LAS VEGAS — In a conference that featured four players in his conference taken before Bobby Portis was selected by the Bulls at No. 22—all from Kentucky, it should be noted—it was he who was player of the year in the SEC.
So he’s no stranger to being the undercard, particularly in his summer league opener that just so happened to feature the first overall pick, Minnesota’s Karl-Anthony Towns, who played for Kentucky.
But Towns might as well have had a bullseye on his back for Portis to go after as they were matched up throughout, as Portis was listed as a center in the Bulls’ 84-71 win Saturday at the Thomas and Mack Center.
Portis showed his worth in a 23-point, seven-rebound performance that, while tempered by the reality of Summer League, excited those who witnessed it.
“I had an ‘okay’ game,” deadpanned Portis afterward. “I could’ve made some more free throws, grabbed more rebounds.”
So hyped up and intense for his first taste of NBA basketball, he had to pull himself out the game a few times because he tired himself out—which pleased Fred Hoiberg.
“That showed me he was playing with great effort,” Hoiberg said.
The Bulls coach added a little spice by purposely matching up Portis with Towns to get the competitive juices flowing—as if Portis needed extra Red Bull anyways.
“We talked about matchups and said let’s throw him at Karl and see what he’s made of,” Hoiberg said. “He went out there and was aggressive, looking for his shot. Ran the floor extremely well.”
Portis wore a satisfied smile after he backed Towns down from the 3-point line for a hook shot that displayed a soft touch—more importantly showing the necessary strength in establishing post position.
He showed no hesitation in unleashing a triple near the top of the key, one that didn’t look as fluid but was just as effective when it fell through the net. Portis was 5-for-6 from the field in the first half, hitting a baseline jumper and generally looking comfortable on the floor.
After running the floor extremely hard for two alley-oop dunks, Portis’ tank was on empty and he asked out.
“I’m not intimidated by anyone,” Portis said. “I’m not worried about a matchup. I’m just going out there and playing my game, trying to be the best player I can be for this franchise.”
Towns’ moments came in flashes, showing his uncanny passing skills and even coming across the lane to block layups with relative ease—layups that jump started the Timberwolves fast break.
Towns got going in the second half, getting a measure of revenge on his counterpart in backing him down for a hook shot of his own and on the next possession, facing him up from 20 feet out for a jumper.
Towns finished with nine points and nine rebounds in 32 minutes, ceding the individual matchup but even the most optimistic Bulls fan couldn’t foresee Portis nailing three triples, not missing until his last attempt in the fourth quarter.
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“He’s been comfortable,” Hoiberg said. “He took that wide open one, that last one is the only three he missed.”
“A couple coaches were grumbling, I said “(bleep) guys he’s 3-3 let’s see what he’s got. It’s a heat check, let him go a little bit”. It wasn’t just today. He showed it in camp. He’s comfortable on the perimeter and the post, not afraid to bang out there. Any time you can stretch a big and hit shots, that’s huge.”
Doug McDermott scored 20 and Ramon Galloway added 17 with nine assists in 32 minutes, but for the opener all eyes were on Portis, who didn’t disappoint.