The Chicago Bulls tout a 6-8 record through 14 games, and there have been several bright spots in the early stages of the 2020-21 season. Patrick Williams is proving tons of people wrong with strong play as a rookie. Zach LaVine is averaging 27 points per game. Garrett Temple is proving to be an excellent free-agent signing, shooting 49% from the field and 43% from three a year after posting 38% and 33% averages respectively. And Otto Porter Jr., who only played 29 games for the Bulls over the past two seasons while struggling with injuries, is averaging 12.5 points per game and 6.7 rebounds per game off the bench while playing in 12 of a possible 14 games so far.
While Porter Jr.’s contributions are a welcome addition, the Bulls are at risk of the situation spiraling into the status of years past. If the Bulls want to keep him on the court, they’ll have to do a better job of managing him.
Otto’s Injuries Are Back — Literally
Porter Jr. initially tweaked his back against the Los Angeles Lakers on January 8th. Subsequently, the Bulls held him out of the lineup against the Los Angeles Clippers on the 10th. The Bulls lost those games by two and three points, respectively. After returning to action against the Thunder and Mavericks, Porter Jr. did not participate in last night’s 125-120 win over the Rockets due to a lower back strain.
The Bulls Need Porter Jr. Healthy
One way or another, the Bulls need Otto Porter Jr. to stay healthy. Despite a 6-8 record, the Bulls have been a few turnovers and made buckets here and there away from being 10-3. Of course, that’s not how anything actually works. Hypotheticals don’t count in basketball. Still, that means these Bulls may be able to contend for a playoff spot — something they haven’t done since 2017.
If the Bulls are looking to make some noise this season and compete for the playoffs, Otto Porter Jr.’s health matters. Even in 23.6 minutes per game, his lethal three-point shot, tenacity on the boards, and veteran leadership have proven important for the Bulls. While other wings such as Denzel Valentine — who I think I like more than most — make bone-headed decisions like chucking up 28-foot shots or running into Zach LaVine as he brings the ball up the floor to shoot, Porter Jr. is doing the little things, playing within the offense, and helping his team win.
If the Bulls don’t end up seriously contending for a playoff spot, they also need to look to unload Porter Jr.’s expiring contract for young players or future draft picks. Maybe they look to the Cleveland Cavaliers who are now shopping second-year player Kevin Porter Jr. and might want to compete now that they have Kevin Love, Andre Drummond, Jarrett Allen, and company. Would they give up their Porter Jr. and a future protected first or second for that chance? Or maybe teams such as the Boston Celtics or Phoenix Suns want to improve their chances at a higher seed.
What The Bulls Should Do
Most likely, the Bulls aren’t making any serious noise this season. They’re still young, unsure about the Coby White and Zach LaVine backcourt, and teams like the Lakers, Clippers, Bucks, and Nets make it hard to think any other teams are really even contenders. As such, trading OPJ for future assets makes the most sense.
However, the Bulls can’t trade a player on the injured reserved list. It’s hard to justify dropping Porter Jr.’s minutes below 20 per game. Teams need to see the value he provides off the bench. They need to see he can play meaningful minutes. So, instead of decreasing minutes, the Bulls need to decrease his games. Give Porter Jr. planned rest days from practices and games. Have him play a couple of games then sit one or two. Give him the opportunity to stay healthy so his performances are even stronger. Then, trade him.
What are your thoughts on this situation? Let us know in the comments section. Also, tune in to the Bulls On Tap podcast for postgame shows, analysis, and commentary throughout the season.