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.

Even in victory, Bulls know they can be more consistent

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USA Today

Even in victory, Bulls know they can be more consistent

The Bulls authored their 106-99 victory over the Grizzlies Wednesday night in quintessential 2019-20 Bulls fashion.

They started scalding hot — scoring 13 of the game’s first 15 points. Then, a lull: They led only 24-20 with 1.5 seconds left in the first quarter before a Ryan Arcidiacono three pushed that advantage to seven.

The bench rode that wave to a 16-4 burst to open the second, and the lead soon ballooned to 50-28 — a 22-point advantage. Ahead 50-35 at the half, the Bulls were 19-for-41 (46.3%) from the field and 8-for-18 (44.4%) from 3-point range. The Grizzlies: 14-for-49 (28.6%) shooting and a mind-bending (for 2019, at least) 0-for-15 on 3-pointers.

For a team in the Bulls that’s six games below .500 and still underperforming relative to expectations, these types of spurts aren’t foreign. Nor are extended stretches of sound, swarming defense that drive opponents to stagnation.

Unfortunately, neither is what came next.

It didn’t happen lineally. There was no pinpointable avalanche of jumpshots or careless turnovers that swung the game. The Grizzlies just chipped away, cutting their deficit to as few as six points in the third quarter, then to one point on the heels of a deliberate, nearly-eight minute long 23-9 fourth-quarter run. When Jae Crowder capped that tear with a 3-pointer to pull the Grizzlies within 88-87 with 4 minutes, 29 seconds remaining in the game, the United Center let out a collective sigh — fans and players alike. It was familiar. 

To that point in the second half, the Bulls were shooting 10-for-31 (32.3%) from the field and 2-for-12 (16.7%) from three. The Grizzlies were 18-for-35 (51.4%), 5-for-10 (50%) from distance. In spite of the Bulls never trailing, it felt as though the contest had flipped completely on its head.

“I thought we started the game with the appropriate mindset, got off to a good start,” Jim Boylen said after the game. “What we're hoping to get is more consistency… We at times struggle with that. We play good basketball eight, twelve, fifteen minutes, and then we play five minutes of poor basketball and the game flips. Now, we gotta get back, re-engage, and play good basketball again. We're learning how to do that.”

Of course, the momentum eventually swung back in the Bulls’ favor permanently. Thank Zach LaVine for that. After the timeout that Boylen called following the Crowder three, LaVine was at least partially responsible — via made basket or assist — for the next 13 Bulls points. In the final four-and-a-half minutes of the game, the Bulls canned three triples and missed only one shot.

“We made big plays down the stretch, kept our composure,” LaVine said. “[Early on] we came out and played the right way, and then teams are gonna make their little runs here and there. I think we didn’t do a good job of keeping them down by 20… But we ended the game on a high note and that’s the best thing we can do.”

Forgive a moment of contrivance, but for the Bulls, this game felt microcosmic. The flashes were there of a crisp, movement-based offense and high-intensity, impact defense, but their inability to string 48 consistent minutes together will, to some, sour what was a solid overall performance. LaVine, an offensive revelation of late, rushing to the rescue was befitting, as well. 

It was the same story in Sacramento, where the Bulls led by as many as 19, but needed late-game heroics from LaVine and Lauri Markkanen to cling to a victory over a below-.500 team (missing its two best players). It happened — twice — in Charlotte, the first time resulting in a blown 10-point fourth quarter lead, the second an impossibly infernic comeback win that was as exhilarating as it was unsustainable.

“I don't feel a big-time shift, because I still know that we're in the right place,” LaVine said when asked if he feels the team’s energy or confidence wanes during dry spells, both offensively and defensively. “I just wish we could cut it off sooner. And we could make in-game adjustments better, and I'm not just saying coaching stuff, like, us too.” 

But what’s a team to do, then, when the lid on the basket closes? There are differing schools of thought, though no one in the locker room was resigned to a team-wide fate of perpetual inconsistency. LaVine offered something of a solution.

“I think getting to the foul line has been big, because that'll almost — not bail you out — but you can make an aggressive play,” LaVine, who has attempted 10 or more free throws in his last three games, said. “You still gotta stay aggressive, you still gotta take those shots if they're open. We gotta run our offense because at times it works really well.”

Thad Young was also candid, saying he thinks the Bulls’ current conundrum is in some ways a repercussion of attempting to blend into the break-neck paced, 3-point-happy style of play that’s en vogue in the NBA.

“When you're up 20 it's hard to win games, simply because of the fact that you have certain teams that just don't give up. And then you're trying to control pace as opposed to playing as fast as you were before. And sometimes that hurts you,” Young said. “When you're trying to slow it down, the other team tends to pick it up and gain confidence.

It stands to reason that the Bulls — notorious for generating turnovers and creating offense in transition — would be uniquely impacted by this. Boylen stressed that they’re continuing to learn and grow. 

"Just get back to what we were doing that got us to that point," Young said on the mentality of perservering through those tough stretches. Markkanen, among others, consistently preaches never getting too high or too low, in victory or defeat.

Bigger picture, the offensive metrics haven’t turned around yet (the Bulls remain 29th in offensive rating — 27th since LaVine’s 49-point outing in Charlotte — and a bottom-eight 3-point shooting team), but the win-loss record is beginning to. However, the Bulls are doing it, they’re winning, and that’s worth celebrating, for the time being. It allows the team to hone in on areas of inconsistency from a position of assurance.

“I don't feel a lack of energy or confidence,” LaVine said, on when times get the toughest. 

“We just gotta continue to be aggressive and put the ball in the right players' hands and make plays.”

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Bulls Outsiders Podcast: LaVine closes out Bulls win vs Grizzlies Bulls Outsiders

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NBC SPORTS CHICAGO

Bulls Outsiders Podcast: LaVine closes out Bulls win vs Grizzlies Bulls Outsiders

On this edition of the Bulls Outsiders podcast, Matt Peck, David Watson, and John Sabine react to the Bulls 106-99 win over the Grizzlies.

0:45 - On the Bulls first win streak of the season

2:20 - On Zach LaVine taking over as the team’s closer

5:25 - Viewer comment on Lauri Markkanen being on his way back; discussion on Lauri minutes

10:45 - On Denzel Valentine contributing in meaningful minutes

13:05 - Viewer comment with a different Portillos giveaway suggestion

13:50 - Viewer comment on Satoransky

16:20 - Thoughts on Bulls very blue city edition jerseys

18:30 - Our nightly ‘John makes Big Dave laugh really hard’ moment

19:25 - Viewer comment on concerns over Coby White

21:20 - Viewer comment on Matt breaking multiple mics

22:30 - Viewer comment on Dunn’s defense vs LaVine’s offense

24:15 - On Lebron James not getting called for an obvious travel

Listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below:

Bulls Outsiders

Subscribe:

Attention Dish and Sling customers! You have lost your Bulls games on NBC Sports Chicago. To switch providers, visit mysportschicago.com.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Bulls easily on your device.