The Wizards are a team whose future is unclear. Could they find some answers in the newly acquired Bobby Portis?
Bobby Portis probably has the lowest profile of the three players involved in last week’s trade between the Bulls and Wizards, but he might end up being the most important.
On its surface the transaction wasn’t earth-shattering. It had been rumored that the Wizards were looking to move Otto Porter Jr.’s mega-contract, and things in Chicago just weren’t working out between the Bulls and Jabari Parker. In many ways, Portis seemed like an afterthought in the deal, a player thrown into the trade simply to make the contracts work.
His recent performance suggests that he might be much, much more.
So far Portis has only played four games for the Wizards. That’s not enough time to draw any concrete conclusions about how he fits with the team, but it’s certainly enough time to be impressed. Over those four games, Portis has been a consistent offensive threat, averaging 19 points a contest off the bench while shooting 55 percent from behind the 3-point line.
Portis’ success from deep has definitely been a highlight of the beginning of his Wizards tenure, but it’s actually been one of the more interesting areas of improvement for him throughout this entire season. On the whole, he’s shooting 41 percent from deep, an improvement of five percentage points from last season, and an improvement of 10 percentage points from his first year in the league.
This isn’t a skill set that one might have expected Portis to develop coming out of college. In his last season at Arkansas Portis didn’t even average a 3 per game, and his playstyle in his rookie season pretty much matched that.
He did shoot over 70 percent from the line in college, which gave some indication he had the potential to further his shooting skills, but it wasn’t really clear if he would put it together/make a real effort until the 2017-18 season, where he doubled the volume of 3s he took from the season before. This year is another step forward in that evolution, and the results so far have been promising.
Interestingly enough Portis is progressing towards a player profile that is fairly similar to that of Jeff Green, the man who he’s competing with for a starting job.
If he continues to shoot well, Portis could pretty much be an oversized Green, providing the scoring of his teammate with some more defensive versatility and success on the boards. It wouldn’t be surprising if Portis took Green’s job by the end of the year in what could be an audition for the regular starting role next season.
With that said, it’s not entirely clear what next season will look like for the Wizards, with franchise cornerstone John Wall missing the bulk of next season after tearing his ACL. By moving Porter the Wizards did open up enough cap space to potentially pursue a free agent this summer, but with the bloated contracts of Wall and Beal still on the books, it’s not entirely clear if they’ll want to. Adding another large contract would pretty much handcuff that player to the volatile team, something that has a lot of potential for further disaster.
If the Wizards do go this route they’d likely use their money to acquire a quality big man, which would be bad news for Portis. Portis has looked good over this stretch, but he still hasn’t proven himself as a consistent contributor in a starting role. If he’s relegated to the bench again next season he can still be a quality player, but he likely won’t flourish, and we won’t get to see his full potential.
If the Wizards decide to forgo the pursuit of a big free agent, Portis stands to become a bigger part of the team’s future. Portis’ contract is still pretty team friendly, and if the Wizards don’t plan to spend and contend he’d be a great cheap option as a starting four. Green’s contract expires this summer, and with Portis already on the books, there’s no real reason to extend him.
Given a full season, the Wizards could get a real look at how Portis looks in an everyday frontcourt with the surprisingly effective Thomas Bryant, whose shown increased offensive production in the new year.
If the two gel and play well alongside Bradley Beal things look a lot better for Washington than they do right now; Portis and Bryant are both young, and it would give the team many of the benefits of a rebuild without forcing them to lose for a prolonged period.
Of course, there is also the small possibility that the Wizards front office decides that the Beal/Wall combo is not viable in the long term and blow things up. In that case, Portis would still work as a cheap four, but things would be a lot less fun and more pressure would be on him to prove that he’s worthy of staying with the team, lest he ends up as a sweetener in another trade.
In any case, the Wizards can certainly afford to take a chance on Portis, especially if they’re not dead set on being competitive next season when they’re without Wall. He’s still developing, and unless he is incredible through the rest of the season he shouldn’t get a crazy offer sheet as a restricted free agent this summer.
Beyond next season things are less clear, which may be good news for Portis, who could potentially become an important part of the team’s reimagining. There are certainly more secure situations than the one he’s in right now, but there are few more interesting, and he’s definitely a player worth keeping an eye on through the rest of this season into 2019-20.