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Portis, Porzingis in midst of very different rookie seasons

First-year forwards more or less thriving in their given roles

POSTED: Jan 1, 2016 12:45 PM ET

By Steve Aschburner

BY Steve Aschburner


Bobby Portis (left) has appeared in just 10 games, while Kristaps Porzingis has played in 33.

— By name, only a few letters in the middle -- Porzingis vs. Portis -- separate the prized rookies of the New York Knicks and the Chicago Bulls.

By NBA adventures thus far, there has been a world of difference. Starting on their very first night.

While Porzingis was getting booed by fans in New York and making at least one kid cry when Knicks president Phil Jackson selected him with the No. 4 overall pick, at least the 7-foot-3 Latvian unknown was up on the stage, tugging on his new team's cap and shaking commissioner Adam Silver's hand. Portis, meanwhile, had to wait. And wait.

"I sat there, two, two-and-a-half hours to hear my name [on Draft night]. They sat there 20 minutes," Portis said Wednesday about the gap between his draft position at No. 22 and high lottery picks' such as Porzingis. "So I do get ready for them."

Whether he's playing 48 minutes or no minutes, he's going to prepare the same way. He's going to get in the weight room, get extra work. He's a good one. He's one of those kids who's fun to coach.

– Chicago Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg, on rookie Bobby Portis

Portis' eagerness to battle with fellow 20-year-old Porzingis in the minutes they share on the floor Friday night when the Knicks face the Bulls at United Center (8 p.m. ET, NBA League Pass) might not be any more noticeable than it was in his play Wednesday against Indiana rookie Myles Turner (No. 11 pick) or, frankly, against any opponent of any age in any NBA uniform. The 6-foot-11 power forward from Arkansas brings the same sort of aggressiveness into every matchup, including those in Chicago's practices against Taj Gibson and Joakim Noah.

Besides, Portis has energy to burn, having appeared in only 10 games for a total of 147 minutes. That's another big difference between Portis' rookie experience and Porzingis'. The young Knicks big man has logged six times as many minutes (899), playing in all 33 games. Already, there are reports out of New York that his recent play indicates Porzingis has hit the dreaded "rookie wall".

Right Place, Right Time

Bobby Portis is there to clean up the Aaron Brooks blocked shot for two.

Portis merely smirked when asked what he thought was worse: burning out after two months or scraping for minutes.

"Not playing," he said, alluding to his 20 DNP-CDs. "Sitting on the bench knowing you can help the team. But I was just trying to stay ready. ... I couldn't just sit on the bench and be mad about it, not playing. I had to use that as a positive."

Based on their production overall, Porzingis -- a tantalizing prospect given his length, ball skills and demeanor to roll with the New York hype while pushing himself to learn -- has had a far greater impact. He's averaging 13.2 points and 8.0 rebounds in 27.2 minutes while giving Knicks fans hope in the near and distant future.

Easy Two For Portis

Aaron Brooks finds Bobby Portis with the long pass on the break for the easy two.

"He can get shots off pretty easily, he can really shoot the ball and he blocks shots at the other end," said Detroit Stan Van Gundy when his team played at Madison Square Garden this week. "He's got great footwork and great hands. He's going to be a star in this league."

While media in that tabloid-driven city labored to hang a nickname on the kid -- known by some as "Zinger" -- people in Chicago mostly focused on a hashtag campaign for their guy: #freeBobbyPortis. Portis even invoked it a few times, in goofy third-person parlance, as a release during the days and weeks when he rarely tugged off his warmups.

Portis got his opportunity for rotation minutes when Noah suffered a left shoulder sprain against Brooklyn. But going back one game prior to that, when Portis scored 20 points with 11 rebounds off the bench to Porzingis' 10 and 7 in the Knicks' Dec. 19 victory over the Bulls, puts the rookies' recent production in perspective.

Kia Awards: Kristaps Porzingis

Knicks rookie Kristaps Porzingis is a nominee for the Kia Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month in December.

Each has played six games beginning with that first head-to-head. Equalized to 36 minutes, Porzingis has averaged 17.2 points and 9.8 rebounds while shooting just 38.2 percent. Portis? He's at 18.9 points and 11.3 boards on 46.7 percent shooting.

"His work ethic, it's never going to change," Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. "Whether he's playing 48 minutes or no minutes, he's going to prepare the same way. He's going to get in the weight room, get extra work. He's a good one. He's one of those kids who's fun to coach. Because ... he's physical. He loves a challenge. He's not going to back down from anybody and he's only 20 years old."

Overall, the not-shy Portis even is outgunning the Knicks newbie, getting up 18.9 field-goal attempts per 36 minutes played, a rate that tops the Bulls (Jimmy Butler takes 14.7 per 36, for comparison's sake). Porzingis' 15.1 FGA per 36 ranks second on the Knicks to Carmelo Anthony's 19.2.

Clearly the rookies have different styles, with Portis playing wide-eyed and seemingly seething at times while Porzingis stays more cool and calm, reminding some observers more of the Bulls' Pau Gasol. Gasol included.

Inside Stuff: Porzingis Mania

Porzingis Mania has hit the streets of New York and Inside Stuff goes on scene to hear from his greatest fans.

"He's surprised a lot of people in a positive way," Gasol said of Porzingis. "A very unique type of player, 7-3 with his length, able to shoot the ball the way he does, alters a lot of shots with hs length. And only being 20 years old. Pretty impressive.

"The expectations were so low at first that, by playing the way he has and reacting positively and handling that adversity the way he did early on, I think that probably fed his energy and his will to do well and prove his value. I'm just happy for him. Seems like a nice kid."

The minutes and grind that have become a bit of a challenge for Porzingis are burdens Portis would be happy to bear. But he said he would not swap spots now.

"This is the best thing that ever happened to me, me coming to the Bulls," he said Wednesday. "Me having to sit down and wait my turn. Me having to cheer on my teammates. I could have been a guy who came in and had the pressure on him to play. I don't have any pressure, that need to be the guy right now. I can just come in, go at my own pace and be a rookie."

There are 30 different ways to be a rookie in the NBA, as many as there are teams.

Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA since 1980. You can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter.

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