Otto Porter might be the most important piece of the Bulls’ puzzle

Because of injuries, the sample size is small, but the veteran forward has shown that when he does play, the team goes from lottery-bound laughingstock to possible playoff contender.

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Losing Otto Porter has probably been more costly to the Bulls than previously imagined.

Losing Otto Porter has probably been more costly to the Bulls than previously imagined.

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It has been easy to forget the Otto Porter Jr. Effect.

Then again, since Feb. 8, 2019, it has been easy to forget that Porter was even on the Bulls’ roster.

The veteran forward has played in 25 games since he was acquired from the Wizards for Bobby Portis and problem child Jabari Parker. Last season’s absence was more tanking than injury, but a fractured foot after only nine games this season put the 2013 No. 3 overall pick on hiatus for 17 weeks.

Even in returning against the Mavericks on Monday night, Porter was on a minutes restriction.

In his 17-plus minutes, Porter shot 7-for-11 from the field, went 3-for-5 from three-point range and scored 18 points in the 109-107 victory against the playoff-bound Mavs.

Considering how poorly the Bulls have played this season, it was very impressive.

But life without Porter might be even more traumatic than many Bulls fans realize. Since Porter joined the team, the Bulls are 11-14 (.440 winning percentage) when he has played. No biggie, considering that winning percentage would just put them in the No. 8 spot in the Eastern Conference playoff race these days.

Without Porter, however, the Bulls are 20-44 (.312 winning percentage), which would put them in Knicks territory with the fifth-worst record in the league.

That’s why coach Jim Boylen has insisted that this is a “no-excuse business,’’ but at the same time, he had no problem sprinkling in reminders of a missing Porter every couple of weeks.

“We have expectations, we have standards, and you hope to reach those and play within those,’’ Boylen told reporters Tuesday, discussing getting healthy bodies back and still making the season matter. “A lot of this is on the character of our group. . . . Otto comes in and plays as hard as he can in the moments he gets. That’s what this thing has to look like.’’

Boylen also finally let out the worst-kept secret of the year — that Kris Dunn (right MCL injury) would miss the rest of the season. But Lauri Markkanen (right pelvis) put in a practice with the Windy City Bulls of the G League this week and had no setbacks in the Tuesday workout.

If Markkanen can get through warmups Wednesday night in Minneapolis, he’s a go.

“I’m hoping to play,’’ Markkanen said. “It’s up to Coach if I’m going to play or not. Sitting on the sideline for five weeks, you’re really anxious to get playing.’’

Porter and Wendell Carter Jr. will see their minutes increase, and even with Zach LaVine (quadriceps) out against the Timberwolves, the frontcourt core at least is finally getting reunited.

Porter, however, is the key in all of this, and the numbers back that up.

It will be interesting to see what happens if the Bulls finish strong and Porter plays well next season after undoubtedly exercising his $28 million player option. If the Bulls lose out in free agency in the summer of 2021, might they lean on Porter as a consolation prize?

He’ll only be 28 then, so it’s not like he’ll be an old man. 

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