Bulls

Boisterous Bobby Portis quietly putting together career year; is he part of the Bulls' future?

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USA TODAY

Boisterous Bobby Portis quietly putting together career year; is he part of the Bulls' future?

Before the season began Bobby Portis made headlines for all the wrong reasons. His seven-game suspension for punching Nikola Mirotic in the face during a preseason practice stuck with him well into the regular season. Lauri Markkanen's emergence then captured headlines, and Mirotic's return in December coincided with a seven-game winning streak. Portis became somewhat of the forgotten man as far as the crowded power forward position was concerned.

Mirotic continued his hot shooting and eventually improved his stock enough for the Bulls to deal him to the Boogie-less Pelicans for a first-round pick. Markkanen struggled in November and December, turned in a red-hot January (.478/.432/.906 shooting splits) before turning in an ugly February that coincided with the birth of his first child. The Bulls made a minor move at the trade deadline, taking on impending free agent Noah Vonleh to add to the power forward mix.

Through the merry-go-round there's been one constant, and that's Portis. He's missed just one game since returning from that suspension, he leads the team in net rating and is doing all this in a limited role behind Markkanen. That role has expanded some since Mirotic was dealt on Feb. 1, and his numbers are improving right along with it. And he just might be giving the Bulls something to consider as they determine which role players will be part of the team's rebuilding future.

Portis is averaging 13.0 points, 6.5 rebounds and 1.0 3-pointers per game this year, one of 20 players to reach those thresholds. But consider that Portis has reached those per-game averages in just 21.3 minutes per game; that's by far the fewest minutes of any player on that list by nearly six minutes (Nikola Mirotic's 27.1 minutes).

So it isn't surprising that Portis' per-36 minutes numbers are gaudy. His averages of 22.0 points, 11.0 rebounds and 1.7 3-pointers per 36 minutes put him in a category with three others: Joel Embiid, DeMarcus Cousins and Kevin Love. That's not to say Portis is on the level of those All-Stars, or that a player like Kristaps Porzingis or Karl-Anthony Towns isn't more valuable. Portis' per-36 numbers naturally would decrease with extended playing time, and there's a reason he isn't logging 30+ minutes per night. But he's a busy man when he's on the floor.

And while the Bulls made the sensible play in dealing Nikola Mirotic to obtain an additional first-round pick, the opportunity to get an extended look at Portis had to have played a role. And Portis has flourished in that extended role: In 10 games since Mirotic left, Portis is averaging 16.6 points, 7.6 rebounds and 1.6 3-pointers in 24.8 minutes. In per-36 numbers, that's 24.1 points, 11.0 rebounds and 2.3 3-pointers. No one in the league has done that this season, with Kevin Durant (27.1 points per 36, 2.7 3-pointers per 36) coming closest. Small sample size on Portis to be sure, but impressive nonetheless.

But standalone numbers won't justify his worth (looking at you, Pau Gasol on the Bulls). The bigger question, as always, is how he fits in with the future core. More specifically, the Bulls want to know if Portis can pair with Markkanen like he did with Mirotic, when that two-man lineup had a +14.9 net rating, the best on the team. Well, since Mirotic was traded the Portis/Markkanen lineup has a net rating of +2.6 in 72 minutes. It's a small sample size, but consider that before the Mirotic trade the Portis/Markkanen lineup was -10.9 in 129 minutes. It's clear the two are learning to play off each other, most recently with Markkanen in the post and Portis at the top of the key.

So then the (multi-)million dollar question becomes: What to do with Portis? He's still just 23 years old, younger than Denzel Valentine, Paul Zipser and David Nwaba. He's a stretch forward who has improved his 3-point shooting each year, a stout defender and, cliches aside, the heart and soul of a Bulls team lacking a lot of fire. Portis' fifth-year option was picked up days after the Mirotic practice incident, so he'll play next season at $3.6 million before hitting restricted free agency.

Last offseason Mirotic received a two-year, $27 million deal, while 27-year-old Grizzlies forward JaMychal Green received two years and $17 million in restricted free agency. While it all depends on what Portis does the next 1.25 years, he could command significantly more than that from the Bulls in the summer of 2019 (there are far too many factors to consider what he might command in 16 months).

The Bulls have three first-round picks the next two years, and stretch forwards like Portis are entering the league at a high rate. Portis is a steady player, as the numbers above show, but the Bulls won't pass on a potential superstar (Marvin Bagley, Jaren Jackson) because of him. But at the very least Portis is giving the Bulls something to think about as they go through this evaluation process over the course of the last 20 games. He's been the most consistent player on a team lacking that in the worst way, and he's becoming a perfect fit for a Bulls team wanting to push pace, shoot 3s and play with an edge. So while Dunn, LaVine and Markkanen make headlines, don't forget about those Crazy Eyes.

Bulls Talk Podcast: Jim Boylen updates and Bulls miss a chance with no second bubble

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USA Today

Bulls Talk Podcast: Jim Boylen updates and Bulls miss a chance with no second bubble

Host Jason Goff is joined by Bulls insider K.C. Johnson, and Rob Schaefer as they provide updates on Jim Boylen's status with the Bulls now that the potential of a second NBA Bubble with the teams that didn't make the firstone is seemingly out. The crew discusses what not having a second bubble means for the Bulls and the new front office. Later on, they discuss the play of LeBron James and the Lakers and get into the injury of Ben Simmons and how that may shake up the Eastern Conference playoffs.

(1:10) - Reasons why the NBA and NBA Players aren't moving with a second bubble so far

(10:02) - Jim Boylen updates and what the Bulls new front office may be considering

(24:15) - Who has the brighter future, the Knicks or the Bulls?

(31:50) - What's wrong with the Lakers?

(38:30) - Sixers lose Ben Simmons indefinitely

Listen here or via the embedded player below:

Bulls Talk Podcast

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NBA, NBPA announce zero positive COVID-19 tests from inside Disney bubble

NBA, NBPA announce zero positive COVID-19 tests from inside Disney bubble

In the first round of testing announced since the NBA began playing official restart games on July 30, there's more good news.

Of the 343 players tested for COVID-19 since the last results were announced on July 29, there remains zero positive tests. This is the third round of testing results made public in a joint statement from the NBA and NBPA, whose strict safety protocols appear to be working. Teams have now been in the so-called "bubble" on the Disney World campus outside Florida for close to a month.

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The statement reiterated that if one positive test occurs, that player will be isolated until he meets all rules established by the two parties to resume play. The 22 teams on the Disney campus traveled with limited parties of 35 people. Players undergo daily testing.

The season is scheduled to conclude in October with the NBA Finals. Commissioner Adam Silver and Michele Roberts, executive director of the players association, long made it clear they badly wanted to crown a 2019-20 champion, even when Silver paused the league in mid-March after Rudy Gobert posted the first positive test. The league and NBPA have drawn rave reviews from around the sporting world for the execution of their plan to this point.

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