The potential of Bobby Portis

The potential of Bobby Portis

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.

Portis
17.5 points - 8.9 rebounds - 1.4 blocks - 1.6 turnovers - 29.9 minutes

Player B
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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  • I like what I see in this kid, and his bones are not even hard yet in comparison to the more mature NBA bodies he'll face. I agree that Intangibles in form of attitude, intensity, role, responsibilities, and leadership qualities are of even more importance, especially when making the leap to the NBA. This kid sort of reminds me of Horace Grant when he came to the Bulls--and about 2 years afterward under the tutoring of Charles Oakley he became quite an asset. This kid at this point could effectively play small forward having ability to shoot 3's.
    Who is the big man coach for the Bulls? What plan do they have in place to bring this kid along keeping in mind that he is only 20 years old and very open to learning at the NBA level?
    Portis seems to be the opposite of McD who already seems to think he is a coach and may not be open to being coached by anyone.
    Who is the coach responsible for developing also McD? McD from what I hear already thinks he can coach other players--maybe someone needs to talk seriously to him about focusing on his own career and not coaching the rooks. Its so hard to coach someone who already knows more than the professionals coaching him.

  • What bothers me is that people see the potential in Portis, Miratic, McD and Snell and immediately think about trading Gibson --not realizing the team must also match up defensively and also with experience with Cleveland and other teams and these rooks just don't have experience yet that's needed. So maybe the FO realizes this and has brought the same players back those reasons.
    We keep reading about trades stating that the Chicago Bulls are still looking for some help on the roster at center and players like JaVale McGee, Kevin Seraphin, Greg Stiemsma, Justin Hamilton, Greg Smith or Jeff Withey are potential free agent options heading into camp to help back up Joakim Noah, as Nazr Mohammed is considering retirement and is likely not returning and this comes as the Bulls may consider a Taj Gibson trade this season.
    Trading Taj is not an option until the young players acquire experience.

  • In reply to penwit1:

    So you'd play Taj at PF over Niko? You think the Bulls need 5 big men on their roster?

    I don't expect much from Portis but would think he could fill in for 8-10 minutes per night. He wouldn't give you Taj quality minutes, but Taj is only needed for 8-10 minutes per night with Gasol, Noah, and most importantly, Niko around. Taj is an expensive luxury for 8-10 minutes, and he better not take away Niko's minutes.

  • In reply to Roman F:

    Besides playing time issues(for Niko and Portis), another thing that concerns me about Taj is the effect that he might have on an emotional player like Portis. Portis seems like a good respectful kid, confident but still humble. However, between the "log"(his word, not mine) on his shoulder and that somewhat "crazy" look in his eyes that Mort highlighted in the picture he might have the potential to become a headcase under the wrong influences.

    Taj has become a whiney crybaby primadonna over the past couple of years(after he signed his new contract and decided that he was Shaquille O'Gibson in the post). He spends way too much time and effort pouting/sulking, and bitching at the refs when things don't go his way on the offensive end and far too little getting back in transition D. The SOL also has a penchant for doing this. I'm a bit worried that Portis could see this kind of behavior from his vets and misdirect that "log" on his shoulder towards the officials instead of his opponents.

    While I like the attitude and overall demeanor that he brings to the game, something which I can't identify specifically makes me think that there might be a sneaky loose canon hiding just under the surface. I hope that I am wrong about this since Portis seems like the kind of player that I like to root for.

  • In reply to penwit1:

    I agree. Everyone so quick to trade Taj and not talk about Barstow, who just sits on bench and eats cap space. Gibson was the starting PF and gave up the spot when Boozer came in. They got rid of Boozer and the rumor was Taj would start. While recruiting Melo one of the conditions was to not lose Taj. Of course Melo talks crashed and Gasol signed and again Gibson was out of a spot. No complaints, no problems just (Chicago Style)hard hat and lunch bucket---go to work. Mirotic played in playoffs and with all his European experience couldn't do much so to expect Portis to do more is insane. Gibson plays hard, plays defense, cap friendly, league respected, team player and with the injury bug following the Bulls around, he might be needed deep in the playoffs.

  • In reply to cbidigital:

    I really don't understand the argument for keeping Taj unless your argument is to trade Noah or Gasol instead, or unless you think he or Niko can play a position besides PF when both have demonstrated repeatedly that they can't.

    It's comical you'd bring up Bairstow, a practice player who doesn't impact the cap or take time away from others. I'd be all for letting him go because we wouldn't even notice, but I don't see the downside to keeping him.

    Taj, on the other hand, takes up $8.5MM against the cap -- a team-friendly deal but still a lot of money. More importantly, Taj plays the same position as Niko. Neither of them can play C or SF. For all the nice things you guys say about Taj, HOW DO YOU RECONCILE THAT? Do you want to put 5 big men on the floor at once and see how that goes?

