As we move further into the Chicago Bulls offseason, Locked On Bulls will take a closer look at each player on the roster. What kind of impact did they have in the 2017-18 season, and what role (if any) should they be expected to play moving forward?
Next up: Lauri Markkanen
Lauri Markkanen – PF
2017-18 Bulls stats: 68 games, 15.2 points, 43.4 FG%, 36.2 3P%, 7.5 rebounds, 1.2 assists
2018-19 Contract Situation: Year 2 of rookie deal, will earn a base salary of $4.53 million for the 2018-19 season.
Season Review: Congratulations, Lauri Markkanen! You are without a doubt the winner of the “Please Give Us Something To Be Excited About” award of this long and grueling Bulls season. The Arizona product was always expected to go in the top ten of the 2017 NBA Draft, so the Bulls (slated to pick 16th) didn’t even meet with him at last year’s draft combine. They did scout him during his one college season, however. And when Gar Forman and John Paxson pulled the trigger on the Jimmy Butler trade, Markkanen was their man with the 7th overall pick. The perfect stretch four for the modern NBA and coach Fred Hoiberg’s offense.
GarPax haters can shout about the Bulls not even scouting Markkanen, saying they got lucky when they took a kid they didn’t know much about. Fine, go ahead and shout. The important takeaway is that the Bulls did get lucky when they stole Lauri with that 7th pick, and they appear to have a franchise player. There’s a general consensus among league experts that if you were to do the 2017 Draft over again, Markkanen would go third behind Donovan Mitchell and Jayson Tatum. Why? Just look at the season Lauri had.
The Finnish Kid found himself in the starting lineup of the season opener by the most bizarre of circumstances. The two guys fighting for the starting power forward spot in training camp got in an actual fight. Nikola Mirotic was sidelined with a broken face and Bobby Portis got slapped with an 8-game suspension for being the face-breaker. Enter Markkanen. The seven foot stretch forward impressed from the jump, scoring 17 points and grabbing 8 rebounds in his NBA debut. He followed that up with a double double. And on it went, until Lauri’s official coming out party at Madison Square Garden, of all places. The brightest stage in the game’s most highly competitive league, and the rook poured in 33 points, including a poster dunk and 8 three pointers in a Bulls victory. Those 8 threes tied an NBA record set by Dirk Nowitzki for the most made in single game by a 7-footer. Cue Fred’s mouth agape and drooling.
That wasn’t the only record-setting Lauri did this season. In January, he came the fastest player in NBA history to make 100 career three pointers. He also became the first Bulls rookie since Elton Brand in 2000 to score 1,000 points and grab 500 rebounds. In the regular season finale, Lauri broke Kirk Hinrich’s franchise rookie record when he made his 145th three of the season.
In brief? This kid can play. He has perennial All Star potential. Zach LaVine was thought to be the prize of the Jimmy Butler trade when it went down, but Markkanen proved us all wrong. The Finnisher is the prize.
Offseason Outlook: Lauri endured a bad shooting slump in February that lasted into early March. It could’ve been the rookie wall. It could’ve been his paternity leave to Finland in early February after the birth of his first child. That probably exhausted the 20 year old dad. He also sat out a handful of games towards the end of the season with recurring back spasms and soreness. The hope is that he can get both rest and rehabilitation at some point this summer. It won’t be easy, though. Markkanen confirmed last month that he will compete in at least a few of Finland’s FIBA World Cup qualifying games in late June and early July. Lauri is the star of that team, and led them to big victories last year in addition to his Summer League duties with the Bulls. Will Lauri play in Summer League this year, as some second-year players do? To be determined, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see him sit out.
Aside from his Finnish National Team duties, the Bulls hope that Lauri can spend at least some time working on his body and his game at the Advocate Center. He showed his offensive versatility at times, recognizing mismatches and working from the low post. He can face up and knock down shots from the high post, but he needs to improve his ballhandling, back-down moves and attacks to the basket. It might also be a good idea to continue working on a mini hook that we didn’t see too often his rookie season. It’s a great weapon to have for a player of Lauri’s size, regardless of how adept he is behind the three point line. Lauri should also spend time on his defensive footwork this summer. His defense wasn’t nearly as bad as people projected in the draft, and he even had some epic defensive moments this season. But it still needs to get better. And he needs to add some muscle to that frame if he’s going to be able to play defensive minutes at the five and be a true rim protector against the biggest and baddest of the NBA.
Have thoughts on Lauri Markkanen? Comment below or continue the conversation with me on Twitter @Bulls_Peck.
Which Bulls player will come up consistently clutch this season?
