Bulls

Michael Porter Jr: 'I'm the best player in this draft'

Michael Porter Jr: 'I'm the best player in this draft'

Michael Porter Jr. trusts his process and in his mind it’s only a matter of time before people who matter believe in it too.

The NBA’s biggest question mark strolled confidently into the combine at Quest Multisport for a late afternoon media session, declaring next month’s draft is more than a two-player showcase.

“They had me as the No. 1 player in high school and I wasn't 100 percent. I'm still the best player,” he said. “I played against all these guys, they're all great players but I'm the best player in the draft.”

Suddenly, Luka Doncic and DeAndre Ayton heard their ears ringing at the notion, that a player who hasn’t truly been seen since the Adidas Nations showcase a year ago is better than the top stars in a star-studded class.

Porter has no swagger-dripping game-winners against the best overseas competition and certainly no tour de force campaign Ayton put together in Tucson. The lingering image to Porter’s name is a back injury that robbed him of essentially his entire freshman season at Missouri.

Three games are on his collegiate ledger, but his confidence and talent are as undeniable as the question marks surrounding him.

“Is he gifted or talented,” repeated one assistant general manager in attendance for the combine.

“He’s gifted.”

At 6-foot-10, scouts believe Porter has the greatest ability necessary to excel in a league full of multidimensional talents and transcendent stars: He can get a bucket, and get it easily.

“I was hoping to turn college basketball upside down like a lot of these players,” said Porter, mentioning Ayton and Trae Young as prospects who each had considerable time capturing the imagination of scouts and fans through the college season.

“But this is a step in my process to be the best player I can be,” Porter said. “It's a little different but I'm more ready than ever. I've been dreaming about this NBA stuff forever, I feel like I'm ready.”

Playing against Seattle-based pros like Jamal Crawford, Isaiah Thomas and DeJounte Murray gave him a confirmation of sorts, that missing the showcase one-and-done season cannot rob him of.

Seeing Philadelphia’s “Process” fulfillers, Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, emerge after early injuries held them back, along with belonging on the floor with NBA players, gives him reason to believe he’ll be next.

“It was dope, I got used to playing with those guys,” Porter Jr. said of the Seattle players. “It was cool. It was weird, those guys are in the league but I was doing my thing. I felt good on the court, it was really good for me.”

The back injury that sidelined him at Missouri had been affecting him since his sophomore year in high school after being undercut during a dunk. Instead of resting it, he kept playing and things deteriorated—not after being the consensus No. 1 player in the country, in his eyes.

“I think I got a good glimpse in high school but I feel I far surpassed that player,” Porter said. “There (were) things I didn't want to do due to the back pain. But I think I'm a much better player.”

If his on-floor polish meets his ability to negotiate the task of answering the mundane questions asked by media members probing about which teams he met with — no, the league didn’t set up anything with the Bulls for the combine — he’ll be a find for whomever drafts him.

If his medical records check out.

Jared Sullinger’s back was red-flagged before the 2012 draft, when his freshman year at Ohio State had him pegged as a top-five pick.

He slid to Boston at 21 and had serviceable years, averaging 13.3 points and 8.1 rebounds his second season, before things caught up with him in 2016-17. But Sullinger was undersized and battled weight issues as a post player.

Porter Jr., said the one executive and a few others, is “gifted”.

The combine is a place used for teams to unearth details about potential draftees through the interview process more than it is the five-on-five play or the measurements everyone goes through. They have thick folders of strengths and weaknesses for players on the floor, but can’t truly get to know them until sitting down with them.

Porter is the opposite.

He knows that’s the question, and he had no problem quoting the medical minutia, using the term “minimally invasive” to describe his November surgery that had him sidelined until early March.

Because seemingly, there should be no question about his game.

“It was a step back to take three steps forward,” Porter Jr. said. “It's been challenging but I feel 100 percent. I feel better than ever actually. I feel pain free and I haven't felt that way for a long time.”

Porter Jr. doesn’t know if he’ll release his medical records to every team, even though some league executives murmured teams should have access to every player as opposed to players and agents steering matters to their advantage — or at least acting in the client’s best interest.

“I can already go, full go. In the workouts I won't be holding back at all,” he said. “When I get on the floor, they'll see for themselves that I'm 100 percent. I feel great.”

He’s in a lose-lose situation to some degree. Of course he’s going to say he feels great and teams will see how he performs at full health, and of course it’ll be met with a certain amount of skepticism.

