Bulls player preview: Otto Porter critical on both ends

Bulls player preview: Otto Porter critical on both ends

NBC Sports Chicago will preview a different Bulls player every weekday leading up to the start of training camp in late September.

Previous reviews: Lauri Markkanen | Ryan Arcidiacono | Antonio Blakeney | Coby White | Daniel Gafford | Wendell Carter Jr. | Luke Kornet | Cristiano Felicio | Tomas Satoransky | Chandler Hutchison

How last year went

Otto Porter was a part of the Washington Wizards’ struggles during the first part of the 2018-19 season. With John Wall on the mend and the offense in dysfunction, Porter’s efficiency dipped to 46.5% from the field (after two straight seasons above 50%) and just 36.9% from beyond the arc (after shooting 43.4% and 44.1% the two previous seasons). Even Porter’s free throw percentage had dipped down to 76.6% after two seasons above 82%.

But the 25-year-old Porter resumed his elite shooting following the Feb. 6 trade to the Bulls. In 15 games, he shot 48.3% from the field, made a whopping 48.8% of his 80 3-point attempts and shot better than 90% from the free throw line. Like the rest of the Bulls’ core, Porter’s season was cut short with injury, but he showed enough in those 15 games to instill confidence in him as a core piece of the Year 3 rebuild.

Expectations for this year's role

Porter’s role is pretty much locked in. He’ll take on a No. 3 scoring role behind Zach LaVine and Lauri Markkanen similar to the one he had in Washington behind John Wall and Bradley Beal. Even in just a 15-game span, it was obvious how much better the Bulls offense was spaced with Porter in the lineup. He may run some pick-and-roll action with Markkanen or Wendell Carter, but the majority of his offense will come from spot-up shooting, off-the-dribble pull-up jumpers and cuts to the basket. He’s not overly versatile as an offensive player, but what he’s good at, he does very well.

Defensively, Porter will be tasked with defending the opposition’s best wing player each night. It’s a tall order but Porter is far and away the Bulls’ best perimeter defender and has the length and quickness to defend multiple positions. Given the Bulls won’t have the best defensive starting lineup in the NBA (only Wendell Carter is a true positive among the other four), Porter’s ability on that end of the floor becomes even more critical. Plenty will be asked of Porter, but the Bulls want to get their $27.2 million’s worth.

Where he excels

Porter has been one of the NBA’s most accurate 3-point shooters over the last three seasons. He’s one of six players since 2017 to shoot better than 42% from deep on more than 4 attempts per game, and he’s in good company there: Steph Curry, Joe Ingles, Joe Harris, Kyle Korver and Seth Curry. Porter’s distinction there, of course, is that he’s not a 3-point specialist like Harris, Korver and Seth Curry. Porter has also made 54% of his 2-point attempts in that span.

All that leads to Porter being an efficiency dream. He has never turned the ball over more than 75 times in s season, and for his career is averaging 0.8 turnovers per game in nearly 27 minutes. His turnover rate has ranked 24th, sixth and first the last three seasons. Few turnovers and made 3-pointers is a recipe for success in today’s NBA, and the fact that he provides stability on the defensive end makes him all the more valuable.

6-foot-8 wing defenders are hard to come by, but the Bulls certainly have one in Porter. In 2018, Porter was ranked fourth in Defensive RPM among small forwards (2.05), with only Robert Covington, Kyle Anderson and Andre Iguodala ahead of him. In 2017, Porter ranked 21st in the category, and last season he was 35th (though his Washington and Chicago teams were terrible as a whole, which certainly didn’t help his cause). The hope is that Porter will return to his elite defensive ways in a Boylen-led scheme and an entire offseason to mesh with his new teammates.

Where he struggles

Porter surprised many by his passing in Chicago. In a small 15-game sample size, he averaged 2.7 assists per game. His career-high for an entire season is 1.6, and he averages 1.5 for his career. He reached his career high with eight assists in an early March game against the Pistons.

