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:
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.”