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Bobby Portis needs to develop consistency to solidify role with Wizards

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Washington Wizards v Chicago Bulls Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

This is the next installment of our player review series, where we look back at the individual performance of each Wizard this season. With so many players set to hit free agency this summer, we’ll also examine what kind of value they’ll have this summer. In this installment, we’ll look at Bobby Portis.

Acquired in a February trade from the Chicago Bulls, 24-year old big man Bobby Portis made a memorable debut, pouring in 30 points off the bench on white-hot shooting.

The rest of his season in DC was hit and miss — he chased good games with bad, and he didn’t string together stretches of reliable, consistent production.

Positives this season

With good size and athleticism, Portis looks the part of a good NBA big man. He plays with effort, sets good screens, boxes out consistently on the defensive glass, has sound shooting mechanics and is a true threat from long range. By the numbers, he’s above average in three areas: rebounding, three-point shooting and free throw shooting. With the Wizards, he launched over seven threes per 100 team possessions, a fairly high number for a big man.

All that translates to a basically average player overall. In my production metric (PPA, more here), he rated a bit above average in 2017-18, and exactly average last season.

Spots for improvement

On offense, Portis’ has been a poor finisher around the basket. In Washington, he converted on 63.6 percent of his at-rim attempts, which was almost league average. For his career, he hits on 59.9 percent of his at-rim attempts, which is solidly below the league average of about 65 percent.

The biggest problem with Portis: defense. It’s difficult to overstate how bad Portis is on the defensive end. He’s a terrible rim protector. He’s poor in pick-and-roll, regardless the coverage. He’s awful defending in space. He’s a below-average shot blocker, which is surprising since he’s 6-11 and athletic.

While Portis is still young, it’s worrisome that he’s still so clueless on defense after four seasons. NBA concepts and coverages should be nearly automatic at this point in his career, but there’s no question he’s way behind on the learning curve.

This is a significant issue for Portis and the Wizards. It’s difficult for teams hide a bad defensive big man. Most NBA schemes rely on bigs for help and rim protection. Portis is weak in both areas. An obvious solution would be to play him at a forward spot, but his struggles to defend in space make that suboptimal.

Current value

Portis is 24 years old, seems to have loads of potential and is reported to be a hard worker. Still, players most like him statistically through the years have been decent (and worse), not high-quality performers. The guys with similar production at a similar age include Charlie Villanueva, Ersan Ilyasova, Jared Sullinger, and Enes Kanter. Useful at times, but not much more.

Last October, Portis turned down an extension offer from the Bulls that would have paid him approximately $12 million a year for the next four seasons. Reportedly, he’s looking for an annual average of $16 million. If Portis gets an offer close to that, the Wizards should wish him well and let him go. There’s nothing to be gained by committing significant cap resources to Portis over the next few years — especially since they have a better, younger big man in Thomas Bryant who they can likely sign for less.

The Wizards’ best option would be to make a small bet on Portis’ potential by signing him to the qualifying offer — about $7.5 million. It’s a risk because he would become an unrestricted free agent next summer and the Wizards would risk losing him. But, the Wizards could still pay him more than anyone else, and the chances of him becoming more than a decent big are fairly low. They’d be wise to keep costs down with Portis — his defensive woes are serious and what he does well is replaceable at a lower price.