Bobby Portis can be the long-term solution at center for Milwaukee Bucks

MILWAUKEE, WISCONSIN - JANUARY 22: (Photo by John Fisher/Getty Images)
MILWAUKEE, WISCONSIN - JANUARY 22: (Photo by John Fisher/Getty Images) /

There is obviously never a good time to sustain an injury, especially to one of your key players. The Milwaukee Bucks have had Brook Lopez for all of one game this season but that has allowed them to experiment a little bit.

Throughout Lopez’s tenure with the Bucks, they’ve been very conservative defending pick-and-rolls with him on the floor. They’d have him drop back and concede midrange jumpers and floaters at the expense of defending the rim. However, once that failed them in the playoffs by being too rigid, they had to adapt.

We saw it last season where the Bucks went through and test drove a bunch of different defensive styles and schemes to maximize their versatility for the playoffs. That saw them run a lot of zones, switch one through five, switch one through four, hedge on pick-and-rolls, etc.

We’ve seen more of that this season, but it has come with Bobby Portis being the starting center for most of the season which has forced the Bucks to adapt once again.

Bobby Portis has proven to be a viable long-term starter for the Milwaukee Bucks

Now, when I say long-term starter, I’m not talking about this season and the playoffs. If Lopez is back, healthy, and playing at his full capacity then he should absolutely be the starter for as long as he can be.

That being said, he’s also going to be 34 years old in April and coming off of back surgery. He has one year remaining on his contract after this season and the precedent for a big man to be effective late into his career (especially after back surgery) doesn’t exist.

As much as I love what Lopez has done for the Bucks, you need to start thinking about the long-term picture and figure out how you’re going to transition to the next chapter.

It was something I was wondering about before the season. Considering their lack of depth up-front, there didn’t appear to be a viable solution on the roster for who could follow Lopez as the starting big man alongside Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Let’s be honest, Antetokounmpo is great but to maximize his skills, you need a certain type of big man on offense to space the floor and not clog things up on his drives.

Portis’ breakout season this year has forced me to reevaluate how I look at what the Bucks need to do to find a replacement for Lopez. It has become evident that he has found a home with the Bucks.

In 35 games as a starter this season, Portis is averaging 15.5 points on 58.5 percent true shooting along with nearly 10 rebounds a night. He’s been incredibly consistent, too, scoring in double figures in all but two games in the starting lineup.

My two biggest concerns about Portis this season were that his defense was a question mark and if he would be able to sustain the same long-range shooting that we saw last season.

The easier one to answer is the shooting because yes, he has. Portis is shooting over 41 percent from 3 on nearly six attempts a night per 36 minutes. He shot over 47 percent on around four attempts last season.

A large reason for that is the amount of wide-open looks the Bucks are generating for him. 160 of his 338 total 3-point attempts (over 47 percent) have come with the closest defender six or more feet away, per He’s shooting over 50 percent on those looks in his season and a half as a Buck.

So he’s proven to be a fit with Antetokounmpo on offense, but how does his defense hold up? This is the guy who was benched in their second-round series against the Brooklyn Nets, after all.

The Bucks have adopted a more aggressive pick-and-roll coverage with Portis as a starter that has seen him hedge more to take advantage of his size and mobility. We’ve seen that he’s not as effective as a rim protector in a drop coverage but is also hunted too often as a switch big, but they’ve found success with him hedging on pick-and-rolls.

According to Cleaning the Glass (subscription required), the Bucks’ defense concedes 5.2 points per 100 possessions when Portis is on compared to when he’s off. Of course, not all of that is because of Portis, but his improved defense is part of it.

There are some caveats, mainly that the Bucks would need to acquire a big that can protect the rim at a high level to play behind Portis if he were to be the nominal starter and have a sort of 1A, 1B situation.

But Portis has shown he can play at a high level in a starter’s role this season, playing starter’s minutes, and the Bucks’ defense won’t suffer because of it. That is a credit to the team for finding a way to make him successful but also to him for putting in the work to become a better defender.

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It remains to be seen if Portis will opt out of his player option and re-sign, but he will be able to get a bigger payday from the Bucks and has played by far the best basketball of his career with the team.