Bobby Portis has returned from his eight-game suspension to open the season and been an on-court bright spot for the struggling Chicago Bulls.
There is perhaps no more divisive player on the current Chicago Bulls roster than Bobby Portis. Portis was a first round pick in 2015 and with that came expectations. He played sparingly in each of his first two seasons and was known more for missing his defensive rotations than any positive contributions he made. To take matters from bad to worse, Portis began this season with the now infamous fight with teammate Nikola Mirotic. If you haven’t heard, Mirotic walked away a fractured face and Bobby Portis was suspended for the first eight games of the season for his actions. You can see why Bulls fans get a bit fired up one way or the other when you bring up the name Bobby Portis.
After the altercation, my first reaction was Chicago’s front office would cut Portis given his two full seasons of poor play and now injuring a teammate in a practice fight, but they handed down a suspension instead. Portis served his time and is now back on the court. Reports say his teammate's side with Portis in the scuffle. Let us put that aside though, and discuss what Portis is doing for the Bulls on the court so far.
A new Portis
Small sample size is in effect for any of Portis’ number as he has played only four games this season, but this looks like a player who can contribute statistically. Portis brings the same unbridled energy, but he appears more confident. He is more substantial part of the rotation on this rebuilding squad and being asked to take more of an offensive load given the Bulls lack of shooting and scoring this season. All those new roles appear to be helping to unleash a new Bobby Portis.
Let us now take a look at each game he has played this season in a bit more detail.
In his season debut against the Toronto Raptors on November 7, Portis played 24 minutes off the bench and was a crucial part of keeping Chicago in the game until the final stages. Portis scored 21 points with 13 rebounds, four assists, three three-pointers made, and two turnovers on the evening. He also had a plus/minus of positive 10 and was part of the final five on the court in the 119-114 loss to the Raptors. Below is a highlight video of the game so you can see Portis’ performance for yourself.
Three nights later, Portis produced an encore performance against the Indiana Pacers. The Bulls were blown away 105-87 that night, just as the NBA betting odds predicted, but Portis provided 20 points, 11 rebounds, one assist, one steal, and one turnover in just 25 minutes of action. That included Portis being asked to take 17 shots from the field and a negative six plus/minus (second highest on the team for a player seeing at least 20 minutes on the court).
Three in a row
The Bulls traveled to San Antonio the next night for a battle against the ultracompetitive Spurs and Portis yet again produced. He saw a season-high 30 minutes on the second of a back-to-back and scored 17 points with six rebounds, two assists, two 3-pointers made, and three turnovers. It marked three positive contributions in a row and what appears to be a third-year player leaping into a consistent rotation staple.
A sign of trouble?
The Bulls faced the Oklahoma City Thunder on November 15 in Portis’ fourth game this season and for the third consecutive contest had their doors blown off. The Thunder were victorious 92-79 that Wednesday evening and Portis played just 20 minutes. The production decreased to five points, nine rebounds, two assists, one three-pointer made, and three turnovers on only two of eight shooting from the field. I am willing to throw this game out as Chicago could not get anything going all night and appeared defeated after a 27-7 deficit at the end of the first quarter. Could this be the first game in the return of the Portis we saw in his first two seasons? Should Bulls fans be panicking that the fight drove away Mirotic and Portis cannot produce leaving their subpar rotation with yet another hole?
Bobby Portis should continue to contribute this season, but do not confuse that with Portis being a good player. He is a stats hunter who still struggles on defense and has never been a fan of passing the ball (See the tweet below). The Bulls are right to start Lauri Markkanen and give him 30 plus minutes a game. Markkanen needs to develop and should be a significant piece of their core moving forward. Portis is probably best served as an energy big man off the bench in a 20-25 minute a night role, and he should continue playing that spot moving forward.
This season through four games, Portis is averaging 15.8 points, 9.8 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 0.3 steals, 1.8 3-pointers made, 0.3 blocks, and 2.3 turnovers per game in 25 minutes a night. He is also shooting 44.9% from the field, an unsustainable 46.7% from 3-point territory, and 80.0% on free throw attempts. The shot attempts like dip slightly causing the points to decrease, but Portis probably ends the season as a 46-48 percent shooter from the field meaning the points probably won’t drop off significantly. The three-point production is unsustainable, and the rebound rate is astronomical, but Portis likely sets plenty of new career highs this season. A final stat line of 25 minutes per game with 12-15 points, 7-7.5 rebounds, 1.5-2 assists, and one three-pointer made is not out of the question for Bobby Portis this season.
Throwing a wrench in
The only impediment to playing time for Portis would be the return of Nikola Mirotic. Mirotic is the significantly superior player in my opinion and should take some if not all of Portis’ minutes when he returns. According to reports, the two are still not speaking to each other. Perhaps one of them is traded away, or they are forced to coexist on the team and court at some point this season. It is one of the great unknowns with this Chicago team and only time will tell what happens when Mirotic is healthy enough to return to game action. Stay tuned.