Almost as important as the Bulls needing to improve its talent base in Year 2 of the rebuild was improving its versatility. One of the myriad reasons the Bulls struggled to fight through their copious injuries was a lack of organizational depth and one-dimensional players unable to adjust in different scenarios.
So while the addition of Otto Porter Jr. at last week’s trade deadline gave the Bulls an elite shooter who complemented the team’s two leading scorers, it also gave them a versatile wing capable of guarding – and guarding well – three different positions.
That was on full display in the Bulls’ Monday night loss to the Milwaukee Bucks. Porter played 37 minutes and saw time at small forward, power forward, and even de facto center when Mike Budenholzer’s group put MVP candidate Giannis Antetokounmpo in the middle of a small lineup.
Porter responded with another night outing, his third straight since coming to the Bulls in a deal with the Wizards last Wednesday. He finished with 18 points on 7 of 14 shooting, seven rebounds and four assists, and now has averages of 17.6 points and 4.3 rebounds through three games. More importantly, he’s made 8 of his first 14 3-point attempts and has even shown a bit of play making with seven assists.
“He’s just a basketball player. That’s what we needed, that’s what we got,” Jim Boylen said after the game. “What that means is you can throw him out there and he can get somebody else going, he can get himself going, he can make shots off the move.
“I think he showed the whole thing tonight. He showed a lot of versatility. I’m really thankful he’s a Bull.”
The Bulls finally have what appears to be their long-term answer at small forward – his contract necessitates it, but his play is worthy of it too. Justin Holiday was always a stopgap, and while Chandler Hutchison and Shaq Harrison showed flashes, they both project more as rotational pieces than an answer to the spot in between LaVine and Markkanen.
And for all LaVine has done as a playmaker, especially when Kris Dunn was out with a sprained knee, he doesn’t scream versatility and has had his struggles on the defensive end. The same goes for Markkanen, a matchup nightmare but someone who has struggled defensively in limited minutes at center. Dunn doesn’t provide much shooting from the point guard position, and Wendell Carter Jr., while agile, was a true center and didn’t spend much time at power forward before his thumb injury.
But in Porter the Bulls have someone who can wear multiple hats. He played 36 percent of his minutes this season in Washington at power forward because he was a positive there, not just because the Wizards wanted to go small. Now Boylen has options he didn’t really have during the small forward merry-go-round earlier in the season.
Dunn mentioned after the game that having Porter in the lineup has allowed the Bulls to switch more often and not be out of position on mismatches. Porter is a legitimate 6-foot-8 with length, and he’s got the lateral speed to stick with quicker guards.
His primary use will still come at small forward, where he’s been a complementary piece to LaVine and Markkanen as a tertiary scorer. LaVine is already seeing the benefits of having another shooter on the floor, and he’s now tallied 18 assists since Porter joined the Bulls.
“Otto has definitely been giving us space. Before, they were loading up on the elbow, so it was hard for me to drive the seam,” LaVine said. “I can get to the paint and I can create for myself or others.”
And it’s just the beginning. Porter is still learning the optimal way to play with his teammates and will only get better as they learn each other. Both in the short term and long term he’s giving the Bulls a sort of versatility and flexibility they needed in a desperate way.
“I’m not surprised. I need to do more. Just figuring out what I can do but I’m out there just trying to do whatever I can,” Porter said. “It’s helped me get acclimated with the guys for me to do what I do.”