The season has gone awry for Lauri Markkanen and the Chicago Bulls. What path should the Bulls take with their big man going forward?
The 2019-20 season hasn’t exactly gone the way the Chicago Bulls or their young forward Lauri Markkanen hoped or anticipated. The franchise entered the new campaign effortlessly tossing around the one buzzword any fan base hopelessly falls for — playoffs.
Everyone was employing the word — from star guard Zach LaVine to head coach Jim Boylen to the front office, led by John Paxson. It was the en vogue phrase of training camp. The playoffs would be the measure by which this season would be judged.
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Realistically, the team still has a shot at the tournament, currently just two games behind the Brooklyn Nets for eighth place in the Eastern Conference.
However, if the Bulls are going to make any noise the rest of this season, they’re going to need more from Markkanen. A lot more.
What they’ve received so far has been an inconsistent and timid big man showing more regression than progression.
This was supposed to be his breakout season. The expectation, not hope, was that he would join LaVine as strong candidates for first-ever All-Star bids. Together, they would wine and dine the best from around the Association as the NBA world descended upon Chicago in mid-February.
Instead, the third-year forward has delivered a mixed bag of results. Even from the jump, Markkanen has been inexplicably inconsistent. In the season opener in Charlotte against the Hornets, the 7-footer poured in 35 points and hauled in 17 rebounds.
Instead of building upon a huge season debut, Lauri followed it up with back-to-back duds, scoring nine points in each game, including going 1-for-10 from 3-point range outing in a win against the Memphis Grizzlies.
It’s been that way all season for the Chicago Bulls and Lauri Markkanen. He’s posting career-low stats nearly across the board and now he’s on the shelf for four to six weeks with a pelvic injury.
Is this a result of Markkanen being a victim of poor coaching? Is it the system? Has he been playing hurt all season? Maybe he’s not what we thought he’d be when Chicago acquired him in the Jimmy Butler deal.
Either way, there are now more questions than answers about the Finnish big man.
Should the Chicago Bulls trade Markkanen?
There was some recent chatter suggesting that the Chicago Bulls might be willing to move on from Markkanen now, perhaps in order to avoid a future decision on a contract extension before the start of next season.
The notion of trading their third-year forward seems silly on its face, particularly because of his age. Markkanen is still only 22 years old and cutting bait at this point from their big man seems extremely premature.
Trading Markkanen just seems like the lazy way out. If the Bulls are willing to give up on him now, why not just give up on the entire rebuild?
It’s not about ability or talent, Markkanen has both and plenty of it, though his ceiling might not be quite as high as we may have thought. It’s rather likely that the issue is somewhere in him being misused by a hard-headed coach who prefers things his way, or else.
Should the Chicago Bulls move Lauri Markkanen? It just doesn’t seem like that’s a realistic option, or a sensible one, at this point in his career. Missing significant time for the third straight season devalues Markkanen’s as a trade asset.
Besides, unless the Bulls are absolutely certain that he’s already reached his ceiling at age 22 (which is unlikely), trading him won’t solve what ails this team.
He needs to part of the solution here, not elsewhere.
It’s his usage more than anything
What should the Chicago Bulls do with Lauri Markkanen? The answer lies in his usage. Lauri won’t say it openly, but the system isn’t properly suited for his skills. He was hinted a few times toward the system not being favorable without trying to ruffle feathers.
Under Boylen, Markkanen has become a stand-in-the-corner-and-shoot player, which is a terribly misguided way to use a player with his skill set. He’s taken 51.6 percent of his shots from catch-and-shoot situations and he’s knocked down only 34.5 percent of those attempts.
He’s been good within 10 feet, where 41.8 percent of his shots have come from, connecting on 54.3 percent of those shots.
He’s much better with movement, coming off screens especially, can beat his defender off the dribble and has plenty of athleticism. Narrowing him toward the corners and catch-and-shoot opportunities won’t bring out the best in Markkanen. He’s much more than a spot-up shooter, which is all that the head coach seemingly sees him as.
There aren’t many 7-footers with Markkanen’s range and ability to score from multiple locations and in a variety of ways. He can hurt his opponents off the dribble, in the post and from the outside with range. It won’t do anyone any good, however, if Boylen insists on using him more like Robert Horry and less like Dirk Nowitzki.
There’s still time for Markkanen and the Chicago Bulls this season
The injury bug has hit the Chicago Bulls hard once again; it seems like an annual rite of passage and Lauri Markkanen has fallen victim again. He’s not the only one. Who knows when Otto Porter Jr. will be back, Wendell Carter Jr., is also on the shelf and Daniel Gafford was finally enjoying some good minutes when he went down.
With that said, it’s not over this team. Not yet. There’s still plenty of time for Chicago to nab a playoff berth. At this point in the rebuild, it would better serve this team to taste some playoff experience than to try their luck with the lottery once again (lucky sevens for the fourth year in a row, anyone?).
If the Chicago Bulls are going to make any noise the rest of the way, Lauri Markkanen must be a huge factor. The question is whether Jim Boylen can figure out how to use him correctly?