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Bobby Portis Represents Change in Bulls’ Draft Strategy

In 2012, the Chicago Bulls selected Marquis Teague with the 29th pick in the draft, choosing youth over immediate help. The Bulls drafted Tony Snell at No. 20 the following year, feeling that his physical profile would lend well to a future in the NBA. Last year, Chicago took an aggressive approach and traded its No. 16 and 19 picks (and more) in the draft for Doug McDermott, thinking his NBA readiness would warrant such a haul. It didn’t, or at least it hasn’t thus far.

When the Bulls nabbed Bobby Portis with the No. 22 pick on Thursday, for the first time since 2011 the front office’s intent felt right. No more drafting a player that was young but offered every indication in college that he couldn’t play professional basketball. Although Snell is coming along slowly, his 42.1 career field goal percentage at New Mexico didn’t scream first-round pick. Dougie McBuckets was a desperation move to find a quick fix that the Bulls were never going to get via the draft.

Portis might not be a home run, but he’s young (turned 20 in February), dominated high-level college basketball (SEC Player of the Year) and features a physical profile (6-foot-10.5, 246 pounds, 7-foor-2 wingspan) that’s enticing for any NBA team. He’s exactly what Teague, Snell and McDermott weren’t, and that’s a step forward for Gar Forman and John Paxson. For a front office that isn’t known for being a big proponent of analytics, Portis is an advanced stats darling:

DraftExpress combined several analytical models in this outstanding piece. The models were added into a composite ranking score that projected which players will be the best in the draft purely by advanced statistics. Analytical models like this have been more predicative of NBA success than the actual draft (.66 correlation to .28, which is outlined in the introduction to the article).

Portis ranked 11th overall according to the composite score of these models, which was 11 spots higher than where he was drafted. He ranked in the top 10 in three different models and top five in two of them. Kevin Pelton’s always interesting WARP projections tabbed Portis at No. 12.

These projections are in line with his gaudy sophomore year statistics of 17.5 points, 8.9 rebounds, 1.4 blocks and 1.1 steals per game with a slash line of .536/.467/.737. That juicy line equated to a 29.5 PER, which ranked fourth among major conference players behind Frank Kaminsky (No. 9 pick), Karl-Anthony Towns (No. 1 pick) and Jahlil Okafor (N0. 3 pick). Portis’s outstanding numbers were a product of his versatility on the court.

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This chart, courtesy of Kirk Goldsberry, outlines Portis’s strength in the paint. He’s not an outstanding athlete, but he’s a strong finisher in the paint due to his scoring instincts. According to Hoop-Math, Portis shot 75.4 percent at the immediate rim area. Some of that high number is a product of easy buckets, which Portis had a fair share of in Mike Anderson’s speedy system at Arkansas.

Arkansas was the fastest major conference team according to KemPom’s adjusted tempo. Portis excelled running the floor as a big man, averaging 1.2 PPP in transition on 12 percent of his offense, according to Synergy statistics provided by DraftExpress. Jimmy Butler and Mike Dunleavy were the only players with better transition numbers on the Bulls last season. Portis’s experience in a fast-paced system will bode will for his future under Fred Hoiberg. Iowa State was the fourth-fastest major conference team last season. Portis is more than capable of scoring in the half court as well:

Portis doesn’t have a textbook jumper, but his results have been encouraging nonetheless. He converted on a solid 37.6 percent of his two-point jumpers, which made up for over half his field goal attempts, per Hoop-Math. He has a slow and low delivery, but as long as his feet are set that’s not a problem. His stroke is ideal for pick-and-pop situations.

Most of his damage offensively early in his career will come on the glass, where he ripped down 3.7 offensive rebounds per game last season. His nonstop motor and solid mobility allows for him to be a terror on the offensive glass. Rebounding tends to transition seamlessly to the NBA.

That mobility also comes in handy on defense, where Portis is as versatile as any player in this draft. He isn’t an elite rim protector because of his limited athleticism, but he’s still a solid shot-blocker (2.1 per 40 for his career) who also plays the passing lanes well (1.5 steals per 40 in his career). He projects to be a better pick-and-roll defender than rim protector, which might make him more of a power forward than center.

Portis doesn’t take much off the table. He won’t turn it over (lowest turnover percentage among big men in the draft), doesn’t foul (2.7 fouls per 40 pace adjusted), finishes at the rim, makes his jumpers and competes on the defensive end. His below-the-rim style of play will be an adjustment in the NBA, but he has the smarts and basketball acumen to overcome any serious obstacles. With Nikola Mirotic, Taj Gibson, Joakim Noah and Pau Gasol already on the roster, he’ll likely have a redshirt year of sorts next season. That’s unless the Bulls trade Gibson or Noah, but that seems unlikely given the gun-shy history of Forman and Paxson.

Nonetheless, Portis is a refreshing change of pace from the recent draft woes of the Bulls. He wasn’t drafted to fill a positional need or contribute right away. He was drafted because the front office agreed that he was the best player on the board and fit Holberg’s system to a tee. That remains to be seen, but that kind of thinking will make draft successes like Gibson, Butler and Mirotic happen more often while mistakes like Teague and McDermott will be a thing of the past.

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