Bobby Portis was brilliant in last night’s 94-87 Bulls win over the 2015 Champion Golden State Warriors. While major contributor Kevin Durant was injured, the Warriors still had three all-stars in Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green, all of whom fueled a NBA-record 73-9 season last year for Golden State without Durant. It was a big win for the Bulls, who have now won five of their last six.
Portis has emerged as the starting power forward since Taj Gibson was dealt to Oklahoma City. In his four games as a starter, it’s very hard to argue with the results; the Bulls are 3-1 with two of those wins coming against the consensus 2017 NBA Finals teams as well as the Finalists in 2015 and 2016 Golden State and Cleveland.
Individually, Portis has been very effective in some what limited minutes. Portis went into the all-star break with 19 points and 8 rebounds on 8/13 shooting in just 25 minutes. He followed that up by averaging 11.3 points and 7.3 rebounds in just 23.6 minutes per game in the four games since the all-star break, and that is while shooting 45.9% from the field and 46.2% from three.
That comes out to 17.2 points and 11.1 rebounds per 36 minutes, which can be a misleading stat for players on limited minutes, but corresponds fairly well with what Portis produces with playing time. Portis has gotten 30 minutes or more twice this season and in his career: a 16 point, 6 rebound, and 6/11 performance against Karl-Anthony Towns and Minnesota, winners of 6 of their last 9, on February 12, and the 17 points and 13 rebounds on 6/12 shooting and 2/4 three point shooting Portis had against a very good Golden State team last night.
The sample size is limited yes, but those are two very good teams Portis has produced against. Considering Portis offensive and defensive ratings of 126 and 106 in these games, one can say he’s been dominant against these defensive stars like Towns and Draymond Green.
This kind of performance merits the question whether or not Portis can be the Bulls long term answer as a front court starter, to which the answer is yes.
Portis ability to shoot threes is something the Bulls have needed consistently all season, and it’s something the NBA and its increasingly smart style of play has made more valuable than ever before. Portis won’t be able to maintain the 46.2% mark post-all-star break, but his 38.8% on the season is already a team best among players with over 50 minutes played for Chicago.
For all of the criticism John Paxson and Gar Forman have received, they have done a very good job of finding young talent in a tank-less transition. The Bulls now have a super star in Jimmy Butler, who is only 27 years old, and their supporting cast of Portis (22,) lottery pick Cameron Payne (22,) lottery pick Denzel Valentine (23,) Jerian Grant (24,) Cristiano Felicio (24,) and Michael Carter-Williams (25) are all young. In fact, only three players on Chicago (Dwyane Wade, Anthony Morrow, and Rajon Rondo) are over 30, and they are likely on their way out this offseason.
Even on this young team, Portis is the youngest. Despite his youth, he is already producing at a high level. Only Butler (122 and 108) and Felicio (127 and 108) have a better offensive and defensive rating combination than Portis with his 111 and 108, which has improved with minutes and since the the Gibson trade.
Numbers aside, Portis brings a certain energy that the Bulls have been lacking in recent years. The intensity Portis plays the game with is reminiscent of a young Joakim Noah. Noah started off questionably, but he developed into an all-star and a defensive player of the year.
This isn’t to say Portis will become Joakim Noah, but rather that the Bulls need a player with that kind of energy, especially on a team as young as this Chicago team is.
So yes: Portis is a long time answer for Chicago in the starting line-up. The Bulls were lucky enough to get him outside the lottery in 2015, and now he is showing the team that Chicago’s faith in him was placed correctly. Only time will tell if Hoiberg and management invest in the former All-American.