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In Bulls' new system, Portis looks to be a sound investment

"Bobby will have to earn any minutes he gets," Bulls GM Gar Forman said of Portis. AP Photo/Kathy Willens

CHICAGO -- In a game in early December at Hilton Coliseum, then-Arkansas big man Bobby Portis impressed then-Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg.

Almost seven months later, Hoiberg remembered Portis' statistics, and of course, Iowa State's considerable margin of victory. Hoiberg said it was around a 20-point victory, and it was, in fact, 18 points -- 95-77.

"We played Arkansas this year, we played them at home in Hilton Coliseum, and Bobby was terrific," Hoiberg, now the Chicago Bulls' coach, said Thursday night at the Advocate Center. "He was 6-for-7 in the first half. I believe he ended up with [19] points, eight or 10 rebounds (it was eight). He was a guy that can hurt you from inside and out."

Portis remembered the loss more than his stat line.

"It was a brutal game," said Portis, who went on to be named the Southeastern Conference Player of the Year as a sophomore.

Now, Hoiberg is hoping the versatile 6-foot-10, 246-pound forward can fit in his system as he begins his NBA coaching career. Given the Bulls' salary-cap constraints, it's likely that Portis is one of maybe two important additions to the team's roster this offseason. The Bulls still need a backup point guard.

The good news is everyone on the Bulls' side was on board with the pick.

Hoiberg, a former front-office executive in Minnesota, is comfortable in a draft room, and he had a little first-hand experience to add to the conversation as the Bulls saw Portis available when they drafted No. 22.

Not that it was needed. As it often happens, the decision was easy, even though Portis didn't do a pre-draft workout for the Bulls.

"As you guys know, when we prepare for the draft, we're going to draft the best player available," Bulls general manager Gar Forman said Thursday. "We had him ranked as a late lottery pick going into the night. As we saw him start to slip, we got excited about him."

Added Hoiberg: "Being in the draft room tonight, it's not very often when you get to your pick, especially in the 20s, when it's a unanimous decision and that happened tonight with Bobby still on the board."

When it's unanimous, that means there's no one to blame if the pick goes awry. I forgot to ask Hoiberg if it was unanimous in 2009, when he worked for the Timberwolves and, with a pair of first-round selections, they drafted Ricky Rubio and Jonny Flynn over Steph Curry, but I'm betting it wasn't.

Portis seems to be a safe pick with an NBA-ready game, and could be a nice complementary addition to a veteran frontcourt that includes a former defensive player of the year (Joakim Noah), an NBA champion coming off an All-Star season (Pau Gasol), a former sixth man of the year candidate (Taj Gibson) and an All-Rookie player (Nikola Mirotic).

"The strength of our team is the depth on the front line, and Bobby will have to earn any minutes he gets," Forman said.

Seemingly, there's not a lot of room for playing time. But you know these Bulls -- playing time always appears.

Gibson is coming off ankle surgery, Gasol turns 35 in July, and Noah, entering the final season of his contract, is working on his body after a down season that followed knee surgery. Mirotic showed flashes of greatness, but he's not a finished product, either.

While Portis won't be gifted minutes, given that Hoiberg wants his team to run in his up-tempo offensive, and given that the Bulls' front office believes in shorter stretches of playing time -- a point of contention with former coach Tom Thibodeau -- expect a deeper rotation.

So where does Portis fit? Everywhere, it seems. At least on paper.

"I think, first and foremost, he moves very well for a kid his size," Hoiberg said. "He's over 6-10 and he runs the floor extremely well, which is important with the pace we're going to want to play with. He's good in the pick-and-roll. The thing I'm excited about is his ability to play all over the floor."

Portis averaged 17.5 points and 8.9 rebounds in 29.9 minutes. He was a double-double machine, with nine in regular-season conference play. Portis obviously doesn't need that old Scott Skiles rebounding advice, as he was 10th in the country with 3.69 offensive rebounds per game.

"I can do a lot of different things with the basketball," Portis said. "And I don't have to have the basketball to score. I'm a guy that moves well without the basketball, I'm a guy that picks and pops, I'm a guy that does a lot of different things."

One would hope the Bulls' successes or failures next season won't have much to do with Portis' development. The X factors, aside from the knee health of Derrick Rose and Noah, will be Doug McDermott and Tony Snell. But it's really on all on the veteran stars to play up to their potential.

It never hurts to have a young big guy who can actually play. The Bulls have often stashed backup centers on the bench, young and old, such as Cameron Bairstow and Nazr Mohammed.

In a first glance, Portis looks like a solid investment for the future, with a chance to pay some early dividends.

Then again, so did Marquis Teague. So you never know.