Why the Bulls should take the risk and draft Michael Porter Jr.


Why the Bulls should take the risk and draft Michael Porter Jr.

Before Trae Young began rewriting the college basketball record book. Before Marvin Bagley was jumping out of gyms. Before Deandre Ayton was going for 20 and 10 in his sleep and before Mo Bamba and Jaren Jackson were blocking anything in their lanky vicinities, there was Michael Porter Jr. Though Bulls Nation is seemingly convinced he and the Bulls are a match made in heaven, and though they’re well aware of the talent and skill set he possesses, Porter Jr. has become the forgotten elite prospect of the 2018 class.

It stems, of course, from the back surgery Porter had in November – specifically, a microdiscetomy of the L3-L4 spinal discs – that threatened his freshman season after appearing in one game for 2 minutes. Missouri University said the procedure and three-to-four-month recovery time meant Porter would “likely cause him to miss the remainder of the season.” With millions of dollars on the line it was expected that Porter would bypass any opportunity to return and focus his efforts on the draft.

That didn’t happen. Porter returned in time for the SEC Tournament on March 8 and also played in the Tigers’ NCAA Tournament game against Florida State. Results varied, with Porter scoring a combined 28 points, grabbing 18 rebounds and shooting 9-for-29 in 51 minutes. It was clear Porter showed expected rust after having played 2 minutes of live game action since high school. But Porter played, showing he was at the very least healthy enough to gut it out in March and play alongside his brother, fellow first-round prospect Jontay. But before all that, and before the other top prospects earned their money (and went to school?), it was Porter who was the unanimous No. 1 pick in the class.

And that’s because he’s been on the NBA’s radar for the better part of four years. A member of USA Basketball since 2014, Porter started all five games for the 2016 U18 Team, averaging 15.8 points, 5.6 rebounds and 2.4 assists. That team won gold at the FIBA Americas U18 Championship in Chile. Porter was the leading scorer on a team that included Mo Bamba, Trae Young, Markelle Fultz and Hamidou Diallo. He played on the 2017 USA Junior National Select Team, and scored a game-high 19 points at the 2017 Nike Hoop Summit. He was named MVP in a game that featured Jaren Jackson, Wendell Carter and R.J. Barrett. Put another way: the game was loaded with talent, and Porter Jr. won MVP.

Porter Jr. also won MVP at the 2017 McDonald’s All-American Game over names like Deandre Ayton, Collin Sexton, Lonnie Walker IV, Kevin Knox and Tre Duval. All this came months after Porter led his Nathan Hale High School team to a 29-0 record and a 3A state title, averaging 36.2 points and 13.6 rebounds along the way. He was the Gatorade, USA Today AND Naismith National Player of the Year.

Got that all? He was the top prospect in the country for a reason.

And that’s because at 6-foot-10 Porter is equal parts perimeter scoring threat, bouncy athlete in transition, strong finisher in traffic and long defender with excellent timing. Remove questions about whether his back surgery will become a long-term issue and he becomes the perfect prospect.

It begins with his scoring prowess. Porter has NBA scoring title potential, and that’s not hyperbole. Going outside in, Porter has an unorthodox shooting stroke but made 47 percent of his 3-pointers as a high school senior. His Missouri/USA Basketball numbers weren’t as impressive, but the takeaway here is range won’t be an issue.

He can get his shot over just about anyone, and his midrange game is even better, whether it’s off the dribble or posting up. It isn’t the prettiest looking shot but it goes in more often than not. And where he, at 6-foot-10, lacks a tight, compact dribble he’s long, athletic and durable at the rim. He’s going to score at will when he gets to the rim. There are no weaknesses in his game as a scorer.

Porter’s perimeter skills on offense translate, too. He has good quickness and feet for his size and impressive length that will make him a versatile defender. He won’t be holding his own on the low block against Anthony Davis anytime soon, if ever, but he’s also going to succeed guarding his fair share of wings. He’s a magnet on the boards and is able to push in transition off those rebounds, which adds to his offensive skill set.

On-court, Porter’s biggest question mark is that he’s more of a scorer than a creator at this point. He gets any shot he wants at 6-foot-10 and is the most athletic player on the floor when attacking the rim or attacking offensive rebounds. That’s won’t come as easily in the NBA. Defensively, like most prospects, he’ll need to add weight. Is he a perimeter-oriented 4 or a 3 with potential to play inside? These questions remain, as do ones regarding his health. Medical evaluations will tell the story on where Porter goes. His skill set really isn’t up for debate.

So if the Bulls find themselves on the clock and Porter still available, as long as his medicals check out there shouldn’t be a question as to who they select. While his skill set could create an odd pairing on the perimeter with Zach LaVine and his less-than-ideal creating, the Bulls need an injection of talent. Porter would give the Bulls a second versatile frontcourt threat alongside Lauri Markkanen, and Fred Hoiberg would have myriad options on how to free up Porter when defenses cue in on Markkanen, or vice versa. It’s a matchup nightmare for defenses and continues Hoiberg’s desire for more transition opportunities.

If the Bulls decide to swing for the fences - something they haven't done in the past - Porter Jr. is their man. Remember, just four short months ago (and admittedly a back surgery) he was the top player in the country. No one questioned it.

Bulls rule out Chandler Hutchison, Wendell Carter Jr. out for the rest of the season, Otto Porter Jr., Zach LaVine could be next


Bulls rule out Chandler Hutchison, Wendell Carter Jr. out for the rest of the season, Otto Porter Jr., Zach LaVine could be next

The injuries are mounting for the Bulls as the end of the season nears and that means some players won’t play again this season.

John Paxson spoke to reporters before Saturday’s 114-83 loss to the Jazz and gave injury updates on four players. For starters, Chandler Hutchison and Wendell Carter Jr. both have been ruled out for the season.

Carter showed a lot of promise in his rookie season, averaging 10.3 points and 7 rebounds per game, but has been out since Jan. 15 with a thumb injury.

Hutchison has been out since Jan. 25 with a toe injury. He played in 44 games, making 14 starts, in his rookie season while averaging 5.2 points and 4.2 rebounds per game.

“He had another scan and he continues to progress really well, but we’re officially ruling him out,” Paxson said of Hutchison. “We’ve kind of run out of time to say to ourselves it makes any sense to bring him back to try to play at the end of the year.”

Those aren't major surprises at this point. More recent injuries to Porter and LaVine will affect the Bulls down the stretch. LaVine missed his second straight game with a thigh injury while Porter missed his third straight with what Paxson described as “a lot of little nagging injuries.”

Paxson said they are monitoring both daily, but it sounds more likely that Porter won’t play again this season.

“Otto has so many little things going on where we won’t push him,” Paxson said. “We may run out of time with him, too.

“We’re not ruling him out completely yet, but it’s kind of trending that way.”

LaVine was limited to 24 games last season after coming off knee surgery and was later shut down for the final 14 games of the season. So far this season, he has missed 11 games with eight left for the Bulls.

“I think it’s important for him to try to fight through some of these little things because last year we shut him down toward the end,” Paxson said. “If his patellar tendinitis doesn’t get appreciably better in the next week, let’s say, then again, you start looking at the reality of it and it doesn’t make sense. But we’re not there yet.”

All these absences do give some role players a chance to prove their worth to the Bulls. Shaq Harrison has been in the starting lineup recently and impressed on the defensive end. Antonio Blakeney also got the start and logged 27 minutes, the most for him since November. Similarly, Brandon Sampson got called up from the G-League and logged a season-high 17 minutes.

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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."