Bucks Bobby Portis MCL injury FAQ: How much time will he miss? Trade for help?

MILWAUKEE—As Bobby Portis made his way out of visiting the locker room at Little Caesars Arena in Detroit on Monday night, he wore a smile on his face as he weaved through teammates and bucks staffers to get to the narrow exit by the door. He knew he needed to do a little campaigning.

Yahoo! Sports writer Vincent Goodwill, who got to know well in Chicago with the Portis bulls, mentioned the Sixth Man of the Year award, so Portis made his case. Once he got started, Portis was tough to stop.

But eventually, the campaigning came to an end. Then, Portis took a few questions from the assembled reporters about the right knee injury he suffered early in the fourth quarter that forced the Bucks to scratch him from the game.

“I don’t even know,” Portis said when asked what happened to his right leg. “I know somebody just came down on my leg. And that was it. I’ll be all right though.”

While Portis was confident he didn’t suffer a serious injury immediately after the game, further examination revealed otherwise. The Athletic’s Shams Charania reported that Portis will miss some time with a right MCL sprain. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has since reported that it is a Grade 2 MCL sprain.

After this morning’s report regarding the injury, the Bucks released their own medical update on Portis:

The timeline for Portis’ return depends entirely on the severity of the MCL sprain. Players tend to take four to six weeks to recover from Grade 2 MCL sprains, but the further details that emerge in the coming days and weeks will help decipher how much time Portis will miss.

What are some comparable situations around the league?

It’s tough to get any sort of diagnosis based on the video alone, but here was the fourth-quarter play where the injury occurred:

Portis suffered a Grade 2 MCL sprain in October 2018 as a member of the Bulls. He did not return to the floor again until Dec. 10, 47 days after the initial injury. There are varying levels of severity even within the different grades of sprains, and every injury is different. But it’s notable that it took Portis nearly seven weeks to recover from his last Grade 2 right MCL sprain.

Nets forward Kevin Durant is the most prominent player to recently suffer the injury. Durant suffered an MCL sprain in his right knee on Jan. 8 against the Heat when Jimmy Butler fell on his leg following a layup attempt. the Nets said they would re-evaluate Durant after two weeks, which they did on Mondayand now they are going to re-evaluate him in another two weeks with Durant hoping to return before the 2023 NBA All-Star Game on Feb. 19. So, Durant will almost certainly end up missing at least four weeks.

Bucks fans may remember Khris Middleton suffering a left MCL sprain last postseason, when he slipped while trying to complete a spin move during the fourth quarter of Game 2 of the Bucks’ first-round series against Chicago on April 20. A day after the injury occurred, the Bucks announced that they would need to re-evaluate Middleton’s injury in two weeks. On May 5, with the Bucks and Celtics tied at 1-1 in their second-round series, the Bucks announced that Middleton “continues to make steady progress” on his injury rehabilitation and that additional updates would be provided as appropriate. Another update never occurred, however, as the Bucks were eliminated from the playoffs by the Celtics on May 15.

On May 16, Middleton talked to reporters and revealed that the severity of his injury was “right around” a Grade 2 sprain. While Middleton wanted to play in Game 6 and Game 7, he said the team’s medical staff thought there was just too much risk for him to play. There is no way of knowing when Middleton would have played next, but missing the entire second-round series meant Middleton missed at least four weeks with his MCL sprain.

What does Portis provide to the Bucks?

Portis has been one of the Bucks’ most consistent performers this season.

He was one of only two players on the roster to play in the Bucks’ first 47 games, and averaged 14.4 points and 10.1 rebounds in 26.8 minutes per contest while doing so. Portis is one of 13 NBA players to average a double-double this season and the only one to do it primarily coming off the bench (he’s started just 14 games).

On a nightly basis, coach Mike Budenholzer knew his 27-year-old center would always bring energy, physicality on the glass and scoring punch off the bench. Portis would take care of the Bucks’ backup minutes at both power forward and center, allowing Bundeholzer to use his preferred three-man big man rotation.

With Middleton missing all but eight games this season with wrist and knee injuries, Budenholzer also used Portis to generate shots. Portis has always been capable of generating his own looks while on the block, but the Bucks asked him to create more shots for others, which led to a career-high 1.9 assists per game. It may not have always led to pretty, beautiful basketball sequences, but the isolation and post-up possessions for Portis helped the Bucks eke out enough successful possessions to stay afloat offensively at times.