But Porter isn’t much of a playmaker, even if he does more of it in Chicago than he did in Washington. That’s not to say he needs to be one, but it was much easier to sit back and shoot when your offense had John Wall and Bradley Beal. Even if Porter can flirt with three assists per game, it’d go a long way to taking some of the burden off guys like Tomas Satoransky, Zach LaVine and others in the backcourt.

Best case/worst case

In a best-case scenario, Porter returns to his 2017 and 2018 form with the Wizards. He was one of the league’s most efficient shooters. More importantly, he did it for teams ranked 15th and 8th in offensive efficiency. Porter himself is a fine player, but when his teammates are feeding him and taking advantage of defenses keying in on the sharpshooting wing, the offense as a whole gets better. That’s the goal. Defensively, he continues to hound wings on the perimeter and begins the transition – along with Carter – of the Bulls creating a defensive identity.

In a worst-case scenario, Porter doesn’t receive enough looks and isn’t able to make an impact, as was the case in Washington last season after Wall went down. He’s always going to be a plus individual defender, but if his efforts don’t translate to better team defense then he suddenly becomes a very expensive 3-point shooter. Porter will be at his best (or worst) based on what the Bulls do as a whole.

One key stat

Porter played 15 games with the Bulls last season, from Feb. 8 to Mar. 17. In that span, the Bulls ranked ninth in offensive efficiency, 11th in effective field goal percentage and ninth in true shooting percentage. The Bulls won’t be that good over the court of an 82-game season, but it was a small peak into what could be unlocked with a player like Porter roaming the perimeter.


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Daniel Gafford won't rest on laurels stemming from breakout performance

Daniel Gafford won't rest on laurels stemming from breakout performance

Daniel Gafford’s phone blew up Monday night with congratulatory well wishes following his 21-point performance in his first game of meaningful NBA minutes.

But the Bulls’ rookie acted more like somebody focused on his next opportunity than addicted to social media or electronic devices.

“I put it on ‘Do Not Disturb’ because I was trying to get sleep at the same time,” Gafford said following Tuesday’s practice at Advocate Center. “I was real sore from the game because I’ve been traveling a lot. I wanted to make sure I got the rest I needed for practice today.”

Gafford’s travel has been of the G League variety — bus rides, not five-star accommodations. More performances like his outing against the Bucks, though, and Gafford’s G League assignments may be over.

“What would help me is just try to remain consistent. I did that game, but I’ve got to be ready for the next,” Gafford said. “Enjoy it until midnight and then get ready for the next game the next day.”

The longer Gafford talked, the more his basketball IQ and willingness to learn and be coached came out.

On setting good screens: “Fighting through that fatigue, it was just a mental thing. Just making sure I got contact on the screens because the coaches were telling me they were trying to slip up under my screen because I wasn’t really setting them. So I had to make sure I hit guys when I was coming up to set screens to get bottom hip so I could make sure I was getting guys open because that can help them. But at the same time it can help me as well.

On feedback from coaches: “Mostly it was just on the pick-and-roll with opposing teams. Just making sure I be up at the level to where guards don’t get downhill as much. Just make sure I’m up to where I can help our guards get back from where they’re setting screens. And be better on defensive rebounding.”

On feedback from teammates: “They were just talking about my dunks, really, pretty much. They were patting me on the back, telling me, ‘Good job' and telling me whenever I get my chance again, come out and do the same thing.’”

Ah, yes, those dunks. What did the United Center rims do to Gafford anyway? The six rim-rattling slams he threw down on the night were enough for him to field a question as to his favorite.

“Oh, the one-hand lob that I caught,” Gafford said. “I didn’t think I was going to catch that. I thought it was going to get some of the rim and come out. But it went down for me and I appreciate it for that.”

Gafford said his wrist “feels good” after all that rim wrecking because he’s “used to it.”

And somewhere, fellow Arkansas product Bobby Portis is smiling. Not only was there a #freeDanielGafford movement on Twitter, a la #freeBobbyPortis from Portis’ rookie season with the Bulls, but Gafford also dropped a third-person reference. Portis used to do that, too.

