CHICAGO – In the classic American sitcom The Simpsons, Milhouse Van Houten – the program’s eternal fall guy – rarely has anything go his way. In one episode, a devastating flood strikes the fictional town of Springfield, and in turn, the Van Houten home. Milhouse, a nerdy advocate of the pliability of flood pants of all things, opens the door to his bedroom and a wave of water comes rushing in. This time, though, one of Milhouse’s ridiculous thought processes works out. At reaction to his cuffs staying dry, he exclaims, “Everything’s coming up Milhouse!” knowing his fortune normally turns for the worse in similar situations.
For a team like the Bulls, perennially stuck in neutral with most of its ideas for improvement regularly shot down, there is no better analogy for their most recent exploits after acquiring former Wizard Otto Porter Jr. via trade. The Bulls are Milhouse in this scenario, and Porter Jr. is their metaphorical flood pants: a legitimately useful NBA rotational player.
Over the past few years, it’s been difficult not to be outright skeptical any time the Bulls have made a move. An organization that put itself out there in acquiring aging stars like Dwayne Wade and Rajon Rondo, doesn’t do much to inspire confidence. A team that has quite literally made trade after trade for the pure purpose of cash considerations of late hasn’t earned the benefit of the doubt. If you asked the Bulls, they logistically might not know what a second-round pick is seeing as how they rarely look to actively acquire them. More than most NBA teams, it’s almost as if the Bulls have an active aversion to making legitimate moves for improvement in the short term, and to place themselves in any position for success down the line.
It’s always the Bulls that typically let a flood envelop whatever positivity they could potentially enjoy.
That’s why when John Paxson and Gar Forman went out and acquired Porter at this year’s NBA trade deadline, the acquisition could’ve been characterized as jarring. After much consternation, the Bulls didn’t acquire a player on his last legs. They added someone who could be seen as both a relative building block in the present and someone to play with for the future. If you’d have been thrown for a loop at this development, who could blame you?
The Bulls adding genuinely useful talent to their roster is something to be appreciated. It doesn’t matter that their low bar set about by largely self-inflicted wounds isn’t difficult to clear. The Bulls may insist they’re rebuilding for the umpteenth year in a row, but it doesn’t change the fact that Porter can play. He can not only play, but he can also occasionally ball out. On a roster sometimes lacking the most basic of cohesion, that matters.
It’s Porter’s slot as an established veteran with a young Bulls team, albeit with a small sample size, that’s already paying off with terrific dividends.
Look no further than a career-high 37-point performance in a blowout win over the Memphis Grizzlies to send the Bulls into the All-Star Break Thursday night. Porter made nine of his first 10 shots and went a sparkling 16-of-20 overall. Any time you thought the former Wizard’s onslaught might stop, in came another three in rhythm, a difficult step back, or a layup. The fact of the matter is Porter, when he’s locked in, can act as an excellent example of a perfectly efficient and responsible player. The kind of cliché glue guy with the lengthy defensive proficiency that helps hold a young team together.
Through four games, Porter already has a shining 128 offensive rating (per 100 possessions) with the Bulls. That’s by far the most of any other active starter on the roster with Lauri Markannen checking in next at a solid 106. It’s also higher than Pelicans superstar Anthony Davis, who currently possesses the ninth-best offensive rating in the NBA at 123. On defense, where Porter has made most of his previous reputation, he’s also leading the way. A quality 115 defensive rating has the young 3-and-D guy sitting on top of the Bulls’ hill.
In a positionless league, Porter is one of those valuable assets, who can make an impact on both ends of the floor. He’ll nail a three in the opposition’s face in one sequence, and then more than aptly defend a team’s best scorer on the next play without blinking an eye. He’s a versatile piece – a grinder with skill to lift up a mediocre Bulls squad, which doesn’t do much of anything well consistently.
The main issue that could reasonably be brought up in regards to Porter’s fit with the Bulls is an egregious salary cap hit for his services. Having a glue guy – a non-superstar – make at least $27 million each of the next two seasons makes little sense in retrospect. In any event, if Paxson, Forman, and Bulls leadership wish to move on from Porter next year, they will have to eat roughly $55 million in dead cap space. For all intents and purposes, and for better or worse, his future is locked in for a while on the West Side.
That’s not even mentioning what adding a capable player like Porter does to lessen Chicago’s chances for Duke’s Zion Williamson: the presumed No. 1 overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft in June. The more games the Bulls win, and every game counts near the bottom, the less likely it is that Williamson calls the United Center home. Winning two of their last four, hasn’t been conducive to staying alive in the top (or bottom) four tanking race for a game-changing talent. As good and solid as Porter is, he’s not the special star like Williamson the Bulls lack and need to ideally compete for championships.
At any rate, as long as Porter continues to plug away like he has early on in his Bulls career, it’ll be difficult to argue with the benefits of his individual presence. Regardless of if the Bulls ever finish it, Porter fits into their puzzle being built.
The eternal fall guy in their own story, for once everything’s coming up Bulls.