It’s fascinating how much situation and fit matter to a player, especially a young player, in sports and how much it can make or break a player’s career. When the Milwaukee Bucks signed Bobby Portis two offseasons ago, I’m sure they thought they were signing a depreciated asset but I doubt they thought it would turn into this.
When Khris Middleton initially went down, I expected the Bucks to replace him in the starting five with Pat Connaughton. It seemed like the easier fit as he’s their next closest wing-sized player, can knock down 3s, and size up on defense. They went with Portis instead and it paid off huge.
Going into this series against the Boston Celtics, there was speculation as to who would step into the starting five as Portis might get hunted by Jayson Tatum and/or Jaylen Brown. I said they’d stick with him for at least Game 1 and see how things go from there.
The Bucks’ confidence in Portis paid off in Game 1 and looks like a perfect fit with the starting lineup.
Bobby Portis’ hard work and dedication to improving on defense is paying off for the Milwaukee Bucks
If we went back to just before the second round against the Brooklyn Nets and I told you that the Bucks would have to start Portis for that series (or at least to start the series), there would have been mass panic.
Portis, at the time, was a solid piece but couldn’t be relied on defensively, especially against a team like the Nets. He was in the rotation to begin the series but was a minus-29 after four games and eventually was a DNP for the final three games. He more than redeemed himself the rest of the way and became the mayor of Milwaukee in the process.
Still, going into this season, the biggest goal for Portis was to become (at the very least) a reliable defender. If you believe that actions speak louder than words, then head coach Mike Budenholzer trusting Portis to start against the Celtics certainly says something about the strides that Portis has taken defensively.
Portis may be a similar height to Brook Lopez and Giannis Antetokounmpo but he brings a much different element than either of them. He’s quicker and more mobile than the Bucks’ two usual frontcourt starters and should be a better switch defender in theory.
He’s not Lopez as a rim protector and the Bucks didn’t ask him to be when he had to fill in as a starter this season. They were very aggressive with pick-and-rolls, trapping the ball handler by sending two to the ball. It worked for a while but that’s not something you can do every game, you get tired by being that aggressive.
Portis has completely bought in on defense though. You saw it against the Bulls and in Game 1 against the Celtics.
Tatum, Brown, and Al Horford combined to go 3-of-10 from the field and 1-of-4 on 2s against Portis in Game 1. Those aren’t perfect metrics, but it’s a good example of how much Portis has grown on that end.
Things won’t be as smooth for Portis every game and there are going to be moments where the Celtics’ stars do go after him more, but there should be the utmost confidence in Portis to continue starting and being valuable on both ends.
Expect Portis to have another big impact in Game 2 tonight for the Milwaukee Bucks.