Critics can present his two-game late-season return to Missouri as “Exhibit A”, when his game against Georgia in the SEC Tournament and showing against Florida State in the opening round of the NCAA’s didn’t show the best player in the country.

Totaling 28 points and shooting 33 and 29 percent, respectively, won’t inspire much confidence but it doesn’t seem fair in the least to use that as evidence.

“I knew I wasn't gonna put on a show or be the Mike they saw in a few months,” Porter said. “Really just trying to help my team and not be selfish with the decision. We had six players on scholarship and two got injured. Just trying to do what I can.”

He declared for the draft soon after, and has been in Chicago for the past several weeks, working out at Quest Multisport to get himself right.

Porter Jr. remembers going through every step of the rehab process — the cautious stage where being careful was recommended as things healed gradually, instances where he had to build strength in his left leg, the leg he explodes from.

Then the step of trusting his body, which he didn’t do at first when he was given the green light to “push it as hard as it gets”, he said.

“It was weird, especially going back to play at Missouri,” Porter Jr. said. “Even at practice, I was trying to be different as a player. Not trying to get to the rim and dunk on anybody. I had the power in my leg, I know I can jump and dunk it but I was jumping two inches off the ground.”

He’s well past that point now, he claims, and has no problem addressing whatever concerns teams have — again, believing he’s in the upper crust of draft prospects but saying he’s not tied to having his name called first.

“At the end of the day, I don't have to go No. 1. I don't have the ego to go No. 1,” Porter Jr. said. “I just want to be in the right situation for me. Look at (Utah’s) Donovan Mitchell. But I think when I work out I'll be in that conversation, yes.”

He feels his versatility in a positionless league, businesslike approach and undeniable gifts will make some team happy and others regretful when it’s over.

He talks it.

He’ll have the chance to show he can walk it.

Improved 3PT shooting and lower usage the path to success for Kris Dunn

Improved 3PT shooting and lower usage the path to success for Kris Dunn

Much has (fairly) been made this year of the Bulls ongoing search for a long-term answer at the point guard position. While Lauri Markkanen and Zach LaVine have taken big step forwards this in their development this year, Dunn's game has seemingly plateaued, with some pretty big red flags. But to act as if Dunn hasn't made some improvements this year would be a disservice to his game, and his perimeter shooting as of late definitely deserves a closer look.

In the Bulls OT win over the Wizards on Wednesday, Dunn attempted a career-high seven 3-point shots. And much, much more important than the fact that he took seven attempts from deep was just how went about taking them.


By my count, two of his seven 3-point attempts on Wednesday were step-back 3-pointers—he made 1 of 2—a shot that it was extremely rare to see him take in year's past.

In Jim Boylen's offense Dunn does a lot of his work by running to Lauri Markkanen or Robin Lopez for handoff plays. And when the opponent runs hard to deny Dunn the ball you will occasionally see him reject the screen and take a one-dribble step back 3-point shot.

Dunn's form still makes his shot relaease a little bit slower than most, but with how far defenses sag off of him, even a slow-developing step back will do wonders for his offensive game.


Through 11 games in March, Dunn has shot 40 percent from the 3-point line on 35 attempts. His overall 3-point attempt rate has not increased in a meaningful way but simply hitting his open shots are half the battle since opponents are still going so far under the screen on him. He has clearly worked hard on his shot and has so far seen his 3-point accuracy increase every season of his career.

So with all this in mind, it is still too early to give up on Dunn as a long-term piece of this team.

As LaVine has taken on a larger role as a primary ballhandler and play initiator, Dunn has adjusted his game in turn, driving to the basket less and focusing more on keeping the ball moving.

With all the changes the Bulls went through this year, a full offseason of work with the current roster will make Dunn a little bit more sure of his role on the team, which will surely change even more depending on who the Bulls select in the 2019 NBA Draft and what they do in free agency.  

But if ultimately Dunn's role is that of a low-usage, defensive-minded player who doesn't have the ball in his hands—a la Shaq Harrison—then the path for him to contine to start next to LaVine is there. 

Though the catch-and-shoot numbers are worringly bad this season (28.8 percent), Dunn has taken strides a pull-up shooter. After shooting a solid 36 .2 percent on 58 pull-up 3-pointers in 2017-18, that figure is up to 45.7 percent, though only on 35 attempts through 45 games. 

The overarching point here is that if Dunn's improvement from 3-point range is real—which his career-best 79.1 percent free throw percentage would suggest—then we should expect a small increase next season as well. 

