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The On-Court Gravity Of Bulls Wunderkind Lauri Markkanen

Ethan McDougall

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Does Chicago Bulls forward Lauri Markkanen have his own gravitational pull?

Gravity in the NBA dictates all. Off the ball, gravity is how much a player helps off, how much they respect the offensive player’s ability to catch and shoot. On the ball, it’s how much the defense crowds the handler, worried about their ability to shoot off the dribble, and how intensely the defense collapses as the offense gets into the paint. For example, Kyle Korver has immense off the ball gravity, because of his ability to get open and hit catch and shoot opportunities at a high rate.

Gravity is what makes NBA offenses work. It’d be impossible to have an efficient offense with five Tony Allens on the floor. Thankfully, the Chicago Bulls do not have five Tony Allens, but rather a Finnish wonder with amazing hair and an even better jump shot.

Lauri Markkanen on the basketball court is like a collapsing star. Bright, amazing, and one of the heaviest things in the universe. Last year, Lauri shot 36.2% from beyond the arc, and he only projects to get better. That’s not all that informative, though. Going through NBA.com’s great advanced stats page, we can more clearly see how Lauri shoots off the catch, off the dribble, and from which spots on the floor. From three point range, Lauri is shooting 36.8% on shots after no dribbles (catch and shoot). That’s good. That range puts him around the same company as CJ Miles, Al-Farouq Aminu, Nikola Mirotic, and above DeMarcus Cousins (albeit with a small sample size for Boogie). For a rookie, that’s not bad at all. Another bright sign is that with two dribbles, Lauri is shooting 57.1% behind the arc. He doesn’t go to that shot very often, but when he does, it seems to be working for him.

Inside the arc, Lauri’s shooting is silky. From 0-7 dribbles, his percentage doesn’t drop below 44.8%. 50% of his shots come from the arc, and there’s a pretty even dispersal of catch and shoot, one dribble pull ups and getting to the rim. If you pull the the jump shots and the post possessions out of the equation and just look at his lay ups, it gets even more interesting. He’s shooting 48.6% on those opportunities, seven points lower than the NBA average (per nbaminer.com). Not great, but with some optimistic speculation and Summer Lauri looking like he could arm wrestle The Incredible Hulk, it’s not a huge leap to say that the finishing could improve.

Another part of Lauri’s offensive game that could stand to improve is his post ups. Too many times last season he either wouldn’t get an entry pass, or couldn’t score once that pass came in. The post up isn’t the most efficient scoring move in the NBA, and other players on the Bulls had greater success than Lauri in that area last season. Perhaps we’ll see Wendell Carter Jr. blossom as a post-up player during his rookie year in ways Lauri didn’t.  Too soon to tell. Either way, Markkanen can still increase his offensive efficiency even if he doesn’t turn into a traditional “give him the ball on the block” kind of big from the old days of the NBA.

So how does all this translate into gravity? How should a defense play Lauri, and how does that help out the Bulls?

The first major point that any observant coach should highlight on the scouting report is that Lauri is a huge catch and shoot threat. That means that when Lauri is out near the 3-point line, his man should stay very close. Lauri’s height plays a big role in this, because an opposing coach can’t just stick anyone on him. Lauri can get a shot off very easily over shorter opponents, meaning that one big man is getting pulled away from the basket to cover Markkanen, opening up lanes for driving.

Once that big man is out on the perimeter, there opens up a whole new set of problems for the defense (and opportunities for the Bulls). Most big men in the NBA have slower foot speed, meaning that if they crowd Lauri on the perimeter, he’s liable to dribble right past them. A smarter defender would give Lauri space after catching, but that opens up Lauri’s two dribble pull-up from behind the arc, dribbling into the midrange for a pull-up, or getting into the paint for a finish.

Because of that off the dribble threat, and Lauri’s propensity to drive, if he blows past his first man, someone has to step up and cut him off. The first man to cut him off would most likely be a guard defender, opening up a pass back behind the arc, possibly to a three point shooter. If that guard defender does not stop him, it’s up to the only other big man on defense to deter his shot. Expect that big man to step up, and Lauri to dump to his counterpoint on the block for an easy layup.

Lauri is shifting three players out of position on that mock possession. He has the power to move the entire defense every time he touches the ball, and the power to open up huge lanes to the hoop even while off the ball. In the post, he probably won’t get double teamed until if and when that aspect of his game sees a remarkable improvement. But everywhere else on the court, the defense bends to accommodate him. When just stepping onto the court causes the defense to shift, you know that player has gravity. Lauri Markkanen has gravity.

 

Ethan McDougall is currently enrolled in Bradley University, majoring in Sports Communication. Basketball has been a big part of his life, playing throughout high school and recreationally during his free time. He’s a lifelong Bulls fan, and wouldn’t have it any other way. The two regrets Ethan has in life is buying both a Boozer and McDermott jersey when they joined the Bulls.

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Chicago Bulls

Which Bulls player will come up consistently clutch this season?

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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.


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Bulls Voicemail: Who are you relying on to take the clutch shot?

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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.


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Three Factors That Will Determine Bulls Playoff Chances

Benjamin Repay

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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?

Health

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.

Jabari Parker

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.

Competition

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.

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