Next up in our rankings is Milwaukee legend Bobby Portis, voted by the Brew Hoop commentariat as the fifth most important Buck to playoff success.
Let me tell you quickly why I like Portis. It goes back to 2015, when I favored him as Milwaukee’s draft choice at 17 that year, thinking he’d make a fine replacement for the recently-departed Jared Dudley and Ersan Ilyasova (who would eventually replace himself with... himself). He went 22nd and the Bucks took Rashad Vaughn.
Had to end that paragraph for emphasis. Anyway, Portis put together a solid career in the ensuing years as a scoring big with a good outside touch. He unwisely turned down a big extension from the Bulls, but still made some solid scratch while putting up some great averages on bad teams. Unlike some, I always saw Portis’ success with the Bulls and Wizards as harbingers of a fine NBA player, someone who didn’t deserve being question as to whether or not he was a “winning player.” Oh, and I also like his eyeballs.
Let Portis be a lesson to anyone decrying players putting up gaudy statlines for mediocre or worse teams. Put players like him in great situations—he sure thinks Milwaukee is a great situation—and watch them excel in a more-properly cast role. Not only did Portis endear himself to us fans, but he emerged to the national audience as a quality role player on a championship team. Calling him the fifth most important Buck come the postseason and more important than a fifth starter is spot-on, even though he’s not in the starting lineup.
His regular season was awesome (the near NBA-best 47.1% shooting from deep especially), but in light of this vote let’s examine his playoff value, not counting that first round cakewalk against Miami (he played great in that one, though). After 4 ineffective games against Brooklyn, Portis didn’t get his number called once as that series concluded and Milwaukee’s rotation pared down to essentially just six players. To be fair, his shooting numbers cratered deeper and deeper through that series, plus when offense-first players just aren’t producing (Bryn Forbes comes to mind) teams can’t afford to play them in elimination scenarios. Many speculated, however, that Portis was benched because of his long poorly-regarded defense.
While it’s been said from inside the organization that Portis had never learned how to play proper NBA defense on all those also-ran teams before coming to Milwaukee, any strides he made last year on that end were not enough to justify putting him out there against Kevin Durant and Blake Griffin. Luckily for Crazy Eyes, the Bucks won that series so he enjoyed a big postseason comeback. He was back to his usual scoring ability off the bench in the Atlanta series, but when Giannis injured his knee in Game 4, Portis came up huge after starting in The Greek Freak’s stead. His 22 point effort in Game 5 wasn’t as efficient as usual, but he re-established himself as the instant-offense frontcourt option Milwaukee never had in postseasons gone by.
Of course, Portis’ finest moment came in Game 6 of the NBA Finals, after a few middling games where he was ineffective even against a small and depleted Suns’ frontcourt. 16 points off the bench in a title-clinching game is quite the accomplishment to hang one’s hat on, but he even managed to upstage an all-time great NBA performance from Giannis a couple of times (such a weak technical), earning well-deserved “BOB-BY!” chants. The guy was having fun while playing 11 minutes and hitting three important baskets in the fourth quarter of a championship-winner. It’s the stuff of legends.
We have a very clear idea of Portis’ role on this team, especially when the games matter most. The Milwaukee legend deserves the benefit of the doubt from now on, and we’ll undoubtedly see him again next postseason, but what of the matchups? Everyone and their uncle believes the Bucks and Nets are (again) on a collision course to determine who wins the East and possibly the 2022 title, so will Googly Eyes be a DNP-CD again if that matchup indeed happens?
Brooklyn’s big man corps is slightly revamped, but will still feature Griffin and Nic Claxton splitting minutes at the 5 as they did in June. Gone is Bucks-killer Jeff Green, replaced by the un-retired LaMarcus Aldridge and Paul Millsap, who both will be in the frontcourt mix at least in the regular season. Those two may not see much court time in a late-round series given their age and declining skills on defense and offense (respectively). Though if Claxton features more prominently in the Nets’ rotation next postseason, Portis could be in line for more minutes checking the young center who has yet to flash much NBA offensive skill. The Nets can’t count on continued health from Griffin and Kevin Durant either, and without one of those two, Portis could be trusted with more minutes.
Truthfully, Portis’ defense is improving and he’s just 26 (a couple months younger than Giannis). With a season in Bud’s system under his belt plus a full training camp—not to mention recently putting together a career-defining postseason run—he may dispel any notion of unplayability against contenders with smaller, more mobile frontcourts. Moreover, his scoring during the latter rounds outweighed any drawbacks on the other end in the latter rounds. I even wondered during certain moments in that Nets series if he needed to be dusted off for when the Bucks’ offense bogged down in the half court, defense be damned. He has legit three-level scoring ability: for all we talk about his long-range prowess and his strength at the rim, Portis has a very aesthetically-pleasing repertoire in the ~10 foot range with those crafty hook shots and floaters, plus a sound midrange jump shot.
Our man is here for at least another year and is likely to garner a nice long-term deal once Milwaukee can offer him one next summer, staying at a discount because he just likes being a Buck so doggone much. In a year he’s become a part of a championship core—one of the youngest too—without changing his game significantly; that talent was always there. I’m curious to find out if his postseason importance is as high next spring, and perhaps if he assumes Brook Lopez’s starting role in two years once that contract ends.
Onto our fourth spot, with the polls looking increasingly like a formality... and no, I’m not adding Giannis yet.
The 4th Most Important Player to Milwaukee’s Postseason Success is...
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