Ultimately, despite being underwhelming on offense overall due to poor finishing at the rim—26th percentile among "combo guards" via subscription-based site Cleaning the Glass—Dunn can actually increase his offensive value by shooting less, and that is why there should still be optimism in regards to Dunn. 

To fully flourish in the NBA, Dunn needs to be on the floor with players who will use up enough possesions to make him an overqualified fifth option, rather than a woefully underqualfied third or fourth option. Whether the Bulls draft another PG or not, next season will be huge for Dunn. 

Marcus Smart is a great example of the type of player Dunn can and should become on a winning team.

In 2018-19 Smart has a career-low 13.8 usage percentage. But by taking a step back on offense (in terms of overall shot attempts) and redirecting his shot profile to attempt more 3-point shots than 2-pointers, Smart is putting together the best season of his career in terms of offensive efficiency. Once the Bulls have added yet another intriuiging offensive talent, there is absolutely no reason to believe that Dunn's career won't take a similar turn. 

With Boylen as head coach, there will always be minutes for a player like Dunn, who gives maximum effort on defense even if a tad overzealous with his physicality. But Dunn's game is coming along, even if it seems like it isn't.

He is a late bloomer who has improved his plus/minus rating by 0.7 points amid another tough season.

When the games are bigger and the lights shine brighter on what many expect to be a much improved team next year, Dunn will be ready to take another big step forward whether he is playing next to LaVine or doing more work with the second unit. And that is because despite being open about the PG position, the Bulls orginization still believes in Dunn, which Boylen showed with his postgame comments on Wednesday:

"Kris Dunn is a hard worker who cares, tries and isn't afraid of the moment."

Nine things to watch for in the Bulls’ last nine games

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USA TODAY

Nine things to watch for in the Bulls’ last nine games

Let's get right into it. Nine things to watch in the Bulls' final nine games.

Shaq Harrison’s continued offensive approach

In case you weren’t aware, Shaq Harrison is becoming one of the best individual defenders in basketball. He’s become an invaluable part of Jim Boylen’s game plan, has filled in for both Zach LaVine and Otto Porter this week and is the strongest chain on an otherwise ugly Bulls defense.

We know about his defense. It’s the offense that we’ll want to keep on down the stretch. Assuming the Bulls remain cautious with LaVine and Porter, who are resting respective knee and shoulder ailments, expect Harrison to get a ton of run in the final nine games; he’s played 32 and 39 minutes the last two games, both of which were season-highs.

That means more shot attempts, more touches and more strong drives to the basket. Since Jan. 29, Harrison is shooting better than 50 percent from the field with outstanding shot selection. He’s never going to be more than a fourth or fifth option when he’s on the floor, but any sort of improvements he can make on that end will only make him more valuable, given what he’s able to accomplish as a defender.

The best-case scenario for Harrison? 8 points on 4 of 6 shooting with a handful of rebounds and assists and limited turnovers. We know the steals and hounding defense will be there.

Lauri Markkanen’s shooting touch

After breaking out of a long shooting slump in Wednesday’s overtime win against the Wizards, Lauri Markkanen said he had gone back and looked at tape and saw that he was fading away on some of his missed 3-pointers.

It was a pretty mature and pointed response when Markkanen simply could have given a run-of-the-mill answer about always believing in his shot and continuing to practice. The fact that he’s analyzing his game down to that level is a great sign for his future.

Now, of course, he has to make good on it. Even if Markkanen isn’t able to find his shooting touch in the final nine games his sophomore season will have been deemed a rousing success. But it would probably make him, the coaching staff, front office and fans feel a little better if he finishes out the season on a strong note from beyond the arc. He seems dedicated and committed to making it happen, so he’s already off to a good start.

Zach LaVine’s, Otto Porter’s health

Two different injuries, two different things to watch on this one.

Zach LaVine’s mentality that he’s already missed enough games in his career is valiant, and Otto Porter Jr. sure doesn’t sound like someone ready to pack it in. But the truth is the Bulls should be – and will be – extra cautious with dealing with these injuries down the stretch. Forget tanking and catching the Cavs, there’s no real benefit to having these guys play unless they’re 100 percent healthy.

LaVine and Porter have both shown what they can do, and the chemistry they built in February will carry over into next season. If anything, them sitting gives the front office a longer look at some other bench guys who may or may not stick with the team next season. It’s in everyone’s best interest that two key pieces to the Bulls’ core stay healthy and remain healthy heading into the offseason.

