Bulls: Bobby Portis waiting for his time, embracing current role


Bulls: Bobby Portis waiting for his time, embracing current role

The night Bobby Portis was drafted he knew playing time would be at a premium in his rookie season.

Portis, the second team All-American his sophomore year at Arkansas, slipped to No. 22 at draft night, with the Bulls scooping up the best player available expected by many to be taken in the lottery.

The Bulls had a need at point guard behind Derrick Rose and could have added a wing to complement Tony Snell and Doug McDermott, but instead they drafted with an eye toward the future and added to their already loaded frontcourt, perhaps the deepest in the league.

There was optimism that Portis was ready for the big stage when he averaged 14.5 points and 8.7 rebounds in the Las Vegas Summer League, and he performed well in seven preseason games, averaging 11.1 points and 9.1 rebounds.

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But the regular season was a different story. Portis has appeared in just three games, totaling 22 minutes. The Bulls' frontcourt quartet of Pau Gasol, Nikola Mirotic, Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson have combined to miss just one game, with Noah sitting out a game in Philadelphia last month.

"Once I got drafted I kind of knew. It’s not that hard to tell," Portis said of his expected playing time. "They’ve been here longer than I have and obviously I’m a rookie so I have to play to my role and my role is to be a positive guy on the bench and cheer for my teammates and be the best teammate possible.

"My role is not to play right now. I’m cool with waiting on my turn and once my turn comes then I’ll be the Bobby Portis I’ve always been."

He made his NBA debut in the Bulls' blowout loss to the Hornets in November, scoring 10 points on 5-for-7 shooting in the fourth quarter. When Noah sat out in Philadelphia, Portis saw his first first-half action, scoring two points in 10 minutes.

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And though his playing time has been minuscule, head coach Fred Hoiberg has constantly applauded Portis' work ethic and attitude, where he "pushes the heck out of our guys in practice."

"He’s a great attitude, great spirit, he’s doing all the things that he has to do to keep himself ready for when that time comes that his name is called," Hoiberg added, "which again will happen sometime this season and most likely sometime soon."

Portis has admitted frustration at not playing a year after he averaged 29.9 minutes per game for the Razorbacks. But the same veterans playing ahead of him also have been the ones in his ear, telling him to be ready whenever his number is called.

"(Joakim Noah) and Taj (Gibson) always tell me that their rookie years they were siting on the bench and something happened, someone got traded or injured and then they started playing," Portis said. "So they told me to stay ready because things happen in this league that are crazy and things can change easily."

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Portis has filled the void of not playing by participating in 1-on-1 and 2-on-2 drills after practice against teammates. And while he'd like to be playing, with the Bulls' frontcourt playing well and the team sitting at 11-7, just a half game out of the top seed in the East, Portis is taking his role in stride.

"(Hoiberg) actually talked to me today, told me to stay ready. He likes the things that I’m doing," Portis said. I come here every day with a positive attitude. I don’t complain about me not playing. I just try to bring positive energy on the bench, in practice and even on the road. I just try to be myself.

"Like I’ve always said, it’s not about me right now. It’s about the team. I’m just trying to be the best teammate possible."

Bulls defense costs them late but showing 'competitive spirit' a step in right direction


Bulls defense costs them late but showing 'competitive spirit' a step in right direction

The Bulls defense is nowhere near where it needs to be, and it cost them dearly on Saturday night. But in a season that’s still about seeing progression both individually and collectively, the Bulls took a step in the right direction with their effort and what Fred Hoiberg called “competitive spirit.”

That won’t change the standings when they wake up Sunday morning, now facing an 0-2 hole in the early season. And while better effort and tougher defense helped them stage a second-half comeback they weren’t able to manage on Thursday, it was a defensive miscue that cost them the game.

Ish Smith split a double screen at the top of the key and sliced his way past Jabari Parker for a wide open go-ahead layup with 5.4 seconds left. Zach LaVine, who 20 seconds earlier had tied the game with the last of his 33 points, was unable to get a shot off after a timeout. Better than Thursday for 47 minutes and 50 seconds. But still costing them when it mattered most.

“We can’t give up a layup for the last play,” said LaVine, who was guarding Smith. “We just got to get our defense right. That’s why it’s really upsetting because we played so well, we came back but we can’t give up a layup. We at least have to make him take a tough one. That was as easy a layup as you can get. It’s really upsetting.”

