Bulls

After Bobby Portis burned Celtics in opener, will they adjust or dare him to do it again?

After Bobby Portis burned Celtics in opener, will they adjust or dare him to do it again?

Bobby Portis probably had a higher standing on the Celtics’ draft board two years ago than he did on their scouting report coming into this first-round playoff series, but like a new song that’s caught fire in the spring, he’s moving up the charts.

Portis wowed in his playoff debut, unfazed by the atmosphere and sensing a void at the power forward spot with Nikola Mirotic struggling, scored 19 points with nine rebounds in the Bulls’ surprising series-opening win at TD Garden Sunday.

Now the question is, can Portis have a repeat performance? 

In what could be a desperate atmosphere in Game 2 Tuesday night, the Celtics can’t afford to go down 0-2 headed to Chicago for two games and the pressure will squarely be on the home team to restore order.

"I’ve always been confident; it helps at the same time I knew the circumstances of what my team needed from me," Portis said Sunday night. "I went out there and played my basketball game, I took the shots that came to me."

Not only did he make shots but he played with an energy and exuberance on the glass, running the floor and helped contribute to the Bulls’ massive edge on the glass, along with a grown man block on Jae Crowder with less than three minutes remaining and the Bulls clamping down on the Celtics offense.

Then hitting jumpers late along with some emotion and swagger.

Although the last handful of Portis’ shots were contested and he was already in a late rhythm, most of his opportunities came from the Celtics’ pick-and-roll defense, bringing two players to the ballhandler and choosing to leave Portis or Mirotic open to take their chances.

"I’m a very confident basketball player, but I credit the guys who passed me the ball and had confidence in me to shoot the ball," Portis said. "They were telling me to shoot the ball; that helps, too; at the same time I prepared the whole season even though through the ups and downs that made me where I am today."

Portis burned them and it appears the Bulls expected that coming into the series.

"They did a good job, they didn't plan for Bobby Portis to go 8-10 from the field," Dwyane Wade said before the Bulls practiced at Emerson College Monday afternoon.

"But I thought their gameplan was true to Boston. Bobby Portis just had a big game and that was the difference maker."

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Wade seemed to be more decoy than aggressor in Game 1, a strategy he appears okay with as long as it works, as he only took 12 shots in 34 minutes. And considering Sunday was the first playoff experience for many Bulls like Portis, nobody seemed too shocked he was the one who wasn’t affected and didn’t shrink from the moment.

"He didn't show anything (new). I knew what Bobby's capable of," Jimmy Butler said. "I've seen it in practice, I've seen it all year long. He's confident. But your confidence comes from your work. He's out there shooting jump shots every day. It doesn't matter if it's playoffs, game 52, game 82, or if it's overtime. I have confidence that he's going to step up and make those shots."

Al Horford contested a few shots and with Portis hitting them anyways, one wonders if the Celtics will truly adjust to Portis or dare him to make those same shots again.

After all, hitting 18-to-20 footers is probably something Portis will have to prove he can make consistently through his entire career, and overreacting to an unknown commodity while opening up driving lanes for Wade, Butler and Rajon Rondo doesn’t seem like the smartest move.

"You can try to prepare for adjustments they may make but you don't know," Wade said. "Whatever adjustments they make, you gotta make adjustments to their adjustment."

What Bulls’ Coby White must do to maximize tantalizing potential moving forward

What Bulls’ Coby White must do to maximize tantalizing potential moving forward

Every weekday for the next three weeks, NBC Sports Chicago will be breaking down the 15 full-time players on the Bulls' roster, with each week featuring a different position groups. Next up is Coby White.

Past: Zach LaVine

2019-20 Stats

13.2 PPG, 3.5 RPG, 2.7 APG | 39.4% FG, 35.4% 3P, 79.1% FT | 23.5% USG

Contract Breakdown

June 2019: Signed 2-year, $10,879,800 rookie-scale contract (one year, plus two team option years remaining for total value of $18,824,395)

2020-21: $5,572,680 | 2021-22: $5,837,760 (team option) | 2022-23: $7,413,955 (team option) | 2023-24: RFA (QO: $9,942,114)

Strengths

Electricity runs through Coby White. It shows in his blinding end-to-end speed, and dances off his fingertips when jumpers are falling. Distilled simply, those are White’s two greatest NBA strengths: He can really run, and he can really shoot it.