Cris Felicio’s baby steps

With Cameron Payne gone he’s been the butt of every tank joke, but Cris Felicio has shown a pulse over the two weeks that shouldn’t go unnoticed. It isn’t going to move the needle or change any part of the Bulls’ rebuild, but credit where it’s due: In his last six games Felicio has averaged 8.0 points on 63 percent shooting and 6.5 rebounds in 16.3 minutes. That includes back-to-back double-digit point totals in his last two games – the first time he’s done that this season – and his first double-digit rebound game since last April.

He’s never going to be worth $8 million per year and he’s never going to have any trade value unless the Bulls attach an asset along with it, which they won’t. But as long as he’s on the roster he’s worth monitoring, and dare we say he’s actually deserving of these minutes? His defense is still as ugly as it’s been, but if he can have 8 and 5 nights and play in the teens, all the better.

They’re just baby steps, but for the first time in a long time Felicio appears to at least be heading in the right direction.

Back to the basics on defense

Remember when Jim Boylen took over, instilled that drill sergeant mentality into his team and it resulted in the Bulls doing an absolute 180 on defense? Yeah, about that.

In Boylen’s first month the Bulls actually ranked eighth in defensive efficiency. Seriously. They were better than the Warriors, Raptors, Celtics and Sixers in December. True, Zach LaVine missing some time, Jabari Parker getting tossed out of the rotation and a healthy Wendell Carter Jr. helped matters, but it was still an impressive showing.

That has wholly disappeared in 2019. Since the calendars flipped over the Bulls are 29th in defensive efficiency, second only to the Cavaliers. Perhaps as the Bulls offense has opened up it’s led to breakdowns on the other end, and they aren’t going to fix their woes in the final nine games, but some sort of improvement would be nice.

In their final nine games the Bulls will play teams ranked 15, 6, 5, 6, 30, 13, 8, 30 and 8 in offensive efficiency. That’s five games against top-10 offenses for those who have difficulty counting. It’ll be a challenge but these are also good tests for a Bulls defense that seems to have had trouble communicating. Nothing like getting thrown into the fire to see what you’ve got. They can only go up from here.

Wayne Selden playing for a spot somewhere

Remember the Wayne Selden hype train? It’s been a rough go for the former Grizzlies wing since a really nice stretch in late January and early February. But since the All-Star break Selden is averaging 8.2 points on 40 percent shooting and just 23 percent from beyond the arc. He continues to be a fluid player in transition and has solid court vision, but too often he’s playing on his own and is out of control on both ends.

Whether or not Selden is playing for the Bulls next season, these nine games are critical for his NBA future. Perhaps it’s not a coincidence that as the Bulls have slowed down the pace, Selden’s numbers haven’t been as good. That’s all the more reason for him to push in transition when he can to try to knock him out of this funk he’s been in. He’s had his moments but the consistency just hasn’t been there.

Will the pace keep picking up?

Jim Boylen slowed things down to a snail’s pace when he first took over in December, wanting the Bulls to take care of the ball, dirty up games to stay competitive longer and work inside-out. But over time he’s continued to give the young Bulls some more freedom to get out and run.

Here’s how the Bulls have ranked in pace under Boylen, by month:

December: 26th, 96.4 possessions
January: 23rd, 98.8 possessions
February: 20th, 99.8 possessions
March: 18th, 100.3 possessions

It’s a glowing trend to see, and even though he insists on playing a ridiculous amount of stretches with the ball going down to Robin Lopez on the block, the Bulls are still moving it around for a 48-minute stretch. Remember, pace doesn’t just mean wild 3-pointers and fast break opportunities. They’ve been more decisive and it’s shown. Hopefully those possessions stay on the rise in the final nine games.

The scoreboard

Let’s be honest. It’s impossible not to look at what the Cavaliers are doing. They’ve won eight of their last 15 games and that’s included victories over Orlando, Toronto, Detroit and Milwaukee. So even though the Cavs have a difficult schedule down the stretch, they look ready to compete.

So whether you’re part of the 14 percent club or believe that it’s all up to chance so who cares, monitoring Cavs games is critical. As it stands, the Bulls are two games up in the win column on Cleveland with nine games to play (the Cavs have 10 left). It doesn’t seem like the Bulls will “catch” the Cavs, especially with two games left against the Knicks, but keep your eye on those Cavs scores.