Bobby Portis returning to Bulls might be what Patrick Williams needs
The former Bull showed what he’s capable of in the Bucks’ Game 3 victory Friday. He also highlighted how little of a threat Williams is offensively. If Portis declines his player option, it might behoove the Bulls to bring him back to compete against the 2020 No. 4 pick.
Bobby Portis didn’t name names.
Then again, the former Bulls forward-turned-Bucks cult hero didn’t need to.
After a statement win by the defending NBA champs Friday in Game 3, Portis was talking about his mindset in the laugher. He had 18 points and 16 rebounds in only 25 minutes as the replacement for Khris Middleton (knee) in the starting lineup.
“Play with confidence,’’ Portis said. “That’s the biggest thing. Playing with confidence is a big thing out there on the basketball court, and you know who’s confident and you know who’s not.’’
So who’s lacking confidence?
The player Portis was assigned to guard at the start of the game who posed no threat: Patrick Williams. Instead, the Bucks used Portis to help double-team and push Bulls scorers DeMar DeRozan and Zach LaVine to their left hands all night, making them relatively ineffective.
That change was made possible because of another passive performance by Williams.
It’s important to note that Williams took nine shots, the same amount he had in his solid performance (10 points, nine rebounds) in Game 2.
But stats can be deceiving.
In the first quarter of Game 3, in which the Bucks outscored the Bulls 33-17 and established their defensive game plan, Williams took only two shots. The Bucks left him relatively open in the eight minutes when he was guarded by Portis.
Williams took two more shots in the second quarter as the Bucks stretched the lead to 60-41 at halftime, all but ending any hopes the Bulls had of taking control of the series.
The fourth overall pick in the 2020 draft, Williams took four more shots during mop-up time in the fourth quarter. He missed them all to finish 0-for-9 from the field with one point and four rebounds.
That’s unacceptable not only for a top-five pick, but for any player in the starting lineup.
“The playoffs, it’s all-in,’’ Portis said. “Every guy that steps out there needs to know his role and what he needs to do on the floor to impact winning.’’
At 20 and in his first postseason, Williams doesn’t know that. But the Bulls have to wonder when something will click for him. “Passive Pat’’ is a moniker no player wants.
Besides, the excuses about his age and inexperience are starting to wear thin, especially during a postseason in which other 20-year-olds are making winning plays and even dominating (see the Timberwolves’ Anthony Edwards).
If Williams isn’t ready, then putting him on a playoff stage as a starter might not be the best decision.
Since he was drafted out of Florida State, Williams basically has been handed a starting job. It might be time for him to compete for it next season, showing more than he did in beating out undersized Javonte Green this season and a lame duck Lauri Markkanen last season.
Which brings us back to Portis.
He has a $4.5 million player option next season. If Bulls executive vice president of basketball operations Arturas Karnisovas can free up salary, bringing Portis back to the organization that drafted him would be a good move.
He’d be an emotional spark plug for a team that too often looks like it would rather be in church singing. But, more important, he would be real competition for Williams, who might need to be pushed, especially in that confidence department.