Fred Hoiberg defended his decision to leave Parker in the game instead of inserting rookie Wendell Carter Jr. He opted to ride the group that helped the Bulls erase a fourth-quarter deficit when it appeared the Bulls were spiraling toward another double-digit loss.

But the Pistons were ready to find the weak link in the Bulls defense and expose it, like they did much of the fourth quarter while attacking Parker with Blake Griffin. As the screen was set Parker jumped outside to cut off Smith, who then made a cut inward and made a dash to the rim. Parker was a couple steps late, allowing the 5-foot-9 Smith to score with ease to give the Pistons their lead and the eventual game-winner.

Bobby Portis, whose shot wasn’t falling but played admirable defense against a talent like Griffin, was on the other side of the double screen and didn’t have a great view of the play. But he said allowing a layup with the game on the line is inexcusable.

“It’s a tough play but at the same time you don’t want to give up a layup at the end of the game,” he said. “You want to make him take a tough shot. That’s something we’ve got to work on, is late game execution on defense.”

But again, it’s about baby steps. The Bulls will want that final possession back, and Hoiberg might also want it back after leaving Parker in the game over Carter. But from where the Bulls were on Thursday, this was better. Granted, allowing 118 points and 18 3-pointers to the Pistons isn’t a recipe for success, it’s improvement nonetheless. Detroit got a career-high five triples from Griffin, four from Reggie Jackson (a career 32 percent 3-point shooter) and a pair from Stnaley Johnson (a career 29 percent 3-point shooter). The Bulls will be able to live with some of those makes.

On Thursday the Bulls trailed by just six early in the third quarter before the Sixers ripped off a 19-3 run to put the game out of reach. On Saturday the Pistons got out to a six-point lead on two different occasions, and then a seven-point lead with just 2:01 to play. All three times the Bulls came roaring back, using timely spots and clutch baskets from LaVine, Park and even Cameron Payne, who tied a career-high with 17 points.

Ultimately it wasn’t enough, but it’s a positive sign that they were able to battle back and show some fight defensively. They’ll certainly need that when they travel to Dallas to take on a Mavericks team that scored 140 points on the Jimmy Butler-less Timberwolves on Saturday. They should get Dunn back, which will help,  and now have a close contest under their belt on which to build. It didn’t result in a win, and the late-game cross-up was the cause, but the Bulls finished Saturday in a much better place than they were in on Thursday.

“Yeah but obviously we want to get the win. I feel like we fought hard,” Portis said. “Even when adversity hit everybody stuck together. We did our thing tonight. You want to win the game but I felt like we did our job tonight. We just gave up a bad play at the end of the game.”

Denzel Valentine suffers setback on injured left ankle, will be reevaluated in 2 weeks


Denzel Valentine suffers setback on injured left ankle, will be reevaluated in 2 weeks

Denzel Valentine’s troublesome left ankle is going to keep him on the sideline for at least the next two weeks. Fred Hoiberg said Saturday before the Bulls’ home opener against the Detroit Pistons that Valentine is suffering from a bone bruise in the ankle he sprained on the second day of training camp. Valentine will be evaluated in two weeks.

“It sucks because of all the work I put in this summer and being around the guys you want to be out there so bad,” he said. “Things happen for a reason, and now that we know what’s going on I at least have a time frame and be patient with it; it’s bad news but good news at the same time as it gives me time to get ready.”

Valentine had been practicing earlier in the week and appeared close to a return after spraining the ankle on Sept. 25. But the third year wing complained of discomfort in the ankle and missed practice on Friday. A scan of the left ankle revealed the bone bruise, and Hoiberg wouldn’t speculate on when exactly Valentine might return.

It’s the same ankle Valentine had surgery on in May 2017. Valentine also missed the last two weeks of last season after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery. The injury couldn’t come at a worse time for Valentine or the Bulls, who are in desparate need of help both in the backcourt and on the wing.

Though Valentine isn’t a true point guard, he averaged 3.2 assists per game off the bench last season. The Bulls could use that kind of production when Kris Dunn returns on Monday, as Cameron Payne and Ryan Arcidiacono haven’t exactly showed promise in the early going.

Instead, Valentine is on the mend and it’s unclear when he might return. Given he’s had surgery on the same ankle before, the Bulls will be cautious upon his return.

“I’m a fighter, I’m not going to quit; just deal with the hand dealt," Valentine said. "I can’t sit here and be negative, I just got to fight, stay mentally strong and this will be bittersweet when I come back and have a great year.”