    How many of Niko's minutes do you want to give to Taj, split it at 24/24? You'd limit Niko to 24 minutes when he's got much better upside and may very well be the better player right now? Are you nuts?

    If not taking away Niko's minutes, which big man would you move instead of Taj when nobody will touch Noah? You don't pay $8MM per year to a guy from whom you only need 10-12 minutes per night. You don't pay $8.5MM per year for a guy who will play in case of injuries. You don't pay $8.5MM for nice depth, that's starter/6th man money, and Taj isn't a 6th man because he plays the same position as Niko.

    I'd be fine to move Gasol instead of Taj if there's a taker, but someone has to go.

  • In reply to Roman F:

    C'mon man, how can you not be a fan of the homeless man's Tyler Hansbrough(Bairstow)

  • In reply to BigWay:

    Thing is, with Noah's health so iffy, you really do have to keep Gasoline, your favorite player. He's the only other true C on the roster.

  • fb_avatar
    In reply to penwit1:

    One should consider the Bulls lack of depth at point guard. And the fact that there will not be enough minutes to go around at PF.

  • fb_avatar

    Good piece.
    I liked how you kept us guessing who Player B was. LaMarcus Aldridge is a pretty good comparison too.
    I must admit I wasn't very high on Aldridge coming out of Texas. I was more impressed with what I saw in Tyrus Thomas during March Madness, and when the Bulls made the trade I was glad they did (We all make mistakes). Yet, Aldridge has become a good scorer from midrange out.
    Hopefully, Portis has more of an inside/ postup game than Aldridge, as well as shooting range. If he proves that he's not afraid to bang in the low post BP will live up to his words in 10 yrs.

  • In reply to Michael Cunningham:

    Tyrus had much more ability than Aldridge. He's the superior athlete many Bulls fans have been crying for. Tyrus' problem is between the ears. You can't fix stupid.

  • Bulls were fortunate that Portis was still there for them. At least the FO had the sense to grab him.

    As for trading Taj, it may make sense. The Bulls may have 5 starting caliber big men! But they appear to lack a dynamic wing player. So ... doesn't it make sense to trade one of the bigs for the wing?

    However, first they need to see what McD, Snell, Moore and Brooks can do in Hoiberg's system. If 2 of those 4 are hitting, that may be enough challenge for the title.

  • In reply to rustyw:

    I doubt they could get a dynamic wing for Taj, but just freeing up the cap space and the minutes for Niko would be worth it, and maybe the Bulls could trade for a dynamic wing later in the year once some teams fall out of it.

  • In reply to Roman F:

    Moneyball strategy indicates a FO should not give up a player like Taj who is on a favorable contract without getting something decent in return.

    However, he maybe could be packaged with a guy like Bairstow or Moore or with a pick to land a better wing. Some team will bite on that if Taj is healthy.

  • In reply to rustyw:

    BTW, I do not think Taj would be missed in Chicago. Portis will take up the slack, and they have Felicio and Bairstow to fill in in case of an injury.

  • I anticipate some growing pains initially against NBA caliber players. The FO would be smart to bring BP along slowly while getting Taj on track. I believe Taj would be a great role model for BP for the first half or so of the season. Minutes would be somewhat limited, but it seems like Hoiberg may be willing to rotate more players more often. If everything works out, a trade somewhere down the road when Taj's value is back up and BP has adjusted might work out better than shipping Taj right now. Of course, there is always the injury concerns of our bigs as well, so having the extras for a while would not be terrible either.

  • If Portis can get that jumper consistent, he's definitely going to be a starter in this league. He also shows some nice post moves but has some trouble against bigger centers. I'm just not sure if his place is a center or a powerforward in this league. I guess the Bulls will push for him to play 5 and Mirotic the 4. I was glad the bulls chose Portis, I thought for sure they would draft duke pg Tyus Jones since he is usually the typical Bulls pick. I still want to take another look at Felicio in training camp/preseason. He moves his feet very well on defense, almost reminds me of Omer Asik and how well he was able to cut off the baseline drive and how he uses his strength and muscles up against offensive players. I just am sick of watching the Bulls bigs being soft and not showing up for the playoffs. The Wizards bigs beasted on the Bulls and so did the Cav's frontline. That should not happen, Chicago used to have what was considered one of the best bigman rotations.

  • In reply to Defense-Rebound13:

    It will be interesting to see how Portis matches up with NBA bodies, especially if the Bulls try to use him at center. He seems like a classic PF who could play center in small ball lineups or with the second unit.

  • Yes, the Bulls bigs must match up with the Wizards, Cleveland and its a work in progress.Last year they did not even come close because of injuries. Having Taj around to talk and work with Mirotic, Portis, and others may be necessary to speed up their development. Taj is a two way player and we know that their are too few players in the league like him--who can match up with almost any other player in the league--and that's his value. While Taj heals Mirotic, Portis and others can get all the minutes they need--and remember still--each player must hit the wall to overcome the long season ahead. So having Taj around may have value.

