On the eve of the NBA’s trade deadline the Chicago Bulls turned two offense only players, whom were not in the organization’s long term plans; into a dead eye shooting, two-way wing. One of the leagues most coveted archetypes.
As it turns out, Otto Porter is really good. As a Wizard, Porter had been a good but unspectacular third option (that may have been a little underappreciated to the casual NBA fan). From Bradley Beal to Paul Pierce, the Wizards wanted Porter to be a more assertive offensive player. Last night against a post Marc Gasol Memphis Grizzlies team, we got a glimpse of what that may look like, as Otto attempted twenty shots in a game for the first time since the 2015-2016 season. Porter was stuck on automatic, shooting 16-20 from the floor. In his first game as a Bull at a game I attended at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, Porter shot 7-9 from the field including 4-5 from behind the three-point line. He’s been on an absolute tear. In his four games as a Bull, Porter is sporting a PER of 23.4, a TS% of 72.6%, and an ORTG of 128. Clearly those numbers are unsustainable, but Porter has seen an uptick in usage and more of a green light since the trade. Maybe the trade lit a fire in Porter or maybe his role has been different with the Bulls, but you can already see Porter’s fingerprints all over the Bulls improved offense.
Porter’s arrival in Chicago hasn’t just been good for him. OPJ’s game has made life easier for Zach Lavine and LuariMarkkanen. Adding an elite floor spacer to the lineup has opened up lanes for Lauri and Zach that just aren’t normally there for them. Teams can’t sag off of Porter and over help the same way they can against Antonio Blakeney or Chandler Hutchinson. In the last four games Zach and Lauri have been efficient in their offense and shown glimpses of a more effective passing game. Hard to believe we’d see the same result without the spacing that Porter provides.
Porter is as much an upgrade defensively as he has been offensively. At 6’9” tall with a 7’1” wingspan, OPJ is the ideal size for a swing defender in today’s NBA. His size, length, IQ, and lateral movement gives him the versatility to guard multiple positions. At 1:37 seconds into this clip you see that defensive versatility on full display.
Porter starts by defending Valanciunas in the post. As Lopez comes to help him and double the post, Valanciunas makes a skip pass to the opposite wing causing Markkannen to leave his assignment in the corner and contest the wing shooter. OPJ is smart enough to realize that Carter is going to make a quick pass to the corner shooter and he makes a great running contest that leads to a block on Jaren Jackson. Porter is anticipating that shot the moment that the ball leaves Valanciunas’ hand.
The major gripe I’ve heard from Bulls fans is that Porter is going to hurt the tank, a sentiment that I don’t believe to be true. At this point in the season the Bulls seem destined for the four spot in the tank race. They were there before OPJ and they’ll be there throughout the rest of the season. At best, the Bulls could have and still may end up in the third spot by surpassing the Cavs. Cleveland has been more competitive lately and Kevin Love returned from his foot injury. The Knicks and Suns have the first two spots on lock down. Both franchises have put on a serious display of suck in their quest to finish last. The Hawks are too many games ahead in the win column and their young guys are trending up. With the new lottery odds, Chicago is better off playing out the rest of the year playing competitive ball so their young core can learn how to win some games. Establishing a serious losing culture is more likely to make you the Suns than the 76ers.
I get the knocks on Porter. He makes a ton of money the next two years and he can easily fall back into that tentative supporting role he displayed for so many years in Washington. The contract doesn’t worry me as a Bulls fan. The Bulls weren’t going to be major players in this year’s free agency. John Paxson knew the Kawhi’s and Durant’s weren’t coming when he pulled the trigger on the deal. Leftover mid-tier guys like Middelton are going to get similar contracts to Porter and the years will extend longer. As the cap continues to increase ($118 million in 2020) OPJ’s cap hit won’t take up nearly as much of the cap as it seems on the surface. As for his new found usage rate, we’ll have to see if it’s a flash in the pan or a more permanent fix to an otherwise underutilized player.
Despite taking on Porter’s large contract, the Bulls will still have over twenty million dollars to spend this off season. Add some solid vets like Rubio and Gibson and then draft one of the top prospects that you’ve been tanking for and you start to see the makings of a playoff team. Getting back to the playoffs will be important for a team that wants to see improvement from a young core that will be entering their third season together. It’s time for the young Bulls to start taking the next step and bring a storied franchise back to respectability. Porter’s acquisition is the first step in accelerating that process.