While Portis was consistent, things haven’t gone perfectly for him this season. After being one of the NBA’s best stretch big men in his first two seasons with the Bucks, Portis has not shot the ball as well from deep this season. After making 47.1 percent on 2.4 3-point attempts per game in 2020-21, his first season in Milwaukee, Portis nearly doubled his attempts per game (4.7) last season while still making 39.3 percent from deep. This season, though, without Middleton to suck up defensive attention, Portis has made just 34.1 percent from 3 on 3.6 attempts per game. Opponents have made it a priority to run him off the 3-point line, like the Celtics did last season in the playoffs, and force him to take different shots inside the 3-point line.

How can the Bucks cover for Portis with players already on the roster?

Milwaukee will likely end up missing most in regards to his size, and everything that came with it.

This type of injury was the exact reason the Bucks re-signed Serge Ibaka in the offseason. After being forced to cycle through free-agent big men last season with Brook Lopez sidelined due to a back injury, general manager Jon Horst did not want to face the same problem if either Portis or Lopez got hurt this season. At this point, though, Ibaka will not be much help unless the Bucks can convince him to rejoin the team; he and the bucks agreed recently to try to find him a new home via trade.

If the Bucks do not bring Ibaka back, they will have to move forward with smaller options. While both Giannis Antetokounmpo and Budenholzer prefer to save a heavy diet of smallball looks for the postseason to keep Antetokounmpo from wearing down, the Bucks could opt to lean into playing Antetokounmpo more at center and feature Joe Ingles or Pat Connaughton as the nominal power forward in lineups.

“I’ve still found ways to play bigger than who I am and I think Coach Bud does a great job utilizing me in different areas,” Connaughton said following Wednesday’s shootaround, when asked about potentially playing power forward more with Portis out. “Playing the four is something that is not new to me, and when you do screen and you do roll, Jrue (Holiday) and I, Giannis and I, we all have some continuity with me screening now, it’s not just about getting to the rim and finishing, it’s about being a playmaker in the roll and I think that’s where I can be most dangerous. You got guys cutting, you got shooters around me.”

Lopez and I always joke about it,” Connaughton continued. “I’m probably the shortest guy that rolls (on pick-and-rolls) but causes the most havoc on a defense when I’m in the paint off the pick and roll. It’s fun to be in that situation and it’s a situation that no matter where I play, I’ll try to have the biggest impact that I can.”

Like Connaughton, Ingles is no stranger to playing power forward. Positional estimates based on the lineup data at Cleaning the Glass suggest Ingles spent nearly half his time at power forward in his last three seasons with the jazzbut only 41 percent of his time with the Bucks at power forward thus far.

total minutes % time at PF

2019-20

2.137

64%

2020-21

1,867

58%

2021-22

1.122

49%

2022-23 (bucks)

321

41%

When Portis returns, the Bucks can give Ingles more opportunities at small forward, or whatever lineup configurations they want to try out before the postseason.

If the Bucks do not want to use smaller lineups, they could give two-way players Sandro Mamukelashvili more court time. The 23-year-old out of Seton Hall profiles more as a forward than a center in his second season with the Bucks, but Budenholzer used him at the 5 plenty last season as the team tried to stay afloat without Lopez (back injury) and could do the same again to cover minutes in the next few weeks.

In a sense, Middleton may end up being the player who most closely fills the void left by Portis, even if their positions don’t match up. Without Middleton, the Bucks leaned on Portis for scoring every night and deployed Portis’ offensive skill to lead bench units when Antetokounmpo rested. Without Portis, Middleton should be able to take on those scoring duties as he gets accustomed to playing more minutes.

Should they attempt to trade for help?

While the Bucks likely have an idea of ​​how much time Portis will miss, they have not shared the severity of his MCL sprain, which makes it difficult to assess what they actually need to survive his absence. If Portis is only out a couple of weeks, then the Bucks can probably survive without adding backup big men to their list of potential trade deadline targets.

But if it is going to take longer than that, as one would expect with a Grade 2 sprain, Horst may look to add a big man via trade.

The Bucks have a full roster at the moment, so they cannot currently sign a free agent center, if that is how they would want to go about trying to fill Portis’ spot. If they can’t convince Ibaka to return to the team, maybe Horst could deal him to another team that also has a disgruntled big man. Or, with the value of big men diminishing around the league, perhaps the Bucks could find a suitable backup big man to eat up a few weeks of playing time in exchange for a second-round pick.

There is also the possibility of completing a trade for someone like Jae Crowder, even if he isn’t a traditional big man. the Bucks have been connected to Crowder by our Shams Charania since the start of this season, when the Suns agreed to let Crowder remain away from the team as they attempted to find a suitable trade for the 32-year-old forward. In October, we broke down the potential complications of a deal, which included overlap with Ingles and Connaughton. Without Portis on the floor for a few weeks though, dissipate some of those complications, as the Bucks could use another body and then opt to play smaller units to cover for Portis.

(Photo of Bobby Portis: Benny Sieu / USA Today)

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