Bobby Portis might have already played his last game with the Knicks, but the wide-eyed 25-year-old big man still deserves a review of his 2019-20 campaign, and to sum it up using a quote from Dennis Reynolds of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, it was pretty good. It was alright. It wasn’t great. But it was fine.
Portis joined the Knicks as part of the brigade of leftover free agents who took their talents to New York because other cities didn’t seem to desire their services, signing a two-year, $31 million contract last summer that features a team option for year two. In July, SNY’s Ian Begley reported that “opposing teams would be surprised” if the Knicks retained Portis, so it sounds like the franchise feels as though guaranteeing $15 million to a backup big man isn’t necessarily part of the current rebuild.
Nonetheless, Portis will forever be part of the roster that went 21-45 under David Fizdale and then Mike Miller, so let’s assess his season, starting from the top.
He Wasn’t Really Put In A Position To Succeed
The Knicks didn’t seem to think much about how all the players they signed would fit together on an actual basketball court, as evidenced by the fact at the team’s offense around rookie R.J. Barrett featured the worst spacing in the entire NBA.
Portis was meant to fill in a slot somewhere alongside fellow tall guys like Mitchell Robinson, Julius Randle, Taj Gibson and Marcus Morris, and from the get-go it was obvious that there wasn’t really a defined role for him to play. He’s a solid shooter but isn’t lights out, and he’s got skills in the post, but can be inconsistent and a little ball-hoggy.
Still, Portis made the most of his minutes, which sometimes was good for the team and sometimes detrimental. In the grand scheme of things it didn’t really matter; the Knicks were never close to sniffing the playoffs this year.
Four games into the season, he led the Knicks to their first victory with a monster performance against the Chicago Bulls, putting up 28 points (10-14 from the field including 4-4 from three), 11 rebounds, 2 assists and 2 blocks in a seven-point win over his former team.
Most of the time, however, Portis found himself checking into games that were already out of reach. He would often try to shoulder the offensive load himself for a few minutes, perhaps because he recognized that the only way he’d be guaranteed an extended run is if he was able to force the issue. It’s hard to take someone out when they’ve hit four or five straight buckets.
Unfortunately, the times he went scorched earth were few and far between.
In Another Time, On Another Team, Portis Is A Fine Player
In 66 games, Portis posted 10 points (45% from the field, 36% from three), 5 rebounds and 1.5 assists in just over 21 minutes per contest. When he was feeling it, however, Portis put up All-Star level numbers. But again, that only happened in a select few games. Maybe a different coach could figure out how to correctly utilize Portis and put him in a position to succeed.
But the reality is the reality. After that 28-point outburst against the Bulls, Portis wouldn’t notch at least 20 points again for another two months, when he scored 30 in a 15-point loss to the Miami Heat in December.
He just never put together sustained stretches of excellence. In late December and early January, he had three straight games with at least 17 points, and the Knicks went 2-1. But Portis never had two consecutive 20-point outings, and his best games mostly came in losses anyway.
The Marcus Morris trade opened up some space for Portis, but the NBA only had about a month and a half to go between that deal and the coronavirus-caused season stoppage. In the 14 games Portis played without Morris on the roster, he averaged 13 points (51% from the field, 41% from deep), 5 boards and 1.4 assists in 22 minutes a night. But it may have been too little too late.
Portis Might Have A Bright Future. It’s Probably Elsewhere, Though.
Portis won’t turn 26 until February. He’s got the size to bang with bigs down low, the touch to space the floor, and eyes that will strike fear into the heart of any opponent. If he came to the Knicks during a summer in which the team wasn’t adding an entire roster’s worth of new players, maybe he could have filled a specific role.
Alas, he joined the team as part of the free agency bonanza, and struggled to stand out on a bad team that was difficult to watch. It doesn’t feel like the Knicks should give $15 million to a big man who will sit behind the NBA’s all-time single season field goal percentage leader in Robinson, not to mention Randle. Further, the Knicks could guarantee less money ($9.45 million) to Gibson, who has experience playing under new head coach Tom Thibodeau.
Then again, as of early August, the Knicks’ official social media accounts were still highlighting the work Portis is putting in. You really never know what’s going to happen. Perhaps Portis will get another chance in New York. But probably not.