It’s unlikely anyone had an Otto Porter Jr. highlight or favorite memory when the Bulls acquired the 25-year-old veteran Feb. 7 for likable Bobby Portis and Jabari Parker.
But as the Bulls 2:30 p.m. Sunday resume the extended matters with the Atlanta Hawks after Friday’s historic quadruple overtime victory, the acquisition of the Bulls Big O is looking like, for now, it could become one of the most significant trades in franchise history.
“We started playing for each other and we started winning,” Porter said the other day about his new team. “Of course you’re going to start having fun. Once I got here, I wanted to spread my knowledge of the game, bring my winning attitude to this team as far as being a leader and just a player. And for me being able to adjust my game to the style of play and the different coaching staff and the players. They welcomed me with open arms and open mindedness. So I was able to just share my attitude for the game and my love for the game. I’m going to always continue to be better no matter where I am. I want to continue to work on all my craft.
“I’ve always known what I can do,” Porter says. “It’s just a matter of opportunity where I can be showcased. This is a great opportunity for me to show my knowledge and love for the game with this organization.”
Raise your hand if you are surprised.
Yes, so is everyone else, including probably Porter’s former coach, Scott Brooks. Brooks always had high regard for Porter, for whom the Wizards matched a free agent offer in 2017 from Brooklyn. But even when the Bulls and Washington Wizards played just a few days after the trade, Brooks admitted it was difficult to get Porter to be more aggressive.
Though Brooks didn’t say so, the image of Porter in six NBA seasons mostly has been standing in the right baseline corner waiting for a pass from John Wall or watching Bradley Beal trying to get the ball away from John Wall.
Porter, a genial sort from rural southern Missouri, has hardly been phlegmatic with the Bulls. He sent Friday’s game into overtime with three pressure free throws with four tenths of a second left and finished the game with 31 points and 10 rebounds, including seven of 13 threes as the Bulls set franchise records with 21 of 48 threes.
It was Porter’s second game of at least 30 points in the last five, including the one he was hurt against Boston and played just 14 scoreless minutes. Porter is averaging 19.8 points and 7.5 rebounds with the Bulls while shooting an impressive 52 percent on threes with at least six attempts per game.
The Bulls are 6-2 in games Porter has played and 6-3 overall since the trade, though 18-45 overall. In those nine games, the Bulls, a team last in offense most of the season and 26th last season, are first in the league in scoring at 121.1 per game. They're sixth in overall shooting and making threes. Though the Bulls are giving up about 119 points per game. Hey, it's an offensive league now!
The Wizards are 3-5 since the trade, and in the last six games Portis and Parker have combined to score 131 points. The supposedly reticent Porter has scored 123 in that same stretch, and that includes the scoreless game in 14 minutes against Boston.
Though perhaps more significantly has been Porter’s impact on his teammates, especially Lauri Markkanen and Zach LaVine.
Porter’s presence as a feared three-point shooter who can make plays has forced the defense to concentrate less on Markkanen and LaVine. Since the trade, Markkanen is averaging 25.7 points per game and LaVine is averaging 27.3. That’s a trio averaging more than 70 points per game.
It’s barely a month since the trade, so it’s too soon to begin considering championship rally plans. But it also suggests it was perhaps appropriate to make a peremptory strike for a quality player rather than waiting until summer when so many teams will be making NBA free agency look like the New York stock exchange floor. Plus, players will be coming off the market, like Milwaukee’s Eric Bledsoe did last week with a contract extension.
The Bulls historically have made many of their most significant trades as draft time transactions, like the moves for Scottie Pippen and Joakim Noah. The trade of Will Perdue for Dennis Rodman in 1995 was perhaps the most consequential. But it was more similar to a waiver move as Rodman had made himself off limits to most of the NBA with his destructive antics in San Antonio. The Bill Cartwright acquisition for Charles Oakley filled out the championship roster, though Cartwright was more of a defensive role player then.
The Bulls 2009 midseason acquisition of John Salmons appeared to be meaningful when the Bulls made a run to the playoffs and the memorable seven-game series with Boston. But Salmons’ effectiveness waned quickly and he was traded the following season. Stacey King for Luc Longley?
Probably the most significant additions in franchise history were the separate early 1970s trades for Norm Van Lier, Bob Love and Chet Walker that built a conference finals team and perennial contenders for five years. Though some will say the Reggie Theus trade in 1984 for Steve Johnson was the best because it enabled the Bulls to become bad enough to get the No. 3 draft pick and Michael Jordan. So you think the 76ers invented tanking?
Too much happens in a basketball game to reconsider in the moment. And then a team plays four overtime periods.
There were hustle plays, some defense from Wayne Selden and offense from Shaquille Harrison and a Timothy Luwawu-Cabarrot sighting on a fast break in a 13-2 late third quarter run that opened up the Bulls biggest lead of a game with 22 lead changes and seven ties.
Though had there only been regulation, a part of the story would have been the play of Kris Dunn. He was having his best shooting game of the season with three of five three pointers. He fouled out in the first overtime with almost an entire game played after that. But through three quarters he seemed his most energetic and engaged since scoring 24 points in a December win in San Antonio.
Dunn was playing up aggressively on Trae Young or shooter Kevin Huerter. He was back in his new rotation joining the reserves to start the second quarter and driving the ball into the paint. The Hawks are good at driving and swinging the ball to search out threes while Dunn was a big part of the Bulls third quarter 10-0 start that gave the Bulls a lead. He also wasn’t hesitating on his shot. That is until the fourth quarter when he began to play more deliberately and more cautiously on offense.
Though Dunn often wears a mask of inscrutability, there’s been so much speculation and discussion about the point guard position he undoubtedly understands he probably is under the most scrutiny these last 19 games.
Though for the Bulls these days, it’s mostly their version of the Ottonian renaissance.