42 assists, not even counting the times he was fouled. His TO% at 9.4% was third-best in the entire SEC, behind Aaron Harrison and Jon Horford. In that Top 10, only Portis and Horford were big men. A big who doesn't turn the ball over much - ironically, like LaMarcus Aldridge - is a huge premium.
Additionally, going through the rankings of the SEC, to which Portis won Player Of the Year, you'll see him place 2nd in points a game, 4th in rebounds, 7th in blocks, 2nd in PER, 3rd in eFG%, 7th in TS%, 3rd in offensive rebounding percentage, 7th in defensive rebounding percentage, 3rd in total rebounding percentage, 13th in block percentage, 9th in usage percentage, 3rd in offensive rating, 2nd in win shares, and not even ranking on the minutes played per game list.
In short, Portis produced at a ridiculous level given his minutes, suggesting not just a high level of activity, but an effective one.
This of course doesn't guarantee fulfilled potential, but it helps lift the floor to very optimistic heights. In particular, Portis fits the description of the new era center who has to be agile, versatile, can hit jump shots and make plays. That alone plays a big part in Portis fitting in with the new game, while presenting him with an opportunity to become a part of the new big man.
Everyone can be a bust. So I'd be foolish to exclude Portis from such a scenario. Having said that, everything about the kid screams otherwise.
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