The Chicago Bulls have shocked by taking a commanding 2-0 series lead against the Boston Celtics, and forward Bobby Portis is at the heart of it.
The Bulls have had their share of ups-and-downs this year, to say the least. It’s somewhat surprising that they made their way into the 2017 Eastern Conference playoffs, considering they have been about as inconsistent as any team in the league in this 2016-17 campaign. That explains their .500 record to conclude the season, leading to the East’s lowest playoff seed. Nonetheless, there have been some bright spots along the way, and second-year big Bobby Portis has been huge in their recent stretch.
Portis was drafted last year as a developmental player who showed the potential to be a quality two-way player in the Association. At 6-11 and 246 pounds, he has the ideal body type to be that desperately-needed stretch-four for a long time in Chi-town. Portis is not there yet, as the offensive game still needs to become more polished. There’s plenty of reason to be optimistic, though.
During the closing stretch of the regular season, this big man gave the Bulls bench a much-needed lift. He got the most playing time of any month in his season in March with 21.3 minutes per night, and that paid dividends for this Bulls club. Portis had averages of 10.3 points and 6.4 rebounds, and he has put it all together this month.
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Portis has been stellar in his role as a slashing power forward, and occasional small-ball center. He played the best basketball of his young career in April, posting an offensive rating of 110.6 per 100 possessions and a true shooting rate of 60.2 percent at the end of the regular season.
He’s a long-strider with a quick first-step that can beat many bigs he’s matched up with, and that’s allowed him to get high-percentage looks near the rim and from three. DeMarcus Cousins was a prime example of a big man who didn’t to cover him on the wing, and Portis made Boogie pay earlier this month with 21 points on the road in a crucial win for Chicago.
He showed all kinds of scoring capability and brought energy in the Bulls’ Game 1 win in Boston on Sunday. Portis finished with 19 points on 80 percent shooting, which included 3-of-4 from three. He was a perimeter killer in the fourth quarter especially, and he’s going to be a tough matchup for the Celtics’ bigs both inside and out. After all, he had his “shootin’ shoes” on. I guess that’s what the Bulls commentators say, at least.
That sort of shooting probably isn’t sustainable, but he’s showcased balanced scoring post All-Star break with an emerging pull-up game and some nice touch on floaters/baby hooks in the paint. If this young kid can cause forwards and perimeter defenders to respect his J to go along with his explosion in the open court and powerful putbacks, his usage and numbers will go way up.
He didn’t have the same impact in Game 2 with only playing nine minutes, but a lot of that had to do with other guys making the most of their opportunities, a la Paul Zipser. Now to what he brings on the defensive end.
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Portis is great at using his robust frame to wall off drivers, and you can see it when he’s switched out on the perimeter. For a power forward, he can stick with guards and wings well. His 6-11 length is a major asset for the Bulls to be able to play small-ball against the C’s and the rest of their foreseeable playoff opponents.
He has active hands to cut off passing lanes and crossovers, and his length often alters shots in the painted area. He had two blocks against the C’s on Sunday. Those kinds of plays are essential this time of the year, especially when guys have that rim-protecting presence off the bench.
Portis had a defensive rating of 97.1 in April, and he’s doing the dirty work inside for Chicago as well with solid post defense. Additionally, Portis had a defensive rebounding rate of 28.0 percent this month, and clearing the glass has already proven vital for the Bulls in their potential playoff push.
Most importantly, Portis has brought a new sense of grit and toughness to this Chicago club. That’s the kind of thing that players like Jimmy Butler, Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo can rally around. It’s paid off, and this guy has a bright future in this league.
With players such as Portis, Cristiano Felicio and Robin Lopez, this Bulls squad can control the paint. In the playoffs, and especially in the East, that is so crucial.
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