While it was Bobby Portis’ missed first quarter dunk that caught the collective attention of the internet, the more noteworthy news of the evening that flew under the radar was yet another solid statline from the 6’10 fan favorite.
The 26-year-old Portis, who has been the Milwaukee Bucks’ starting center since Brook Lopez went down with a back injury in the season opener, pumped in 25 points, two threes, 12 rebounds, and a block in their 121-109 win over the Brooklyn Nets. It was his sixth game with more than 20 points and he has now tallied double figures in 29 of his 31 appearances in the ‘21-’22 campaign.
The seven-year veteran has played so well that he has made a case to remain the starter even when Lopez eventually returns to the line-up. He has capitalized on this opportunity and is averaging career-highs across the board with 15.3 points, two threes, 8.9 rebounds, and 0.9 blocks per game.
While Portis may be two inches shorter and not as adept at protecting the rim, he makes up for it with superior mobility and a level of tenacity that is difficult for opponents to match, especially during the exhausting grind of the regular season. They can both hit outside shots, although Portis has a skillset, which includes smooth off the dribble jumpers, that is more adept to the modern style of the NBA.
His wide range of scoring abilities helps relieve pressure from the team’s Big Three of Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jrue Holiday, and Khris Middleton. Furthermore, his capability to take on a larger load when any of their stars misses time has been invaluable, especially in this pandemic-marred season. What makes his production even sweeter for the team is that they just re-signed him to a team-friendly two-year deal in the wake of their championship that will pay him just $9 million.
Portis, who gained a cult following during the Bucks’ run to the NBA championship a few months ago, has indirectly grown his popularity further as he proves that he is more than just a fan favorite.
Defending champions typically lose motivation during the succeeding regular season, but his intensity has helped ensure that none of those problems would bother Milwaukee this year. He is a major reason behind their 26-15 record which has them at third place in the Eastern Conference following a slow start to the season that saw them drop eight of their first 14 games.
The culture that has been established within the Bucks organization has paved the way for Portis to fulfill his potential after a rocky start to his career. He played on three different teams over his first five years before landing in Milwaukee last season where it seems like he has finally found a home.
The team has reaped the benefits of its trust and belief in Portis, with several others experiencing a similar boost as well. Grayson Allen, the notorious Duke University alumnus and fourth year guard, joined the team in the offseason and has played the best basketball of his NBA career so far. Allen has become a key rotation piece for them with his hard-nosed defense and reliable outside shooting.
Like Portis, Allen was thrust into a bigger role due to injuries and made the most of it. When Middleton and Holiday missed time in November and December, Allen filled in valiantly. This season, he has already scored 15 or more points on 12 different occasions and is averaging 12.1 points and 2.8 threes in his 35 games as a starter.
Jordan Nwora, their second round pick in the 2020 NBA Draft, has also soaked up some of the wing minutes along with Allen this season. Though seldom used when the Bucks are at full strength, he has flashed his potential when given enough playing time. He has scored in double digits in seven of his last eight appearances, highlighted by a 28-point performance versus the Cleveland Cavaliers in late December.
Milwaukee’s ability to cultivate talent on what has now become a consistent basis should be lauded. It may very well be the factor that spells the difference between this team winning just one NBA Finals and going on an extended run of dominance. Aside from maximizing what they already have on their roster, it can also help them attract key free agents down the road.
While the development of Antetokounmpo and Middleton from raw prospects into the centerpieces of their 2021 NBA title-winning team will always be their magnum opus, what they have done with Portis and, to a lesser extent, Allen and Nwora, is just as crucial. Culture is often overlooked as a key element in the foundation of dynasties, however the Bucks seem like they are doing just fine.