Otto Porter Jr.

Season in Review: Otto Porter shoots the lights out in small sample size

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Season in Review: Otto Porter shoots the lights out in small sample size

Over the next month we'll be recapping each of the Bulls' individual 2018-19 regular seasons.

Previous reviews: Lauri Markkanen | Shaq Harrison | Ryan Arcidiacono

Midseason expectations: Otto Porter Jr. arrived in Chicago the same night the Bulls posted a 126.3 offensive rating in a 125-120 loss to the New Orleans Pelicans. Maybe that was foreshadowing for how the offense would look two days later when Porter made his Bulls debut. That was the expectation, at least, that Porter would infuse life into a stagnant Bulls offense, space the floor and give the Bulls some versatility on the defensive end. Given the Bulls were 12-42 when Porter arrived, the expectation was that he’d gain some chemistry with Zach LaVine and Lauri Markkanen heading into the 2019-2020 season when he’d have an entire offseason to figure out a defined role.

What went right: How about 49 percent from beyond the arc? Again, it was a small sample size, but Porter connected on 39 of his 80 3-point attempts in 15 games with the Bulls. Perhaps a change of scenery and leaving that nightmare of a John Wall-less Wizards offense, was exactly what he needed. Past his lights-out shooting, Porter showed a knack for distributing that he rarely showed in Washington.

Consider that Porter had 40 assists in 15 games with the Bulls, half of the 80 assists he had with the Wizards in 41 games. He had a career-high eight assists for the Bulls in a March game against the Pistons, three more than his high in Washington last season. Porter is never going to initiate offense but playing well in pick-and-roll action and keeping the ball moving around the perimeter only adds to his value.

What went wrong: Pegged as two-way player when he arrived in Chicago, Porter didn’t do all that much on the defensive end. The Bulls were 1.1 points per 100 possessions better defensively when Porter sat than when he played. It’s a small sample size, and the Bulls defense was a mess regardless of who was or wasn’t on the floor, but it’s hard to pick out any real significant defensive plays that Porter made in his 15 games.

The Stat: 111.5

We’ll disclaim here that it was just a 17-game sample size, but that’s still more than 20 percent of the season. In the 17 games between Porter’s acquisition and when he was shut down for the remainder of the season, the Bulls’ 111.5 offensive rating was ninth best in the NBA, better than teams such as the Warriors, Hawks, Sixers and Nuggets.

What’s more, their turnover percentage (13.3%, 13th), effective field goal percentage (53.0%, 11th) and offensive rebound percentage (26.1%, 15th) were all top half of the league. It was their best stretch of the season, and it was no coincidence that it came while Porter was in the lineup and healthy. Small-ish sample size? Yes. Still promising? Yes.

2019-20 Expectations: A lot. No, the Bulls didn’t give Porter that massive contract. But it’s going to stick with him as long as the Bulls are paying him. Expectations are clear: Continue to be an elite 3-point shooter and move the ball – whether it be around the perimeter or in pick-and-roll action – once the defense shifts.

Speaking of defense, Porter will be tasked with changing the narrative in Chicago. The Bulls need to improve their defense if they’re going to have any change of competing for a playoff spot and much of that responsibility will fall on Porter. He’ll routinely be guarding the opponent’s best wing and will need to hide Zach LaVine at times. It’s a tall order, but it comes with the territory while making $27 million per year.

Point guard heads the list of Bulls offseason needs

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Point guard heads the list of Bulls offseason needs

Now that we know Jim Boylen will be the Bulls head coach for the foreseeable future, it’s time for the front office to structure a roster that fits the style of play Boylen prefers.

Here’s the roster breakdown by position, with predictions on which players are likely to return and where the front office will be looking to add help.

Point guard: Kris Dunn, Ryan Arcidiacono, Shaquille Harrison, Walter Lemon Jr.

Only Dunn is under contract for next season, but judging by John Paxson’s comments at his season-ending news conference, the front office will be looking to upgrade the position this summer.

“We have not given up on Kris. I think he has defensive abilities," Paxson told reporters. "But we have to get better at that position, there’s absolutely no question in my mind.

“Kris is going to have opportunity because he’s under contract, but we understand as an organization that’s a position that if we’re to make a step in the right direction, that we’re going to have to address. No beating around the bush on that one.”

At the very least Dunn will face competition from a high draft pick or free agent addition. If the Bulls are fortunate enough to land the No. 2 pick in the upcoming draft, you can expect them to select Murray St. point guard Ja Morant. If they pick in the 4-8 range, Vanderbilt’s Darius Garland and North Carolina’s Coby White will be among the players they consider.

Free agent possibilities include Derrick Rose, Patrick Beverley, Ricky Rubio, Darren Collison and Cory Joseph. The Bulls will have roughly $20 million of cap space this summer, but a player like Rubio or Collison would eat up the majority of that space. Rose would be an intriguing addition coming off an excellent season in Minnesota, but it’s unclear whether the front office would be willing to deal with some of the off the court drama his presence on the roster would create.

