The night Bobby Portis was drafted he knew playing time would be at a premium in his rookie season.
Portis, the second team All-American his sophomore year at Arkansas, slipped to No. 22 at draft night, with the Bulls scooping up the best player available expected by many to be taken in the lottery.
The Bulls had a need at point guard behind Derrick Rose and could have added a wing to complement Tony Snell and Doug McDermott, but instead they drafted with an eye toward the future and added to their already loaded frontcourt, perhaps the deepest in the league.
There was optimism that Portis was ready for the big stage when he averaged 14.5 points and 8.7 rebounds in the Las Vegas Summer League, and he performed well in seven preseason games, averaging 11.1 points and 9.1 rebounds.
But the regular season was a different story. Portis has appeared in just three games, totaling 22 minutes. The Bulls' frontcourt quartet of Pau Gasol, Nikola Mirotic, Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson have combined to miss just one game, with Noah sitting out a game in Philadelphia last month.
"Once I got drafted I kind of knew. It’s not that hard to tell," Portis said of his expected playing time. "They’ve been here longer than I have and obviously I’m a rookie so I have to play to my role and my role is to be a positive guy on the bench and cheer for my teammates and be the best teammate possible.
"My role is not to play right now. I’m cool with waiting on my turn and once my turn comes then I’ll be the Bobby Portis I’ve always been."
He made his NBA debut in the Bulls' blowout loss to the Hornets in November, scoring 10 points on 5-for-7 shooting in the fourth quarter. When Noah sat out in Philadelphia, Portis saw his first first-half action, scoring two points in 10 minutes.
And though his playing time has been minuscule, head coach Fred Hoiberg has constantly applauded Portis' work ethic and attitude, where he "pushes the heck out of our guys in practice."
"He’s a great attitude, great spirit, he’s doing all the things that he has to do to keep himself ready for when that time comes that his name is called," Hoiberg added, "which again will happen sometime this season and most likely sometime soon."
Portis has admitted frustration at not playing a year after he averaged 29.9 minutes per game for the Razorbacks. But the same veterans playing ahead of him also have been the ones in his ear, telling him to be ready whenever his number is called.
"(Joakim Noah) and Taj (Gibson) always tell me that their rookie years they were siting on the bench and something happened, someone got traded or injured and then they started playing," Portis said. "So they told me to stay ready because things happen in this league that are crazy and things can change easily."
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Portis has filled the void of not playing by participating in 1-on-1 and 2-on-2 drills after practice against teammates. And while he'd like to be playing, with the Bulls' frontcourt playing well and the team sitting at 11-7, just a half game out of the top seed in the East, Portis is taking his role in stride.
"(Hoiberg) actually talked to me today, told me to stay ready. He likes the things that I’m doing," Portis said. I come here every day with a positive attitude. I don’t complain about me not playing. I just try to bring positive energy on the bench, in practice and even on the road. I just try to be myself.
"Like I’ve always said, it’s not about me right now. It’s about the team. I’m just trying to be the best teammate possible."