Bulls

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

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USA TODAY

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' Ryan Arcidiacono pledges meals to Chicago healthcare, education workers

Bulls' Ryan Arcidiacono pledges meals to Chicago healthcare, education workers

As the COVID-19 pandemic ravages some industries and over-extends others across the United States, plenty of Bulls players have stepped up to aid those in need.  

Ryan Arcidiacono added himself to that legion on Monday afternoon by committing meals to the staffs of Lawndale Christian Health Center and Suder Montessori Magnet School:

Lawndale Christian is a health organization that strives to provide quality, affordable healthcare services to those in the Lawndale area on the West Side of Chicago and neighboring communities. Suder Montessori serves children from early childhood through eighth grade and is located in West Town. 

If you're curious of other ways the Bulls organization and its players are aiding communities, here's an abbreviated list:

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Bulls will enter offseason with unanswered questions up and down the roster

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USA Today

Bulls will enter offseason with unanswered questions up and down the roster

Even if the NBA is able to salvage some portion of the remaining regular season schedule when the league is given the go-ahead to resume play, the Bulls will face an offseason filled with questions.

Sure, Coby White has been a bright spot, averaging 20.1 points a game in February, 22.4 points with six assists in five games in March and finally making his first start at point guard in the last game before play was suspended because of the COVID-19 outbreak. But is White the long term answer at point guard, and can he team with Zach LaVine to form an efficient backcourt at both ends of the floor?

White’s assist-to-turnover ratio (2.7 assists to 1.7 turnovers) is hardly what you’d expect from a starting point guard, but for most of the season he was used as a shooting guard capable of providing instant offense off the bench. With regular play at the point, White’s assist totals should grow to around five to seven per game, but he’ll need to prove the turnovers won’t also grow at a comparable rate. LaVine is very high on White’s potential, and having another explosive scorer playing with him should help reduce the defensive pressure LaVine faces on a nightly basis.

White’s play at the defensive end showed considerable improvement as his rookie season went on, which suggests he could be capable of defending either guard spot at 6'4", allowing LaVine to take the easier match-up. Both players have the quickness to jump into passing lanes and create transition opportunities.

From a coaching perspective, staggering the minutes of the two guards after the opening six minutes will also allow each player to take on the lead offensive role at times, playing alongside a facilitating point guard like Tomas Satoransky, Ryan Arcidiacono or Kris Dunn (if he returns).

While the backcourt is starting to take shape, the frontline is loaded with question marks. Was Lauri Markkanen’s slump in his third NBA season just an outlier, or will the Bulls have to adjust their evaluation on his potential? Can Wendell Carter Jr. have success as an undersized center and find a consistent role in the offense? Can Otto Porter Jr. stay healthy long enough to contribute?

Markkanen’s future is the biggest question facing the franchise right now. Was he held back by the changes to the offensive system this season, or does he simply lack the aggressiveness necessary to average 20 points and 10 rebounds over a full season?

Markkanen took a significant step backwards in year three, and the Bulls were hoping they would get a better chance to evaluate his play over the final 17 regular season games. Don’t forget: Markkanen is eligible for an extension to his rookie contract this offseason, and it’s hard to imagine the Bulls offering him a near max deal coming off a sub-par season in which he averaged 14.7 points and 6.3 rebounds while shooting just 42.5% from the field.

All options have to be on the table for Markkanen, including a possible trade if contract negotiations result in a stand-off or the opportunity to acquire an All-Star level veteran presents itself. It’s likely the 7-foot forward will be back next season, and he could have an expanded role in the offense if a coaching change is made.

The Bulls also were hoping to bet a better read on Carter and Porter over the final 17 games. Carter missed about six weeks of game action because of a serious ankle sprain, but was just rounding back into game shape when the suspension hit.

Carter told reporters he’s probably better suited to play power forward than center at 6’9”, but with Markkanen and Thaddeus Young in tow, center will remain his position for now. Since the Bulls don’t use post-ups as a staple of their offensive system, Carter Jr. doesn’t receive the amount of touches he’d like. Plus, his ability to knock down mid-range jumpers is also underutilized. Carter Jr. will need to spend the offseason working on improving his shooting range to add the 3-point shot to his arsenal.

Porter missed almost the entire season because of a broken foot, and he’ll almost certainly be back with a $28 million player option for next season, When healthy, Porter Jr. can add 3-point shooting and playmaking to the offense, but he’s not part of the team’s long-term future.

Second-year forward Chandler Hutchison saw his season cut short by injuries, and the Bulls really don’t know if he can sustain the improved play he showed before re-injuring his shoulder in early February. Don’t be surprised if the Bulls go for another wing player with their lottery draft pick.

Kris Dunn will be a restricted free agent at season’s end, and even though he ranked second in the league in steals per game, his limited offensive ability will probably result in the Bulls letting him walk this off-season. Since the team is already deep at point guard, paying Dunn somewhere in the range of $8 to 10 million per season on a long-term contract just doesn’t make a lot of financial sense. The Bulls could look to re-sign Shaquille Harrison to provide some of the on-ball pressure and potential for steals that is Dunn’s specialty.

RELATED: Bulls questions: Should Bulls lock in Kris Dunn long-term after career-reviving year?

Since the Bulls will be over the expected salary cap for next season, roster changes will have to come through utilizing the non-taxpayer mid-level exception, trades and the draft. According to multiple reports, the Bulls are expected to add one or more new talent evaluators to their front office hierarchy, but it’s unclear whether someone will be brought in with the authority to drastically reshape the roster or make a coaching change.

Until the front office changes are implemented, everything else is pretty much on hold. With one of the NBA’s youngest rosters, the Bulls could look to trade their upcoming lottery pick and one of their rotation players for a veteran who could help lift the productivity and consistency of the starting line-up. Almost every season an All-Star caliber player is looking to force a trade from his current team, and the Bulls have to be aggressive in exploring those opportunities, especially if the 76ers decide to break up their star duo of Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons.

With the Bulls taking a step back in year three of the post-Jimmy Butler rebuild, no one on the roster should be considered untradeable. If a new general manager is brought in with total authority on roster construction, this could be an offseason of change for the Bulls. But if the current hierarchy remains in place, look for Jim Boylen to return next season with largely the same roster, hoping that improved health and familiarity with the offensive and defensive systems will result in a significantly better record in the 2020-21 season.

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