Beverley is another Chicago native who would offer the tough-minded, veteran leadership Paxson wants to add and could be an ideal mentor for a player like Morant, Garland or White.

Look for the Bulls to bring Harrison back as a combo guard who can play the role of defensive stopper, much like the Celtics’ Marcus Smart. Arcidiacono also could be back as a third point guard option, depending on what other moves the Bulls make. Lemon Jr. did a good job in his late season stint, but will probably have to look elsewhere for an NBA job next season.

Shooting guard: Zach LaVine, Denzel Valentine, Antonio Blakeney, Brandon Sampson (2-way player), Rawle Alkins (2-way player)

LaVine, Valentine and Blakeney are all under contract for next season, so don’t expect major changes at this position. The Bulls definitely missed Valentine’s court vision and three-point shooting on their second unit and are hoping reconstructive surgery will alleviate the ankle issues that have plagued him in his NBA career. Blakeney fell out of favor with the coaching staff late in the season, and his small guarantee for next season wouldn’t stop the Bulls from releasing him.

Depending on what other moves the Bulls make in free agency, they could look to add a veteran three-point shooter at a value price to supplement their reserve group. There’s also a chance the Bulls could draft a player like Jarrett Culver, Romeo Langford or Kevin Porter Jr. if they fall in the lottery.

Small forward: Otto Porter Jr., Chandler Hutchison, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, Wayne Selden Jr.

Another position that is basically set for next season. The Bulls love what they have in Porter Jr., and the front office is hoping Hutchison will improve his outside shooting this summer to take the next step in his development. Both Luwawu-Cabarrot and Selden Jr. head into free agency and are unlikely to return with the numbers crunch at their position.

The Bulls look at Porter Jr. as their major addition for the 2019-20 season and are pleased with what they saw from Hutchison in his rookie year. It’s possible they could look at Duke’s Cam Reddish, Virginia’s De’Andre Hunter or North Carolina’s Nassir Little in the draft, but they have greater needs at other positions.

Power forward: Lauri Markkanen

Yes, the depth chart at the four spot is awfully thin, thanks to the trade for Porter Jr. that sent Bobby Portis and Jabari Parker to Washington. Look for Porter Jr. to get some minutes at power forward next season when the Bulls utilize smaller line-ups.

Boylen indicated the Bulls would like to have late-season hardship addition JaKarr Sampson play with their summer league team. Sampson surprised everyone with his scoring ability during his 10 days with the team, but it’s hard to project whether he can offer that kind of production in limited minutes over an 82 game season. Still, he could be a low-cost option for a back-up role.

The Bulls might look to add a young backup for Markkanen in the draft with players like Gonzaga’s Rui Hachimura and Brandon Clarke, Oregon’s Bol Bol or Kentucky’s P.J. Washington, but it seems more likely the team will bring in a veteran like former Bull Taj Gibson to offer toughness and locker room leadership.

Center: Wendell Carter Jr., Robin Lopez, Cristiano Felicio

The Bulls are excited about the possibilities for improvement with the 19-year-old Carter Jr. He showed excellent defensive instincts, combining rim protection with the ability to guard smaller players on the perimeter in pick and roll situations. Carter Jr. was a reluctant shooter as a rookie, normally deferring to veteran players at the offensive end. Still, he has a nice touch on his mid-range jumper and can shoot jump hooks with either hand. There’s no reason why Carter Jr. can’t become a significant contributor at both ends of the court as he gains more confidence and experience.

Lopez emerged as a Kevin McHale-like low-post scorer over the final two months of the season, increasing his value as he heads into free agency this summer. The Bulls face a difficult decision with RoLo, who has told reporters he’s okay with returning as Carter Jr.’s backup as long as he plays a meaningful role. The negotiation process could get tricky, since the Bulls would probably want to cut Lopez’s $14.3 million salary in half. They also might want their backup center to be a three-point shooting threat, similar to what Portis offered over the last couple seasons.

The front office places a lot of value on what Lopez brings as a veteran leader; we’ll just have to wait until July 1 to see if other free agent options force the Bulls to say goodbye.

One other option for creating more cap space would be using the “stretch” provision on the contract of the seldom-used Felicio, basically extending the money owed to him for the final two years of his contract over the next five years. The disadvantage would be adding “dead money” to their cap in future years when they might be in position to add a high quality free agent.

We’ll have a better idea of how the roster tweaking will unfold after the draft lottery on May 14. If the Bulls are fortunate enough to land the first or second pick, they’ll be able to add a potential franchise-changer in Zion Williamson or their point guard of the future in Morant. That would lessen their need to make a major move in free agency and allow Paxson to pursue the tough-minded veteran leaders he talked about in his news conference.

