The long-awaited return of Lauri Markkanen came to an end Saturday night in a game where the Chicago Bulls faced off against the Houston Rockets. The Bulls fell 105-121 in Markkanen’s debut.
He scored 10 points on 4-14 shooting, with four rebounds, converting 2-6 from beyond the arc in 26 minutes.
It wasn’t a pretty showing. But, there were some nice takeaways.
In 24 games this season, the Bulls have not been a good offensive team in a league where defense is non-existent. They currently rank 28th in offense and 24th in three-point percentage. Very unusual for a coach that has made a career based off of free-flowing offense and a barrage of three-pointers made.
His personnel just hasn’t been there this season playing primarily with reserves and some players who are not ready to play.
Well, with the return of Markkanen those offensive woes should end. His presence on the court alone spaces out the floor providing driving lanes and a less cluttered paint, allowing other guys to get more high percentage shots.
For example, in Zach LaVine‘s last 10 games he has shot 42 percent with teams doubling him. Last night he shot 64 percent due to teams having to cover Markkanen beyond the arc.
With him, on the floor opposing defenses have to completely adjust their game plan.
Last season Lauri shot 36 percent from three and with another year under his belt along with more talent around him, I expect it to increase when he gets his feet under him.
Now, Fred Hoiberg has five starters on the court that have the ability to shoot threes. There’s no excuse to execute the offense we’ve been begging for.
2. Frontcourt of the Future
Finally! The Bulls last two lottery picks get to play together.
Wendell Carter and Lauri Markkanen have styles that completely compliment each other. Lauri is a stretch four that can hit the three at a high level and has a great developing post game against NBA defenses. An Outside-in player.
Wendell Carter is a bruiser, aggressive at rebounding, and a defensive stopper, that should make up for Markkanen’s defensive deficiencies. While Lauri’s floor spacing will clear up the paint for Carter.
A perfect fit for one another.
Once Lauri gets some game action conditioning and acclimated to the speed of the NBA again, he will be inserted into the starting lineup and the fun will begin.
Wendell will also get help with rebounding in the trenches. The Bulls have given up offensive rebounds like it’s their job this season. They currently rank 26th in rebounding but that’ll change. Lauri averaged 7.4 last season, and with more experience including a bigger body and wider frame, I expect the Bulls to finish top 15 in rebounding.
I just hope Hoiberg finds a way to get these two the ball more and ease the load off of LaVine.
These two young players have a great deal to learn about each other, and it’s going to be exciting to watch.
3. Improved interior defense (maybe)
Having two seven footers lingering in the paint is a problem regardless if they can play defense. In the Bulls case, Wendell is a near elite defender while Lauri is an underrated defender.
Coming out of the draft there were questions on his defense, those flaws were shown. But, he’s not as bad as you may think. He’s not going to get taken advantage off from other forwards.
And in this past off-season, he put on 19 more pounds which will help with post defense against those physical big men.
Last night, I noticed that he also was getting his hands in passing lanes making it hard for the Rockets to convert cross-court passes or entry passes in the paint.
All those deflections resulted in only one steal for Markkanen, but simple things like getting hands in passing lanes and deflecting balls are what separates teams that play defense and teams that do not.
It may be a stretch, but I expect improvement defensively.
After missing majority of training camp, all of the preseason, and 24 games of the regular season, we have to be patient and temper our expectations when it comes to Markkanen. He still has ways to go in terms of conditioning.
I’m not worried about the shot, that’ll come. He was just getting his feet wet in his first game back and he wasn’t worried either.
“Just glad to be back out there. I missed some easy shots, but I think I played some decent defense, and that’s where I try to make an impact. I’m not worried about my shots. I just have to get my legs back.”
Just give it a few weeks and he’ll be back to his old self.
Now, we wait for the others to get healthy so that the growth of the young core may commence.
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