Otto Porter valued in Chicago

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DETROIT – Bulls guard Zach LaVine summarized the scouting report on the Wizards the last couple years.

John Wall and Bradley Beal: “A lot of the shots were going that way.”

Otto Porter: “He was just stuck in the corner.”

Porter is spreading his wings now. After getting traded to Chicago last month, Porter is filling a bigger role on a team pleased to have him.

The Bulls, especially after trading Justin Holiday, were desperate at small forward. Denzel Valentine has missed the entire season due to injury. Chicago’s option for a bigger wing were oversized (Jabari Parker), undersized (LaVine, Wayne Selden) or inexperienced (Chandler Hutchison).

“Every team needs a guy like Otto,” Bulls coach Jim Boylen said. “But we definitely did.

“He comes in, and it’s like a calming of the sea.”

Chicago is 7-6 with Porter and 12-44 without him. Even just since acquiring Porter, the Bulls have outscored opponents by 1.2 points per 100 possessions with him on the floor and gotten outscored by 9.0 points per 100 possessions without him.

Importantly, Porter has thrived with Chicago’s other healthy core players. The Bulls are +6.6 points per 100 possessions when Porter, LaVine and Lauri Markkanen share the court.

Effectively, Porter was an early free agent addition for Chicago. The Bulls dealt two players with expiring contracts – Parker (who definitely wasn’t returning) and Bobby Portis (who might’ve returned) – and a 2023 second-rounder to Washington.

The reason Porter was available: His large contract. He’s earning $26,011,913 this season and due $55,739,815 the next two years.

The tax-dodging Wizards were ready to move on. After stumbling with Parker, Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo as big additions in free agency recently, Chicago wanted the known quantity.

Porter’s $26,011,913 salary is now the third-highest by a Bull. Only Michael Jordan ($33,140,000 in 1997-98 and $30,140,000 in 1996-97) earned more.

Here are the highest salaries by anyone on Chicago’s roster in the given season:

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The Wizards’ financial commitment to Porter was brief and forced upon them. Porter signed a four-year max offer sheet with the Nets in 2017. Coming off its best season in nearly four decades, Washington matched.

Yet that same offseason, Wall openly courted Paul George as an upgrade over Porter. This January, Wizards owner Ted Leonsis said his team wouldn’t trade Porter then obviously did anyway.

Porter said the Wizards never told him their intentions had changed before trading him.

“It was all business,” Porter said. “It was nothing personal.”

Porter seems more welcomed by Chicago. LaVine lights up when discussing Porter. Asked whether Porter appears to be enjoying his expanded role, LaVine offered an enthusiastic “Hell yeah!”

In Washington, Porter contributed quietly. He shot well from the perimeter and spaced the floor. He avoided mistakes. He usually played sound defense. Teams need someone to create, but Porter looked like an ideal complementary player.

Porter has been tasked with much more in Chicago. He’s averaging 18.4 points, 6.1 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game with the Bulls. His usage percentage (21.7) is 3.3 percentage points higher than it ever was with the Wizards. He has already finished more plays as pick-and-roll ballhandler in Chicago (75) than he did in Washington (64) this season.

“Anything that I can bring to this team, I’m going to do it,” Porter said. “There’s no holding back.”

I’m not sold on Porter having the ball in his hands so much long-term. It makes sense with these Bulls, but better teams will likely have other players more suited for creating shots. Still, this experience should at least aid Porter’s development for Chicago’s next phase – whatever that is.

The Bulls are in line for a high draft pick and project to have about $20 million in cap space this summer. Nail those opportunities – especially by upgrading at point guard, where Kris Dunn hasn’t been the answer – and Chicago could be onto something.

Porter said he loves playing for the Bulls. He has gotten a fresh start and a leadership position.

The 25-year-old Porter has played more playoff games (31) than any other Bull. Heck, he has played nearly as many as the rest of the roster combined. Robin Lopez (28 games), Wayne Selden (six games) and Cristiano Felicio (six games) are the only other Bulls with postseason experience.

“I don’t have all the answers,” Porter said. “But the thing that it is, we can grow together, learn together.”

The Bulls needed a competent small forward. They got one much better.

Porter doesn’t solve all Chicago’s problems, but he has already improved the team’s dynamic. Young players develop better in steadier situations. The addition of Porter should help now and down the road.

“He’s a winning person and a winning player,” Boylen said, “and we’re really thankful for him.”

