The benefits of Bobby Portis returning to bench role for Milwaukee Bucks

MILWAUKEE, WISCONSIN - JANUARY 15: (Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)
MILWAUKEE, WISCONSIN - JANUARY 15: (Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images) /

Let me get this out of the way to start: I have a lot of respect for the job Bobby Portis has done as a starter for the Milwaukee Bucks this season.

It wasn’t easy for him to jump in and have to replace essentially the defensive backbone of the team for the last three seasons. He and Brook Lopez aren’t the same players, but he made it work and stabilized the Bucks’ starting five early in the season.

But we all saw the writing on the wall when Lopez returned and, well, looked really good in the process. Even Portis has acknowledged this was going to happen! But after so long with him in the starting lineup, it’s a bit odd to think of him coming off the bench again. So what will that look like for these Bucks?

What will Bobby Portis’ role look like coming off the bench for the Milwaukee Bucks?

Well, this isn’t too hard to imagine. He did it last season and had a career-best season (until this season, where he’s been even better).

Portis will likely become the sixth man and come in when either Giannis Antetokounmpo or Brook Lopez needs a breather. He saw around 21 minutes per game last season in a reserve role and that seems about what he’ll get, perhaps a couple of minutes more or less depending on the matchup.

One thing we likely won’t see this year compared to last is the “Portis as the only big” lineups that were sprinkled in at times last season. The Bucks played over 1100 possessions with Portis on the floor without Antetokounmpo or Lopez and those lineups were… not great with a minus-4.7 net rating, per Cleaning the Glass (subscription required).

Although those lineups scored well (nearly a 116 offensive rating), they hemorrhaged points (defensive rating over 120). Portis needs to be paired with a rim protector because otherwise, things get ugly.

Luckily, the Bucks have three other bigs that are great at protecting the rim! So what I’m trying to say is that if Portis is the lone big on the floor, something has probably gone (or will go) very wrong.

The positives of Bobby Portis returning to a reserve role for the Milwaukee Bucks

Although Portis’ individual numbers will take a hit down the stretch and into the playoffs (he scored 20-plus points 14 times this season. He did that seven times last season), his move back to the bench will benefit the team as a whole.

As has been talked about over and over (and over), the Bucks’ bench stinks at providing secondary offense in support of the traditional starting five that they’ve had this season. If we’re being specific, they have the third-lowest scoring bench in the NBA this season.

Last season, the Bucks bench was right in the middle of the pack and scored eight more points per game compared to this season’s reserves.

I’ve written before about bench scoring isn’t that important to a title contender because of how little you play your reserves in the playoffs anyway, but getting under 27 points per game from your bench is just not good.

Portis has been the Bucks’ fourth-leading scorer at 15 points per game, so moving that production and shooting (still around 40 percent on five attempts a game) will be great for improving those numbers a bit.

He’ll also get to be a bigger priority offensively coming off the bench where he isn’t the fourth-option.

Defensively, this had to happen. I commend head coach Mike Budenholzer for trying to scheme a base defense around Portis’ skills by being more aggressive in their pick and roll coverage, but it wasn’t a sustainable base. The Bucks have been leaking oil at that end for a few weeks now (24th in defensive rating at 117.1 in the last 15 games) and they need to go back to what works.

However, getting that experience in that aggressive style and finding something that works for them long-term with Portis on the floor is huge. Being able to sprinkle that look in throughout a game and being more versatile that way will pay off dividends in the playoffs.

This is a small thing, but getting Portis’ overall energy channeled into those short spurts off the bench is so much more valuable than as a starter. It’s hard to sustain that level of energy through nearly 30 minutes a night, but at 20-22 minutes? Expect to see high-energy Bobby back.

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Portis has been awesome as a starter and he’s done a few things that bode well for the long-term success of the team, but going back to the bench is better for the benefit of the team as a whole.