Bobby Portis knows basketball is evolving. The Wizards forward understands that, in this modern age of “smallball,” threes become fours and fours become fives. He realizes when he’s a restricted free agent this summer, teams are just as likely to view him as a center as they are a forward.
In spite of all of this, there’s still part of the 24-year-old that sees himself as a natural power forward. And he enjoys it, too.
“When I look online … I still see a ‘PF’ by my name,” Portis said. “I think that’s kind of warming.”
That’s why Portis appreciated when coach Scott Brooks moved him back to power forward Thursday, pairing him with center Thomas Bryant in a reworked — and more traditional — starting lineup. The switch was the first time Portis got to play the position since being traded from Chicago in mid-February.
But for the Wizards (30-44), the change also represented a larger shift. With its playoff hopes all but dead — they’re now 6½ games back with eight to play after a 113-108 loss Saturday to the Miami Heat — Washington is trying to evaluate potential pairings before the season is over. Bryant and Portis will each be restricted free agents after the season, and if they can’t play together, keeping both could be redundant.
“We gotta experiment and see different lineups and see how they do,” Brooks said. “Obviously, we’ve got decisions to make.”
Brooks said the team needs a “sample” of how Portis and Bryant play together. Until Thursday, the two had logged just five minutes as a pair.
But results from the lineup experiment over the last two games are encouraging. They’ve shared the court for 47 minutes and have outscored opponents 10.6 points per 100 possessions. It helps that both can stretch the floor. Portis is shooting nearly 41 percent from deep this season, while Bryant has made a respectable 34.2 percent from beyond the arc.
Bryant said it “felt good” playing with Portis.
“I know he likes to shoot the ball a little bit more,” Bryant said. “I try to do my quickness down there in the post. You know, just trying to get rolls and it seems like it opens up a lot more for us. Whether he’s rolling or I’m rolling, we’ve seen a way to get open.”
If the pairing doesn’t work long-term, there’s still a scenario in which Portis and Bryant could be retained. The Wizards will have the right to match any offer signed by Portis or Bryant, and both are young and have upside. Still, the Wizards appear fixated on not going past the luxury tax again this offseason. They shed Otto Porter’s contract for that reason at the trade deadline. If either player receives a large offer sheet, the Wizards might be content with letting them walk.
“I think we did some good things out there together,” Portis said. “I think we showed life a little bit.”
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