The Bulls came into the NBA draft Thursday thinking small. But instead they came out with a big.
"We're real excited to draft Bobby Portis tonight," Bulls general manager told reporters in the Advocate Center at the conclusion of the draft's first round. "Bobby's a guy that we've watched play the last few years at Arkansas and our entire staff has really liked him. As a sophomore, he was SEC Player of the Year, one of three guys, I think it was (Jahlil) Okafor, (Frank) Kaminsky and [Portis] that had 600 points and 300 rebounds, a guy that we think really fits our team and the make up of our team. We've had people just rave about his work ethic, how hard he plays, his makeup, his character and we really like his game. He's a big that can play inside, outside, 6-11, 250, 7-2 wingspan. So as a 19-year-old sophomore, we think he's a guy that has a lot of potential to get better. As you guys know, as we prepared for the draft, we're going to draft who we feel is the best player available. We had him ranked as a late lottery pick going into the night. As we saw him start to slip, we got excited about him and then we were surprised he was there. Really excited to get Bobby. I think he's going to be a fit with our team. I think he's going to be a fit in our locker room. I think he's got a lot of potential for the future."
The selection of Portis with the No. 22 pick was something of a surprise and to the Bulls as well. The Bulls didn't believe he would fall to them, so never had him in for a workout. Predraft analyses and mock drafts generally had Portis going somewhere between Nos. 12 and 18 in the first round. In my mock draft on Bulls.com, I had him going No. 18. ESPN had him going No. 15. NBAdraft.net had him going No. 13 and Draftexpress, another of the respected draft sites, had him slated at No. 17.
So it was, in a sense, a bargain selection for the Bulls.
The Bulls front court is crowded now, leaving little time for Portis to play this season. But teams don't often get a chance with a low first round draft pick to acquire a potentially quality big man. And the Bulls likely will need one with Joakim Noah on the last year of his contract, Pau Gasol turning 35 next month and Taj Gibson coming off surgery. So it also gives the Bulls, as coach Fred Hoiberg noted, a nice mixture of tested veterans and young guys on the way up in Nikola Mirotic, Doug McDermott and Tony Snell to go along with Portis.
The Bulls had Portis graded probably right in the middle of the first round, perhaps seven or eight picks higher than their spot. So the Bulls were concentrating on point guards to fill an apparent need as a backup with Aaron Brooks not expected to return. The Bulls had planned to replace Brooks with a veteran, but still figured to work in a young point guard.
The top point guards, however, were coming off the board with Cameron Payne going No. 14 to the Thunder, Terry Rozier No. 16 to the Celtics and Jerian Grant No. 19 to the Wizards and later traded to the Knicks.
The surprise at the top of the draft was Ohio State point guard D'Angelo Russell going No. 2 to the Lakers. Minnesota, as expected, selected Kentucky's Karl-Anthony Towns No. 1. The 76ers then selected Duke's Jahlil Okafor No. 3 and the Knicks tabbed highly regarded international player Kristaps Porzingis No. 4 as Phil Jackson said on the ESPN broadcast Porzingis wasn't ready to produce in a big way yet, but he had substantial potential.
The Bulls are similarly hopeful about Portis, though no one is suggesting Portis has that potential superstar ceiling with his talent. But as player of the year in a tough conference, Portis is a potentially very highly skilled big man.
That got the Bulls dreaming a bit as the point guard depth became depleted. Utah's Delon Wright was taken No. 20, and though Duke's Tyus Jones and athletic Rondae Hollis-Jefferson remained, the Bulls were thrilled to see Portis available at No. 22.
The Bulls make it an organizational philosophy to draft more for talent than need, and Portis fit as a higher level talent even if he's less likely to help in the upcoming season.
Hoiberg said in the draft room it was unanimous among staff and coaches that the pick should be Portis.
"First and foremost, he moves very well for a kid that size," said Hoiberg, who joined Forman for the media session. "He's over 6-10 and runs the floor extremely well, which is very important with the pace we're going to want to play with. He's good in the pick and roll. They play a different system at Arkansas. There's a lot of pressure. It's the 40 minutes of hell, that type system with a lot of pressing. And he was in the back of the press quite a bit. With the turnovers they created, he wasn't able to show his full package. The thing I'm excited about is his ability to play all over the floor. Against us (at Iowa State), he hit six shots pretty much all from the perimeter in the first half. He's a very versatile kid who you can use in different ways. And he's learning from some great veteran players. Being in the draft room tonight, it's not very often when you get to your pick, especially in the 20s, and it's unanimous. Portis kept falling. It was a great pick for us."
Though the Bulls didn't have Portis in for a workout, Forman said they'd watched him extensively.
"He wasn't a real mistake player," said Forman. "He would handle the ball some in their offense, dribble handoffs and different things that they did. And they ran some offense through him in the high post. And then he was very active crashing the offensive boards. His offensive rebounding rate was extremely high. Even in a league like the SEC where there are terrific players, I think he's one of only a handful – five or 10 guys in the history of the SEC – that have won most valuable player in that league as a sophomore or as a freshmen. I thought for his age, his game was more mature. He's still a young guy and there will still be a lot of growth that he'll have to go through, but the encouraging thing is we know he's going to be a worker and he's going to come in this building every day and try and get better.''
Forman also discussed other issues involving the Bulls:
--- Taj Gibson's surgery: "The prognosis is good. I think it was a real positive. Obviously, anytime there's surgery, there's seriousness to it. But from what the doctors told us, though it's a three to four-month rehab process, once he comes back the ankle will be like new. That will be a real positive. It was obvious the ankle bothered him some this past year. Taj felt, we felt, his agent felt that it was something that needed to be done. We anticipate he'll be 100 percent come October.
--- Jimmy Butler's free agency and contract: "Our goal all along, obviously, is to have Jimmy here long term. We feel real confident in our situation, how well he fits and that Jimmy is comfortable in Chicago. Our goal will be on July 1 to sit down with him and hopefully come to a deal in a timely fashion. We'll sit down and talk about what he's looking for and what we're looking for and hopefully find something that's beneficial for both sides. Obviously, Jimmy is a huge, huge part of what we're doing. We'll do everything we can and anticipate him being in Chicago.
--- Reports of friction between Butler and Derrick Rose: "We talk to Jimmy all the time. Jimmy has been in the building. There's no reason at all that their games shouldn't fit together perfectly. I read about the friction. I haven't seen it. In all our minds, you've got two guys who can attack, want to run, can play off the dribble and play make for themselves and others. They haven't had a chance to do it a whole lot because of the injuries. But there's no reason those two shouldn't be able to play at a high level and be one of the best backcourts in the league.
Added Hoiberg on the same subject: "I agree. I think they complement each other beautifully. I'm looking forward to trying to put those guys in great spots where they can continue be All-Star caliber players."