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Bobby Portis a 'unanimous selection' for Bulls' front office

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Bobby Portis a 'unanimous selection' for Bulls' front office

In the days before Thursday's NBA Draft, Gar Forman and the Bulls front office didn't have much discussion about Bobby Portis.

The SEC Player of the Year who had averaged 17.5 points and 8.9 rebounds in his second season at Arkansas was projected to fall somewhere in the middle of the first round, perhaps as early as No. 15 to the Hawks and well before the Bulls were set to select at No. 22.

But as power forwards continued to fall off the Bulls' draft board — Frank Kaminsky to the Hornets, Myles Turner to the Pacers, Trey Lyles to the Jazz — and other teams went after shooters in Kelly Oubre, Sam Dekker and Justin Anderson, Portis' name remained.

So when the Bulls went on the clock just before 9 p.m., the entire war room was in agreement about who the selection would be.

"We were going to take the best player available," said Forman, who admitted the Bulls slotted Portis as a late lottery pick. "When Bobby was on the board at 22 there was no discussion; he was the guy we were going to take."

[MORE BULLS: Bulls take Arkansas' Bobby Portis with No. 22 pick in NBA Draft]

Forman said the Bulls did their scouting on Portis throughout the year but that the majority of their targets were guards heading into Thursday night because of the "reality of the situation." Looking to fill a critical backup point guard position and some injury insurance for Derrick Rose, as many as six players at the position were expected to be selected in the first 30 picks.

The expected run on point guards occurred in the teens, with Oklahoma City drafting Cameron Payne with the final lottery pick after D'Angelo Russell had gone No. 2 to Los Angeles and Emmanuel Mudiay No. 7 to Denver. Boston then opted for Louisville point guard Terry Rozier — who the Bulls had been linked to — Phil Jackson and the Knicks traded up to No. 19 to grab Notre Dame's Jerian Grant, and the Raptors replaced Greivis Vasquez by drafting Utah's Delon Wright one pick later.

That left the Bulls with one realistic option at point guard, Duke's Tyus Jones. The front office's affinity for Blue Devils might have had Jones near the top of their list as Dallas selected Virginia's Justin Anderson at No. 21 and put the Bulls on the clock, but with Portis still available the discussions were short and debates non-existent.

"Just being in the draft room tonight, it’s not very often when you get to your pick, especially in the 20s, and everyone, it’s a unanimous decision," head coach Fred Hoiberg, who previously worked in Minnesota's front office, said. "And that happened tonight with Bobby still on the board. So it’s exciting."

[SHOP BULLS: Get a Bulls draft hat right here]

Portis filled a need, too.

With Taj Gibson set to miss four months with ankle surgery and Joakim Noah's knee an ongoing issue, Portis will provide stability, depth and insurance for the future as the Bulls transition to a more uptempo offense under Hoiberg. The Razorbacks' leading scorer has range out to the 3-point line and was a stellar mid-range shooter and was one of college basketball's best offensive rebounders.

But Forman was insistent that the selection was simply following the draft board.

"When we address needs, a lot of time we feel it’s either via trade or free agency. And we’re going to draft the best player we feel is available, and we look at it that way not only for the near future but for down the road," Forman said. "And we felt 100 percent for sure when we were at 22 and he was on the board that he was the best player available to us."

Forman said he feels as though the Bulls are getting a mature player in Portis, despite his sophomore status. Forman had selected four upperclassmen with his seven first-round picks since taking over as Bulls' general manager, and the team's current win-now, contender status would have made selecting an NBA-ready player a viable option.

[SHOP BULLS: Buy a Bobby Portis jersey]

But Forman stayed true to his board, finding a value pick in the 6-foot-11 forward. And though it wasn't what he was expecting when the Timberwolves went on the clock to begin the night, it ended with the Bulls unanimously selecting a player they feel has lottery-caliber potential.

"As we saw him start to slip we got excited about him, and then we were surprised he was there," Forman said. "Really excited to get Bobby. I think he’s going to be a fit with our team, a fit in our locker room. I think he’s got a lot of potential for the future and is a guy that will really, really fit in with our team."

Bulls crack the top-10 in ESPN's NBA League Pass Rankings

Bulls crack the top-10 in ESPN's NBA League Pass Rankings

The Bulls have struggled through the 2019-20 NBA preseason but have shown signs of a team on the rise in a drastically different Eastern Conference. ESPN's Zach Lowe released the second half of his NBA League Pass Rankings, with the Bulls making a surprising leap into the top 10 that supports the notion that they are a team set to be entertaining and much more effective in the 2019-20 NBA season.

While Lowe's League Pass Rankings are not power rankings, they go hand-in-hand with the idea that the Bulls are starting to become an interesting team on the national stage.

