Striking the right balance between talent and need, the Chicago Bulls should receive high marks for taking Arkansas power forward Bobby Portis with the No. 22 overall selection in the 2015 NBA Draft Thursday night.
Power forward Taj Gibson underwent ankle surgery after the season concluded, center Pau Gasol will turn 35 next month, small forward Mike Dunleavy could leave in free agency this summer, and center Joakim Noah may not be 100 percent after a knee operation last year.
Clearly the Bulls were in dire need of frontcourt reinforcements, so they used their lone pick on perhaps one of the steals in this year’s new rookie class.
Listed at 6-foot-11, Portis, who claimed the SEC Player of the Year award over No. 1 overall pick Karl-Anthony Towns, already displayed the kind of attitude Chicago wants to see.
"I think I'll fit in well there," Portis said after he was selected. "They have Pau Gasol and Taj Gibson. I'm going to back those guys up or try to start and learn from them a little bit."
Portis overcame a difficult upbringing in Little Rock, Arkansas, to star with the Razorbacks, averaging 17.5 points and 8.9 rebounds with better than a steal and block per game in his sophomore year. He led Arkansas to a 27-9 record, the most wins for the program in 20 years, and into the third round of the NCAA tournament with limited talent around him.
And against Towns and the loaded Wildcats, the second-team All-American scored in double-figures in both of their matchups including 13 points in the SEC Championship game off only seven shots.
The 20-year-old knows how to win and put a team on his back, and while he won’t be asked to do so in Chicago, Portis knows his strengths and what he can provide to a squad that was No. 3 in the Eastern Conference last season.
"My strengths will show," Portis said to the Chicago Tribune. "I pride myself on hard work. I don't have to have the basketball to score. I move well without the ball, can pick-and-pop, pick-and-roll. I think I bring a lot."
Working well in the pick-and-roll makes Portis at least the third wing option for new head coach Fred Hoiberg. Last season the Bulls received a breakout rookie year from Montenegrin international Nikola Mirotic, highlighted by his stellar run in the final two months of season when he put up more than 20 points in nine games while Chicago awaited the return of point guard and leader Derrick Rose.
Gibson’s also shown the ability to knock down the open jumper, and Portis’ 242-pound frame will allow him to bang down low for rebounds while Gibson stretches the defense.
Portis can play longer stretches to make sure Gasol doesn’t play 34.4 minutes a game next season as well.
Gasol made his case as one of the best free-agent signings of last season, but showed his age in the postseason after a hamstring injury rendered him ineffective in the final four games of the East semifinals against the Cleveland Cavaliers.
"He's a guy we think really fits the makeup of our team," Bulls general manager Gar Forman told The Tribune. "We've had people just rave about his work ethic, how hard he plays, his makeup and character. And we really like his game. He's a big who can play inside and outside.
"We're always going to draft who we think is the best player available. And we had him ranked as a late lottery player."
While Chicago was very high on Portis, there is a reason he slipped to the late first round. He doesn’t have the most athleticism, and isn’t exactly explosive when he drives to the rim. And in today’s NBA, athleticism on the wings and on the glass is imperative to a player’s success.
But Hoiberg got to see Portis up close and personal last year when Arkansas faced Iowa State. Portis put up 19 points and snagged eight rebounds while going 8-for-10 from the field, including two threes, despite a loss.
Time will tell if Portis becomes a star, but he’s clearly a player who can help Chicago immediately next season.