Locked On Bulls is back with a fresh episode, the guys pick up where they left off on yesterday’s episode talking about what the fourth quarter of games might look like. Jordan and Matt dive into clutch time statistics, what they mean, how they are important, and where the young Bulls core ended up last season. The second half of the show the guys kick off their newest segment of “Most Iconic Moments in Bulls History” with 32 different storylines that have defined the Chicago Bulls. The guys start with Michael Jordan’s “I’m Back” fax vs. Derrick Rose’s press conference asking “Why Can’t I Be MVP?”. The guys discuss the importance of both and ultimately which one moves on. Vote for either on Twitter (@LockedOnBulls) and join the discussion at (331)-979-1369.
Bulls Voicemail: Who are you relying on to take the clutch shot?
Locked On Bulls is back with their weekly Bulls mailbag show, the guys kick off the episode with a voicemail about comparing Lauri Markkanen to Rasheed Wallace. The guys compare both players, why Matt and Jordan don’t necessarily see a connection and ultimately what Markkanen should be working on this season. Second voicemail is in response to an early question asking how Fred Hoiberg can get back into the good graces with Bulls fans who don’t believe in him. Third voicemail is a call about not necessarily needing to sign a top-tier free agent in 2019 in order to compete. Last voicemail of the show asks who we would like to see take the last shot in close games this season. Matt and Jordan dive into some clutch time statistics from last year to try and make a case for any of the five Bulls core players. All of this and so much more on Locked On Bulls.
Three Factors That Will Determine Bulls Playoff Chances
The Chicago Bulls won 27 games last season making it their lowest winning season since 2004. The Bulls were 26th in the NBA in points per game and 27th in points allowed per game. They were also 29th in the league in total point differential at -577 points. Although the Bulls had their worst season of the decade, the new and young additions to the roster may induce a playoff berth in a struggling Eastern Conference.
When deciding whether or not the Bulls are a playoff team, these questions come to mind:
- Can an injury-prone starting lineup remain healthy?
- Will Jabari Parker finally become the elite player he got drafted to be?
- Are other teams in the East too good?
Let’s not ignore the elephant in the room, this Bulls starting lineup has a long history of significant injuries. Whether they can remain healthy is a question that could make or break their playoff chances. The two biggest concerns for the Bulls regarding health is Jabari Parker and Zach LaVine. Parker and LaVine have a combined three ACL tears in the past two years. We know from previous years with Derrick Rose that it is difficult to stay healthy and yield the same production after an injury like Parker and LaVine suffered. But it wasn’t just Parker and LaVine who were recovering from injuries throughout last season.
Kris Dunn missed 11 games due to a concussion after a hard fall in January. He missed a few more games due to minor injuries like a dislocated finger, patella tendinitis, and a big toe sprain.
Bulls sophomore Lauri Markkanen missed a total of 14 games last season dealing with some minor injuries. Markkanen’s “back stiffness” was the main reason for most of his missed games. You could argue that some of Markkanen’s “rest days” came at the end of the season when the Bulls were trying to get a better draft pick.
Health is perhaps the biggest factor in whether the Bulls can make the playoffs. A healthy Bulls team can be a productive one with this young and talented lineup. No player necessarily needs to be a star if the team is healthy. Each player in the starting lineup is capable of scoring 15 per game with ease. If they all remain healthy, it’s not hard to see them as the 8th seed in the East.
After the Bulls offered Parker a questionable $20 million deal, expectations have never been higher for the Simeon legend. Many Bulls fans are wondering if Parker can be the scoring threat he once was with the Bucks. As much as I hate being reminded of it, I can’t help but think of Rose’s struggles on the floor after his ACL tear.
It’s not just about whether Parker can remain healthy. Can he still show the explosiveness and athleticism he had prior to the injuries? Driving to the rim and creating his own shots off the dribble are substantial elements of Jabari’s game. If that is taken away from him due to his injuries, we may not see the player the Bulls paid for.
The East has been the significantly weaker conference over the past several seasons. It’s for this reason the Bulls’ chances of making a playoff appearance are a lot greater than they would be if they were in the West. There were a total of five teams under 30 wins in the East last year and every team that didn’t make the playoffs was under .500. There were only four teams in the East that had 50 or more wins. One of those teams was the Cleveland Cavaliers. Obviously, the Cavs will struggle to reach the playoffs this season without LeBron James.
The Bull could pull off a mediocre 42-win season and still manage to make the playoffs. Not many teams in the East improved their roster quite like the Bulls. They drafted what looks to be one of the more talented and NBA-ready rookies in the league in Wendell Carter Jr., signed a proven scorer in Parker, and continue to develop young and talented players like Markkanen, Dunn and Bobby Portis.
The Bulls are one of the most improved teams in the NBA if they can remain healthy and Parker can live up to everyone’s expectations. They have scorers all over their starting lineup and players like Portis and Antonio Blakeney wanting to prove themselves off the bench. Whether you want the Bulls to make the playoffs or not, there is no doubt they will be a fun team to watch come October.