  • In reply to penwit1:

    I agree, I don't think GarPax will get rid of anyone. 5 big men is too much, but who are you going to get for Taj/Noah/Gasol? I don't see management trading Mirotic or Portis (chips to rebuild). Who would want to take on an injured Taj or an (potentially) over the hill Noah? Gasol might have some value, but his drop off could be big given his age. I think management rides this out.

    I think having a 3-D wing would be nice, but there's already a logjam of players. Rose/Butler are going to about 35 min/game and Dunleavy will probably play 30. That leaves 44 minutes left for McD/Snell/Brooks. Brooks will probably get 15-20 to spell Rose. So there's not many minutes for another player. Snell showed flashes last season...Maybe management gives up on him but they need this season to properly evaluate McD.

    Maybe they can grab a low first round/high second round for one of the bigs? Or a Euro and have him stashed there for a few years.

  • In reply to bpmueller:

    Dunleavy will get 30 minutes because there's nobody better, but I don't know if a team can win a championship with him playing 30. He'd be a great bench player for a team with a legit starter at SF. Bulls don't have one.

    Look, if you can add a legit starting SF without giving up anything, then hey, great, keep all 5 bigs and have great depth in case of injuries and vets who can instruct younger guys. But in the real world, you have to give something to get something and in the cap world, you simply can't afford a luxury like 5 big men, especially when you have a hole at another position.

  • In reply to Roman F:

    My gut feeling is that your way of thinking will prevail by the trade deadline, unless the frontline is plagued by injuries. In addition to resolving their health issues, the Bulls need to see if/how much Niko progresses and if Portis has what it takes to contribute as a rookie before making a move.

    It also depends on which players become available as the season develops. I'm still hoping for Rudy Gay to be one of them, even if it appears unlikely right now. You never know what can happen with George Karl at the helm.

  • In reply to Roman F:

    What assets do the Bulls give up though? I don't realistically seeing management giving up picks for a wing. Also, I doubt they give up Mirotic, McD, Rose, Butler. Taj and Noah's value is at an all time low. Gasol might fetch an ok return, another aging vet wing (Dunleavy type) or a young guy that isn't proven.

    I would love to get a starting caliber wing, but the Bulls just don't have the assets right now. What value do other teams want? And would the bigs be worth more to the bulls than other team? I'd certainly say Noah is worth more to the Bulls than he is to other teams.

    I agree with you, 5 bigs is too many for the team. But I don't see managment making any moves unless it's close to the trade deadline and Taj comes back healthy and a contender needs a big.

  • And remember Tyson Chandler--Chicago traded him just before he matured as a defensive player and look what happened a couple of seasons later. Tyson has a championship ring and no other Chicago team has come close to the word "Championship". Why do we trade players once they get the respect and experience that takes years to gain? During the playoffs we must match up with other teams--Does Mirotic match up already, no--but, he must get the playing time that will help him be the guy we hope to get the job done. Other than a healthy Noah and Butler who on the Bulls matches up to defensively with other playoff caliber players? Right now the Bulls need all the bigs they have! And just look at all the Bigs they other teams have for the next season--things have gotten bigger all over the league!

  • There's a highlight video on Youtube of Bobby Portis vs, Vanderbilt. Granted Kevin Stallings' program has fallen from the one that beat Kentucky in the SEC championship game a couple of years ago. Still, they're a major program. Portis just absolutely abused these guys(to the tune of 31 points I believe), and I do mean abused and did so as a 19 year old on their home court.

    Likely due to his body type IMO he is all PF at least for the first few years in the league. If he happens to bulk up the way Ho Grant did then yeah some day he could fill in a little at center.

    Portis likely will be a steal, but not a star. Though a quality big with an all around game who scores efficiently is always a valued piece.

    Why teams got apprehensive about Bobby could be his third person, crazy eyes persona..? Yet if you see the guy play and talk in a relaxed setting he really comes across as a likable, reliable person.

    I wouldn't be shocked if Bobby Portis did emerge as a starter one day, but more likely he is a quality rotation big. Though again if he can get the kind of body of a H. Grant then he could become a starting caliber player whether he actually does start or not.

    Regardless hopefully he can provide a little spark as a rookie, and show the promise of a talented big with a nice future ahead of him in the league. He better work on his defensive rebounding though as he can at times get caught ball watching. That said, I'm excited about this kid long term.

  • Side note: this often referred to "glut" of bigs in the Bull's frontcourt, I just wonder if Noah's bone on bone condition means his career is in serious jeopardy. If he starts off with a bang, but then quickly fades due to his condition he may simply be no longer viable as he appeared last season. A large paycheck does not an NBA player make.

    Hopefully Hoiberg will have the balls to both kick Klank to the curb and limit both Noah and Gasol's minutes. And if Jo is looking ragged then Taj backing up Gasol at center could mean an opportunity for Mr. Portis at PF after all.

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