Bulls’ Wendell Carter reportedly out 8-12 weeks following thumb surgery

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Wendell Carter Jr. has had a strong rookie season in Chicago: 10.3 points a game, 7 rebounds, showing real strength and touch inside and getting 67 percent of his shot attempts in the paint. The advanced stats like him: He’s got an above average PER and Value over Replacement Player, something very rare for a rookie. He looks like a key part of the future in Chicago.

And he’s out for the next two-to-three months.

K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune first reported that Carter might have ligament damage in his left thumb requiring surgery, and that coach Jim Boylen said Carter was seeing a specialist. Shams Charania of The Athletic took it to the next step.

That’s a blow to his development but doesn’t really change the trajectory of a Bulls team that will pick high in next June’s draft.

This does not change the Bulls’ plans heading into the trade deadline — big man Robin Lopez is still available (but likely will end up a buyout candidate) reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Bobby Portis will get more run with Carter out.

The young Bulls have been hit hard by injuries this season.  Kris Dunn, Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen and Portis have all missed time, and Denzel Valentine has yet to play a game for Chicago this season.

How Spurs’ Bryn Forbes went from afterthought recruit to NBA starter

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Bryn Forbes‘ 2014 transfer from Cleveland State to Michigan State was well-covered in the media. Nearly every article on it explained Forbes’ reasoning: The Lansing, Mich., native wanted to be closer to his son, who was born the year prior, and his sister, who was suffering from what would be a fatal illness.

And those explanations weren’t wrong. Family was Forbes’ primary concern.

But he had another reason: He wanted to better prepare for the NBA.

Forbes kept that one close to the vest. After all, he was a 6-foot-3 scoring guard with unexceptional athleticism. He ranked third in his 2012 recruiting class… at Cleveland State. He didn’t even make the All-Horizon League first team.

“People would have thought I’m crazy,” Forbes said. “They honestly would have thought I’m crazy.”

But Forbes’ self-confidence paid off. He’s now the Spurs’ starting shooting guard, averaging 12.4 points per game on 43.6% 3-point shooting.

It’s incredible how far he has come in just a few years.

Forbes worked hard in East Lansing, developing into a college star. Not bad for someone the Spartans initially offered only a preferred-walk-on spot despite Forbes playing in their backyard with Michigan State commit Denzel Valentine (now with the Bulls) at Lansing Sexton High School. Still, Forbes looked like the archetypical good shooter without the size or athleticism to make the NBA.

Leading up to the 2016 draft, DraftExpress ranked the top shooters in the draft. Forbes’ name appeared once – to note why he wasn’t otherwise included:

Please note that this is not an exhaustive study including all of the best shooters in college basketball or even in the 2016 NBA Draft Class. The only players included in this subset are those deemed to “draftable” NBA prospects. Players like Max Hooper (6-6, SG, Oakland, 3.3 3s made per game, 46% 3P%), Max Landis (6-2, SG, IPFW, 3.8 3s made per game, 46% 3P%), Bryn Forbes (6-3, SG, Michigan State, 3.2 3s made per game, 48% 3P%) for example were excluded, amongst others.

Jonathan Givony’s projection wasn’t exactly wrong. Forbes went undrafted.

He signed a barely guaranteed contract with San Antonio and quickly impressed Spurs president-coach Gregg Popovich with his work ethic, coachability and 3-point shot. Against all odds, Forbes made San Antonio’s regular-season roster and earned an NBA salary.

Forbes still spent much of his first professional season with the Spurs’ minor-league affiliate playing point guard. He’s more of an off guard, but that time helped him develop his ball-handling and passing.

In his second season, Forbes became a rotation regular and spot-starter. He played 1,517 minutes on a 47-win team. After the season, he signed a two-year, $6 million deal with the Spurs.

Now, Forbes is one of just six full-time starters this season who went undrafted. The other five: Robert Covington, Joe Ingles, Wesley Matthews, Garrett Temple and Rodney McGruder.

“He’s carved out an NBA career,” Popovich said of Forbes.

Though Forbes has expanded his all-around game, that merely got other facets to tolerable levels. He remains a 3-point specialist, and his 43.6% 3-point percentage ranks 12th in the NBA:

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Maybe Forbes wouldn’t be in this position if San Antonio didn’t suffer so many backcourt injuries this season. Dejounte Murray is missing the entire season. Lonnie Walker just got healthy. Derrick White was sidelined for the start of the year.

Forbes has considered similar “what ifs” in the past. What if he stayed at Cleveland State? Would he have had the platform to showcase himself for the NBA? Eventually, he decided not to dwell on that.

