While Bobby Portis has yet to have an efficient scoring night in the preseason, there are a myriad of elements to be excited about regarding the 20-year old big man. In fact, Portis has already produced at a level where Fred Hoiberg will now have to actively seek out opportunities to put him on the floor.
Portis's strongest skill at this point, is his rebounding. He's grabbing 12.7 of those bad boys in just 24 minutes, and doing so by out-hustling, out-working, out-fighting, and boxing out everyone in the vicinity of him. Some have fallen right into his lab, sure, but this is the exception and not the rule. Portis is trying to claw his way into the regular season rotation, and is frankly doing a wonderful job at that.
Additionally, the big man isn't afraid to launch three's. He's made just one-of-five, so his accuracy needs improving, but it's a small sample size of games, and his misses haven't been wildly off. What's impressive of his willingness to take these shots, is that he's taken them with confidence. He doesn't dally around, but instead receives and shoots in one fluid motion, which isn't just limited to the three-ball. His off-ball movement is similar to that of David West, in particular as a trailer who lets the ball handler attack, only to throw the ball back out to him. So in terms of shooting the basketball, Portis is looking for open mid-range shots and three's, which aren't bad choices, especially as he can combine those with buckets on the inside, as he's shown a post move here and there, while also picking up points off broken players and offensive rebounds.
Does Portis need refinement? Absolutely. But what 20-year old doesn't?
And what about his supposed biggest weakness, passing? Portis has averaged near two assists over these first three games, and shows a perfectly acceptable court vision for someone who plays at a big position. He will never be Chris Webber, but he won't be Hassan Whiteside either. His quick pass to a cutting Cameron Bairstow against Minnesota showed, maybe more importantly, a willingness to give up the rock, which is pretty impressive considering the amount of pressure that's on him to perform well to crack the rotation. Most youngsters would instead force up bad shots, but Portis seems to understand the big picture.
So where does he struggle?
Despite averaging 10 points a night, he's struggling in simply making shots. His confidence is there, he doesn't take a lot of bad shots either, but they haven't dropped so far. He gets 30% of his points from the free throw line (which he's gotten to a fair amount), but the remaining 70% has come on just 29.4% shooting. For Portis to really establish himself, he'll need to see that ball go through the net some more. The good news is that he's close. There's solid rotation on his shots, they're on line, and the height on his jumper is good. With just three games to his name, one could chalk it up to yet another case of a small sample size.
Also, Portis is fouling too much. This is a typical problem for rookie big men, but Portis is nevertheless going through it. Four fouls a game in 24 minutes. The frustrating bit is how he picks them up. It's by being overzealous and wanting to do everything at once. He reaches in, jumps over the back of people, and doing all the NBA no-no's that veterans know not to do. So again, there's a silver lining in these struggles as they don't, necessarily, represent long-term concerns.
Energy-wise however, Portis is looking like the new Joakim Noah. In his debut against Milwaukee, Portis was screaming and hollering, pointing out patterns and plays, while throwing his body around. The last Bull who were as vocal as a rookie was actually Noah, and that's probably not a coincidence given the relationship the two have developed in such a short period of time.
Portis has also played a fair amount of his minutes at the center spot in these games, and he looks comfortable moving around with the big men. While he never tested well athletically, Portis is quick and agile enough to follow just about everyone he's matched up against, and his 245-frame is far from being a push-over, though it couldn't hurt him to add some muscle to fill it out.
Offensively, he's still a question mark, but by playing behind Gasol and Mirotic, here's hoping he'll pick up a few things. In fact, Portis couldn't ask for better on-court teachers, as he has two defenders to learn from, as well as two scorers. If he learns, adapts to his new surroundings, and remains confident, there's honestly no telling just far he could go on that end.
Portis's ceiling is at this point a pretty large unknown. Unlike the present frontline, Portis isn't likely to pick up many blocks, and will such have to work for everything on defense, whereas shot-blockers at least reap the benefit of reputation. With some experience, Portis may become an acceptable shot-blocker down the line, but he'll never be a game-changer in that category. Rebounding however appears to be an area where Portis will be able to be consistent, given his motor and ability to position himself accurately.
In totality, Portis would be ready to receive rotation minutes on just about any NBA team who doesn't posses an overcrowded frontcourt. So therein lies the problem. Fred Hoiberg will have to carve out minutes for the rook, and could do so by sitting the veterans against the league's worst teams, even though that will probably not provide Portis with a true test of what the NBA is all about. Still, such a plan would be far superior to the alternative, which is sitting him and letting his rookie season be had from the bench.