WALTHAM, Mass. — If you were to ask an NBA evaluator to describe Bobby Portis, the first three or four adjectives out of his mouth likely would be some synonyms of “toughness.”
Tenacity. Physicality. Intensity. Relentlessness.
For the 6-foot-11 Arkansas product, who visited the Boston Celtics’ practice facility Wednesday for his first pre-draft workout, 100 mph is the only acceptable speed.
“Some players play to play, but I play to win,” Portis said after wrapping up his session. “Playing to play means you want to get out there, play 30 minutes and say that you played 30 minutes. But if I’m out there five minutes, I’m going to give my all. That’s playing to win.”
Sound familiar, Celtics fans?
Throughout the pre-draft process, Portis’ all-go, no-stop mindset has been compared to that of former Celtics star Kevin Garnett, who has hounded and intimidated opponents throughout his two decades in the NBA.
“‘Anything is possible!’ ” the 20-year-old said with a smile, quoting the famous line Garnett bellowed after winning the 2008 NBA title. “I always look at that for motivation.”
KG’s confetti-covered rallying cry was one of the iconic sports moments of the 2000s, so it’s no surprise a player who was 13 at the time uses it to pump himself up. But Portis also finds motivation in a darker place.
“I don’t want to say it, but I feel like I have to,” he said. “I always just envision somebody hitting my mom. But that’s just something that I do for myself because I want to make myself mad so when I get on the court, I don’t have any friends. It’s all business when I step on the hardwood.
“Simply because that’s something I had to go through as a kid. My mom, domestic violence. It was something I had to go through. I just always envision not wanting that to happen anymore.”
Portis could very well end up wearing the same green and white that Garnett did during his time in Boston — he’s projected as a mid-first-round pick and might be available for the C’s at No. 16 — but the young big man shied away from saying he’d like to follow in the future Hall of Famer’s footsteps.
“Hopefully, I can just come in and just be myself from Day 1,” Portis said. “Not trying to be someone else, but just trying to bring some of the similar things that he brought. His hard work and passion for the game, I feel like that’s something I could bring off the top.”
And intangibles aren’t all Portis brings to the table. He has prototypical size and better-than-average mid-range shooting ability for his position, excels on the offensive glass, and his game has no glaring weaknesses.
“For a young guy, he’s got a great feel for the game,” Celtics director of player personnel Austin Ainge said after (of course) praising Portis for being “tough” and “very physical.” “He can pass, can shoot, can dribble — pretty good at everything.”
Now, that sounds like a compliment, but it’s actually been the biggest knock on Portis since he decided to leave school after two seasons in Fayetteville: that he’s good at everything, but great at nothing.
Portis, however, doesn’t see it that way.
“I mean, if I do everything good (in my workouts), then that’s pretty good,” he said. “I don’t have to do nothing great then if I do everything well. That’s pretty good for someone to even say. If I do everything good, I don’t have to do anything great. I just bring a different type of skill set that most 6-foot-10 players don’t have.”
Thumbnail photo via Jeff Blake/USA TODAY Sports Images