Despite finishing with five less wins than they did in the 2017-18 season, the Bulls made some significant progress in Year 2 of the rebuild, identifying four long-term starters who are all 25 years old or younger. With a little lottery luck and the right free agent additions, the Bulls are in position to make a jump like the Nets and Magic, who each went from the lottery to the playoffs this season.

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An Outsider's perspective on the Bulls' future

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USA TODAY

An Outsider's perspective on the Bulls' future

I’ve never really experienced déjà vu. I’m talking glitch in the matrix, make you go to church, stop drinking Mountain Dew déjà vu. I have always hoped I’d have the sensitivity for such catharsis but it hasn’t happened yet. Maybe I’m on my phone too much? I think I’ve almost had it, like getting the déjà but no vu.

This Bulls season was the closest I’ve ever gotten to actual déjà vu. Like, I’ve seen this before: the losing, the dysfunction, the exhaustion of the front office, a young guard with newfound assertiveness, a raw European forward who shows glimpses but has already been labeled as “passive,” a reliable shooting forward whose contract seems to outweigh his production. This season was too familiar.

Over the past season, I have had the pleasure and privilege to co-host a show called Bulls Outsiders. But I am not only a Bulls Outsider, I am also a Chicago Outsider. I grew up in the professional basketball desert of Dallas, Texas. In the 1990s, Dallas was full on a Cowboys, Nolan Ryan, “I don’t want your life” type of sports town. No one cared about the NBA and with good reason. From 1990-1998 the Dallas Mavericks were 180-476, never once having a winning record while going through five different head coaches. I have a memory of Sports Illustrated calling the Mavericks “The Worst Franchise of the '90s” but I also remember the books as Berenstein Bears and can’t seem to find the SI cover so my memory might be wrong.

Rest assured, any Mavs related optimism was treated as full-blown psychosis. Then, in 1998 we drafted a nobody big man from Germany (Dirk Nowitzki), traded for a nobody guard by way of Phoenix and Santa Clara University (Steve Nash) and teamed them up with a kind-of-somebody shooting guard who was pretty good but had a massive contract (Michael Finley) and, ever so slowly, basketball optimism started to seduce even the most cynical fans.

Which brings me to this feeling of almost déjà vu. When I look at this Bulls team (the players in street clothes, not the G-League heroes battling futility), I see those misfit Mavericks from late, great, 1998. Maybe Markkanen isn’t Dirk, (even though my wonderful co-host Big Dave convincingly writes the contrary here) but he’s eerily close. Here are Nowitzki and Markennan’s second seasons compared:

  Season GS FG% 3P% eFG% FT% TRB AST STL BLK PTS
Lauri Markkanen 2018-19 119 .432 .362 .512 .859 8.2 1.3 0.6 0.6 16.7
Dirk Nowitzki 1999-2000 105 .448 .348 .492 .815 5.4 1.9 0.7 0.7 14.1

Lauri’s statistics look slightly better than Dirk’s but that might be the conversion rate from German to Finnish.

Now, I realize LaVine Cuisine isn’t the facilitator Steve Nash was, but both are smaller guards with elite talent who were traded too early and thrived offensively when given the opportunity. Here is a comparison of the between the guards’ fifth seasons:

  Season Age MP FG% 3P% eFG% FT% TRB AST STL PTS
Zach LaVine 2018-19 23 34.5 .467 .374 .520 .832 4.7 4.5 1 23.7
Steve Nash 2000-01 26 34.1 .487 .406 .544 .895 3.2 7.3 1 15.6

And maybe Porter Jr isn’t Michael Finley... okay, he actually might be Michael Finley. Here’s how their sixth seasons stack up (Note: Porter’s stats are from when he became a Bull, so small sample size) :

    Age G FG% 3P% eFG% FT% TRB AST STL PTS
Michael Finley 2000-01 27 82 .458 .346 .487 .775 5.2 4.4 1.4 21.5
Otto Porter 2019-19 25 15 .483 .488 .580 .906 5.5 2.7 1.2 17.5

These three along with Wendell Carter Jr, Chandler Hutchison, a lottery pick and whatever SpiritHustleGrit Bench Monster Boylen creates in his basement from sweat and starch, should be an above average, dare I say, competitive team. 

I understand the frustration, and unlike Dallas, Chicago is a basketball town... and a baseball town, a hockey town, a football town and, for some reason, another baseball town. It's probably the best sports city in the country. Chicago is a city whose past was defined by the curse of one goat while, in the present, looms the shadow of a different G.O.A.T.

With six championship banners watching over, anything less than perfection can feel like failure. On the one hand, Dallas was lucky. It didn’t have the history, the moments, or the pressure that Chicago has; but in 1998, Dallas had something. The core players were there for the Mavericks. The core players are here for the Bulls now. It’s not quite deja-vu, but it's something. And after a season of nothing, something can feel like everything. 

Oh and from 1999-2011 the Mavericks went 660-324