His rookie season with the Bulls was a bit uneven (read: everything before the All-Star break) as he acclimated to sporadic playing time and an off-ball role he hadn’t been asked to play in high school and college. But the stretch run validated all those who stood by his scoring prowess. In 10 games post-All-Star-break, White’s minutes bumped to 33.7 per game, and production followed. He averaged 24.7 points and 4.3 assists over that span and shot the air out of the ball, canning 40.7% of 8.6 3s per game (44.8% on 2.9 pull-up 3s per). 

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That torrid shooting was an outlier, but White’s work off the catch was steady all season — he finished the year a 37% marksman on 3.7 3-point attempts per game in that context; he gets his jumper off quickly — and post-All-Star, the Bulls averaged 103.41 possessions with him on the floor and 97.84 with him off, roughly the equivalent difference between the sixth- and 29th-ranked paces in the league. In general, the offense cratered in minutes he sat over that span. All of which is to say, White’s strengths are conducive to the run-and-gun style the Bulls want to play, and he’s liable to catch fire at an instant. 

That White was able to vault the rookie wall he self-admittedly hit is a testament to his work ethic and maturity, which teammates and coaches past and present are quick to laud him for. Those intangibles should only amplify his on-court talents throughout his career. (Oh, he was also one of two Bulls to appear in all 65 of the team’s games this season — for this group, no small feat.)

Areas to Improve

White will enter Year 2 with a number of questions looming over him. Can he man true point guard duties for the Bulls moving forward? Do he and LaVine comprise a tenable starting backcourt defensively? Can White once and for all kick the microwave scorer rep and be a reliable option on a nightly basis, regardless of whether the jumper is falling? What’s his role if the Bulls draft a lead guard with their upcoming lottery pick?

Unfortunately, evaluation on all those fronts was cut short by the COVID-19 pandemic, which halted the NBA season with White fresh off his first career start, and LaVine sidelined with a quad injury. What we do know is that White’s dynamism and off-ball adaptability make him an exciting backcourt mate for LaVine on the offensive end if he finds consistency. Underwhelming season-long shooting numbers (39.4% FG) are a reminder that’s not a guarantee yet, but, man...

 

An average athlete with a 6-foot-5 wingspan, White will also have a hill to climb to be an above-average defender at either guard spot, and an above-average finisher around the cup. His speed and shooting ability grant him gravitational pull on the offensive end, but he’s still unproven as a facilitator, logging just a 13th percentile assist-to-usage ratio (0.67) in Year 1. To be an ideal partner for LaVine, his defending and playmaking will have to trend upwards.

White is unquestionably a bucket, and with how hard he works, it’s reasonable to expect continued progression on all those fronts — in his rookie season, his restricted area field goal percentage ticked up every month, he competed hard on the defensive end and passing lanes opened up as the game slowed down for him over time. A larger sample size will tell us more, but optimism is warranted.

Ceiling Projection

White’s speed is truly unnatural, and if his jumpshot steadies out, he has the tricks in his bag to be a 20-point scorer and game-breaking transition threat. That alone would make him a quality starter in the league for many years. While his defense will likely always be a question mark, bumping his assist average into the five-to-seven range would be the key to unlocking All-Star level potential.

But if we’re being real, it’s silly to slap a ceiling on a just-turned 20-year-old who improved so markedly in his first season. The sky’s the limit for Coby.

RELATED: Does Bulls’ Coby White have All-Star potential? One NBA insider thinks so

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Bulls Talk Podcast: Keith Smith of Yahoo! Sports on mechanics of NBA bubble

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USA Today

Bulls Talk Podcast: Keith Smith of Yahoo! Sports on mechanics of NBA bubble

The NBA bubble in Orlando is underway, but how are Disney and the NBA handling it? Keith Smith of Yahoo! Sports, Real GM — and the first to speculate about the idea of the bubble in Disney World — joins Jason Goff to discuss how the bubble is functioning, how the players are adapting to their new environment, and what is Disney doing to accommodate. Smith provides all the details you want and need to know about what is going on in Orlando.

(5:10) - Coming up with the idea of the Bubble at Disney World

(16:40) - Is there worry about the uptick in Coronavirus cases in the Bubble

(22:00) - Life in the Bubble for the players

(30:00) - Fan reaction to the Bubble`

(38:40) - A lot of the players want to finish the season

Listen here or via the embedded player below:

Bulls Talk Podcast

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