NEW YORK -- Bobby Portis passed the first real test of his professional career with flying colors Saturday night.
With Pau Gasol sitting out of the Chicago Bulls' game against the New York Knicks to rest after Friday night's four-overtime defeat at the hands of the Detroit Pistons, Portis knew he was going to get an opportunity. He walked with a confident pace around Madison Garden before the game, intent on showing the rest of the world what he has always believed within himself -- that he had the ability to thrive in this setting, on this stage.
After scoring 20 points, pulling down 11 rebounds and grabbing two steals in 23 minutes, Portis left little doubt that his time to shine as an NBA player was coming sooner than later. When asked what else he could do to show first-year head coach Fred Hoiberg he wanted to get more consistent playing time, Portis acknowledged that he wasn't sure what the right answer was.
"That's a great question," Portis said. "It's a question I ask myself every day. I kind of be at war with myself sometimes while I'm not playing. But the only solution I have is to keep working hard and to keep being the guy that I am every day. Coming in and busting my butt every day, just trying to get better. As a basketball player you have one job and that's to get better every day. So that's something I try to do every day and I just try to run with it."
Portis, who has played in just five games this season, has garnered a lot of support from throughout the organization since being drafted with the 22nd pick in the 2015 draft. Teammates and coaches love the effort and intensity he has shown in practice. Up to this point, Portis hasn't been able to get on the floor for meaningful minutes because he's been stuck behind Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson, Nikola Mirotic and Gasol in the rotation.
But after his performance on Saturday night, coupled with the fact that Mirotic has been playing poorly for several weeks now and second-year man Doug McDermott left Saturday's game with a sore knee, the same one he had surgery on last year, Hoiberg admitted that the rookie's play could force some changes in the rotation.
"We'll have a lot to talk about in the next couple days," Hoiberg said. "And then some decisions to make. Don't know how serious Doug [McDermott's] knee injury is. It swelled up on him a little bit out there so we'll get back and assess everything and we'll get back to work on our shootaround on Monday."
Hoiberg has shown no desire to have Portis play at the three position to date, but no matter what slot he fills, the 20-year-old's talents may be too good to continue to leave on the bench. The proud Arkansas alum knows that playing hard is a skill.
"I feel like it's a talent," Portis said. "Hard work is a talent. That's as simple as it can get. I work hard and I feel like that's one of my talents. I'm not the most athletic guy, I'm not the most skilled guy ... but at the end of the day I work hard and I play as hard as I can. I feel like that's a talent too."
Portis' teammates are happy that he's getting a chance to show what he can do.
"I'm really happy for the rook," Noah said. "I think he's somebody who works extremely hard every day. He has a great attitude ... He's obviously a great talent but I just like his vibe and his attitude out there on the court. Very encouraging. The future is going to be really bright for him on this team."
Portis is just trying to focus on getting better each night. He is confident his time will come, even if it remains unclear on exactly when that will be.
"I'm at an even keel," he said. "I never get too high, never get too low. I try to stay right there in the middle and try to just be myself. [Sunday] I have to recover and come back Monday, hopefully I can play again if the opportunity's there, but if it isn't I know I'll still cheer on my teammates. Still have to be a confident guy for my teammates and once my opportunity comes I have to be ready."