ORLANDO, Fla. — Bulls newcomer Cameron Payne seemed to get the confidence boost he needed when he started the fourth quarter of a tie game Monday against the Pistons. Right?
“It’s big-time just playing, period,” Payne said. “Not even late — just being out there on the court. You can get a lot of confidence that way. I think that’ll be good for me.”
Payne, the point guard considered the key player acquired in the trade that sent Taj Gibson and Doug McDermott to the Thunder on Feb. 23, has been feeling his way through a challenging transition in his first 10 days with the Bulls.
Payne’s performance was hardly a breakthrough, but he flashed some potential.
Playing 23 minutes with Rajon Rondo out with an injury, the 2015 first-round pick from Murray State went 4-for-9 from three-point range and scored 14 points. He was far from perfect — he shot 5-for-14 overall — and he looks like a guy who’s still trying to get acclimated to his teammates and coach Fred Hoiberg’s system. But at least it was an indication that the more minutes he gets, the better he’ll be.
“I feel like I’m starting to get comfortable a little bit,” Payne said, “starting to get a little more confidence.”
If anything, it might have edged the Bulls closer to giving Payne the playing time and role he needs to give them a chance to see what they’ve got.
“He has to play more,” guard Dwyane Wade said. “I think everyone wants to see him get comfortable. We’ve all seen he’s not afraid to shoot. He’s aggressive. He’s a three-point shooter. He doesn’t lack confidence at all. As he continues to get comfortable with his role and his role is expanded, we’ll all get a chance to see what the young guy can be.”
Hoiberg acknowledged that day may eventually come.
“We talk about it every day with our rotations and what we want to do,” he said.
But it’s hard to do with the Bulls (31-32) struggling to maintain their playoff standing. They’re tied with the Pistons for the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference.
“We’ll continue to see how it goes,” Hoiberg said. “He’s still trying to figure his way. He’s trying to get comfortable with what we’re doing. In talking to him, he’s starting to feel more comfortable each time he goes out there. Jerian [Grant] has played pretty well for the most part as a starter. He’s shot the ball at a pretty high clip. But Payne’s showing he’s got a chance to be a good, solid player.”
The Bulls already are seeing the difference playing time and a defined role can make in Bobby Portis. The second-year forward has been a much bigger factor since being inserted as a starter after Gibson’s departure.
“It’s helped me tremendously,” Portis said. “Just to know I’m going to play, that’s the biggest thing for me. Earlier in the season, I didn’t know if I was going to play, and sometimes I would come in just trying to stay ready to play. It’s two totally different mentalities. Now I have a more defined role, and I’m very confident with it. I feel like I’m playing the best basketball of my young career.”
“Opportunity in this league is big,” Wade said. “Bobby is a prime example. He gets playing time, he’s shown he can be a big part of the team’s success. It doesn’t happen that way with everybody. But it’s just about opportunity for a lot of guys.”
NOTE: Dwyane Wade (left quadriceps) is doubtful and Rajon Rondo (right ankle) is questionable for the game Wednesday against the Magic.
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