“Go out there and play Daniel Gafford basketball,” Gafford said, when asked for his mindset.

Coach Jim Boylen said Gafford plays “with a pure heart.” With 20-20 machine Andre Drummond in town with the Pistons Wednesday, expect Gafford to get more rotational minutes.

And as for that “Do Not Disturb” sign on his phone, it worked.

“I slept good,” Gafford said.

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What is going on with Lauri Markkanen?

USA Today

What is going on with Lauri Markkanen?

That is the question being asked around league circles as we approach the one month mark of the regular season. With the All-Star game being played in Chicago in February, the hope was Markkanen would take a big jump in his 3rd NBA season, and represent the home city in the showcase event.

Instead, the 22-year-old Finn is struggling through one of the worst shooting slumps of his young career through the first 14 games. Markkanen opened the season with a bang, scoring 35 points and pulling down 17 rebounds in the opener at Charlotte. But since that night, he’s only shot over 50% from the field in one other game and is sitting at 36.2% for the season, far off his career average of 42.6%. He’s been even worse from 3-point range shooting 26.8%, compared to his career norm of 35.2%.

And, it’s not like the Bulls haven’t been trying to get him going. In Monday’s loss to Milwaukee, Markkanen missed all four of his attempts from beyond the arc, most of them wide open looks.

Markkanen is making just over 25% of his wide open 3-point looks, which is classified by the NBA as a shot attempt with no defender within 6-feet. In case you were wondering, he made 43% of his wide open 3’s last season and 45% as a rookie.

Markkanen insists his confidence hasn’t wavered. “Shooters, all the players go through slumps” Markkanen told reporters in the post-game locker room Monday night. “Everybody’s broken through it at some point. When I’m staying confident, believing every shot’s going in, I know it’s going to turn around.”

But it’s not just the long range misses that have the Bulls concerned. Markkanen’s shooting woes seem to be affecting his all-around game, like this sequence against the Bucks late in the first half on Monday.

Markkanen had to deal with the length of Giannis Antetokounmpo on the first attempt, and in his anxiety to make good on the second try, he misses the dunk, something we’ve seen on a handful of occasions in recent games.

Even though Markkanen insists his shooting slump hasn’t affected his overall game, he’s also been less active on the defensive end, being overpowered inside and slow to help on drives to the basket.

It’s one thing for Giannis to score inside on Markkanen, it’s quite another to see Nets’ rookie Nicolas Claxton go strong to the basket for the and-one.

So, what can Markkanen do to shake the slump? Bulls’ coach Jim Boylen has often mentioned his third year forward seems to get energized by working hard on the defensive glass. Markkanen is more than capable of grabbing a rebound and taking it end to the end as he did on this play against the Nets last Saturday.

Markkanen has well above average ballhandling skills for a 7-footer, which makes him a dangerous weapon in transition. On this next play, he turns defense into offense at the expense of the reigning league MVP.

Watching plays like that, it’s pretty clear Markkanen’s issues aren’t physical. Boylen mentioned last week that Markkanen had been playing through a strained oblique, but Markkanen insisted it wasn’t an issue and felt fine physically.

Assuming Markkanen is healthy, his career numbers will tell you this shooting slump shouldn’t last much longer. Confidence is a funny thing for athletes, but the best thing Markkanen can do right now is stay aggressive on the offensive end and look for opportunities to get to the basket and draw fouls for some easy points.

Markkanen’s teammates have voiced their strong support for the young forward in recent days and you can count on them trying to set up him for more open looks.

After all, even though a remake of the Michael Jordan “Space Jam” movie is due out next year with LeBron James in the starring role, it’s not like the Monstars have stolen Markkanen’s ability to play basketball.

Markkanen summed up the state of his game very simply Monday night. “It’s not going to be like this forever. I don’t know what else to say.”

Everyone associated with the Bulls’ organization is counting on Markkanen to bust out of his slump with a series of big games very soon. 

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