“I think, one way or another,” Forbes said, “I would have found a way.”

Bulls biding their time, except forced into action with Zach LaVine

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NBCSports.com’s Dan Feldman is grading every team’s offseason based on where the team stands now relative to its position entering the offseason. A ‘C’ means a team is in similar standing, with notches up or down from there.

The Bulls have a type.

Young volume scorer with suspect complementary skills who tore an ACL in February 2017.

The Bulls matched the Kings’ four-year, $78 million offer sheet to Zach LaVine and signed Jabari Parker to a two-year, $40 million deal with a team option.

Great for those players considering their injury histories. Good for Chicago?

LaVine could be worth $78 million over the next four years. The 23-year-old is a talented outside shooter and at least was an electric dunker. Those tools coupled with his age certainly give him a chance.

But he’s so far from that level, I wouldn’t have matched Sacramento’s offer sheet. That would have been a bitter to swallow after LaVine was the centerpiece of the Jimmy Butler trade, but throwing good money after bad is a mistake.

LaVine just too rarely puts his athleticism to good use in NBA games. He settles for too many jumpers, especially off the dribble. He doesn’t add anything as a defender or rebounder. Last year was a lost season for him, and while maybe that shouldn’t count too much against him, it certainly wasn’t encouraging.

The Parker signing looks much better. He showed more of an all-around game offensively before getting hurt, and he displayed his defensive potential in last year’s playoffs. He brings more functional talent to the table.

But he was available for less of a commitment because his ACL tear was his second. That’s a scary injury history, though Parker eased fears by showing his bounce after he returned last season.

I’m hardly convinced Parker will be worth $20 million either of the next two seasons. I would have preferred making the trade the Nets did with the Nuggets, absorbing bad contracts to gain draft picks. But even if it wasn’t their best option, the Bulls still helped themselves by betting on Parker. If it doesn’t work, they can drop him in a year.

Chicago’s most important decisions of the offseason weren’t LaVine and Parker, though. The big moves were drafting Wendell Carter Jr. No. 7 and Chandler Hutchison No. 22. Those are just too difficult to evaluate yet.

I was down on Carter before the draft, but I always liked his fit next to Lauri Markkanen. And Carter meaningfully impressed in summer league, reducing concerns about his defensive mobility.

If Carter and Hutchinson hit, they’d nicely complement Markkanen and send the Bulls in the right direction. Maybe even some of Kris Dunn, Bobby Portis and Denzel Valentine come along.

Chicago is still figuring out what it has, and this season will be another year of evaluation and probably losing. Markkanen is the only clear keeper, which means this rebuild is still in its early stages.

The Bulls can swing big in 2019 free agency or continue their slow progress. I’d just rather move forward without LaVine’s deal, but even that could work out.

Offseason grade: C-

Jabari Parker agrees to deal with Bulls after Bucks rescind qualifying offer

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Jabari Parker got his wish — he is going to be a Chicago Bull next season.

Saturday morning the Bucks rescinded their qualifying offer, making the former No. 2 pick and Chicago native an unrestricted free agent.

Parker quickly reached a two-year, $40 million deal with the Bulls that eats up their cap space for the summer, something broken by Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

That is an overpay for Parker. Even so, the box lost a former No. 2 pick for no compensation. They did not want to trade him and now lost him for nothing.

A couple of seasons ago he was a 20-point a game scorer, but since then Parker has had a second ACL surgery, plus he was never much of a defender. This is a tight free agent market, they could have paid less and used some of that money for a free agent rotation player (although the market is slim).

The Bulls now have more than $38 million invested next season in players coming off major injuries, the other being Zach LaVine (the Bulls matched the offer sheet the Kings had for him).

The Bulls want to play Parker at the three (he spent 40 percent of his time at the three last season in Milwaukee), pared up front with Lauri Markkanen, Robin Lopez, and Wendell Carter Jr. The starting backcourt is Kris Dunn and LaVine. How well this group can fit in a selfless, move-the-ball Fred Hoiberg offense remains to be seen. Parker can play a small forward slot on offense, he’s good on the catch-and-shoot (better than a point per possession), can get out and score in transition, and is a better pick-and-roll ball handler than people realize. his minutes should be better than those of Paul Zipser or Denzel Valentine.

But Parker is going to get torched defensively by opposing threes.

If everything comes together for the Bulls next season, they should be interesting, but they have made a lot of big bets on players with question marks. It’s going to be an up-and-down season in the windy city.