The highest score a team can get in Lowe's League Pass Rankings is a 50, based on a 1-10 ranking in five separate categories. The Bulls received a score of 34.5, finishing right behind the Utah Jazz.

Lowe credits the potential for Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter Jr. to develop into a "rare frontcourt pairing" as one of his main reasons for telling readers to look out for the Bulls this season.

While Markkanen has yet to shoot over 50% from 2-point range and Carter has yet to attempt more than 18 3-pointers in a season, the potential is there for both of these players to improve greatly in both of these areas, truly making them a "rare" and formidable offensive duo. 

Throughout Lowe's League Pass Ranking-breakdown of the Bulls, he had kind words for the Bulls' new pinstriped jerseys, the improvisational ability of the Bulls' veterans and LaVine's dunking ability.

LaVine is the best dunker since prime Vince Carter... 

-Zach Lowe on Zach LaVine 

And while Lowe hinted at Bulls head coach Jim Boylen playing a bit of a character, he had positive thoughts on him as well.

Lowe calls Boylen, "a smart coach," and states "there is even some logic in how he stripped the Bulls down to the basics of physicality and effort upon taking over."

The Bulls have lofty goals for the 2019-20 season, making the playoffs being the biggest one. At the same time, they are not pressuring the roster as Boylen himself has stated the most important goal is to "get better every day."

From what has been written about the Bulls this preseason—including Lowe's League Pass Rankings—it would appear most NBA writers expect the Bulls to be a more entertaining, effective, and cohesive unit over the course of the 2019-20 season. On October 23, when the games start to count, we will see if the Bulls can back up the hype.

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Kevin Durant chimes in on Zach LaVine's comments on mid-range shooting

Kevin Durant chimes in on Zach LaVine's comments on mid-range shooting

There is much discussion in the basketball community surrounding the value of the midrange shot following a Sun-Times article from Joe Cowley that discussed the Bulls analytics department wanting Zach LaVine to limit his mid-range attempts, and a segment on ESPN's The Jump, discussing the same topic. On Tuesday morning Matt Moore of the Action Network chimed in, offering up the statistics that clearly support the notion that LaVine should be shooting many, many more 3-pointers than 2s. 

While Moore's points were solid and backed up by the numbers, NBA superstar Kevin Durant offered up his opinion from a player's perspective. Durant backed up LaVine's quote of "sometimes there's nothing better than putting the ball in your best playmaker's hands and letting him get the shot he needs rather than the one you want." KD commented that he has seen too many players pass up wide-open midrange shots to force up 3-pointers or contested shots at the rim, with analytics having an influence on the shots that players take, referring the mid-range as "forbidden."

Durant went on to comment and respond to users' comments on the situation. In one response Durant agrees with a user who states that he is teaching his son to work on his mid-range game first and shoot 3-pointers once he is strong enough, stating "that's how I was taught."

Moore had some fun with the response from Durant, stating that when he initially tweeted about the topic, his intentions were not to get into a debate on the value of mid-range shots with an active NBA player who is already among the all-time greats. 

 Moore's original sentiment agrees with what the Bulls' analytics department is trying to accomplish. LaVine has always been a good mid-range shooter but last year alone he shot 35.8% on mid-range shots and 37.4% on 3-point attempts.

It is obvious that players still need to have to players who can hit mid-range attempts, as some of the best teams in the league—including recent NBA champions Toronto and Golden State, who finished second in the league in percentage of points coming from mid-range shots—have relied on players who can generate solid mid-range attempts in high-leverage moments. But Durant's point is important to note too.

Durant stated that you have to be "confident to make any shot" but countered that whatever you work on the most is what you will be best at. He doubled down on that point, saying most primary scoring options in the NBA shouldn't worry about analytics and should play off of feel, rather than numbers. 

Ultimately, there has to be a balance.

As we have seen through the preseason, taking fewer shots from the mid-range has certainly appeared to benefit LaVine's game, as he is currently fourth in the league in preseason scoring, averaging 23.3 points per game through three contests. But taking what the defense gives you, especially when you are as confident of a player as Durant or LaVine, still needs to be emphasized. 

In what should be a huge season for LaVine, he will again have a high-usage rate as he looks to lead the Bulls to a bounce-back season and mid-range shots, while limited, will still be a part of his shot profile.

So as far as Chicago Bulls fans should be concerned, this is a win-win. LaVine has clearly taken to heart was the Bulls' analytics department is preaching by shooting fewer mid-rangers but he still understands that that shot is going to be necessary for certain moments. So when LaVine is open from mid-range in 2019-20, the Bulls coaching staff will likely be saying the same thing Durant did on Tuesday morning, "Shoot em Zach."

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