A day after dropping a career-high 28 points, Carter Jr. was held to just eight points on 3-of-6 shooting, facing a tough matchup with Clint Capela. And Markkanen struggled to find his own offensive footing in his season debut, hitting just 4-of-14 shots (2-of-6 on three-pointers) for only 10 points.
But hopefully, things will only look up for what could be a long, fruitful partnership if all remains unchanged. The two young, talented Bulls frontcourt players still managed to flash some glimpses of what they can do on the court together.
In particular, once Markkanen eventually takes back his starting role and gets consistent minutes alongside Carter, we might see further how well the two complement each other. After seeing Markkanen in action all last season and watching Carter thus far in 2018, the blueprint of how the two will be used already seems fairly clear.
Upon entering last night’s game, Markkanen immediately showed off the floor stretching ability he possesses with a monstrously deep three-pointer for his first points of the season. In and of itself, it would be an impressive shot from anyone off the catch. But remind everyone again that Markkanen is a seven-footer, and you remember why the Bulls drafted him with the No. 7 pick last year.
Lauri Markkanen is officially back
— Bulls Talk (@NBCSBulls) December 2, 2018
Meanwhile, Carter showed off a hint or two of the all-around scoring game that he already possesses despite his rough offensive performance. My favorite shot of his from the game? A fadeaway banker from near the left baseline over Capela that demonstrated touch that you don’t often see from a big man.
The inside-outside combination that Carter and Markkanen pose could make for a tantalizing offensive duo for this young, unfortunately rebuilding team.
Right now, Carter possesses the well-rounded offensive skill set that Markkanen is still working to develop. He can put the ball on the floor to penetrate and finish at the rim through traffic when needed. He has a solid mid-range and finesse game, whether it’s with his back to the basket, running pick-and-roll or hitting a free throw line jumper after a perimeter pump fake. And he can move without the ball effectively, cutting into the lane for buckets in the paint.
Meanwhile, Markkanen has the superior outside shooting ability, especially as Carter has struggled to shoot three-pointers earlier in his career (just 20.8 percent from long range in 2018). Markkanen, by contrast, has put up a far more robust 36.3 percent from three-point range so far in his career, even counting him only making one of every three shots from there last night (some fractions for you all…couldn’t resist).
Though the Bulls need to actually commit to running more of their offense through these two players – right now, their guards don’t do a great job of finding their big men in comfortable spots to score – they have the ability to take advantage of favorable frontcourt matchups with these two talented players.
And on the defensive end, Carter’s emergence as a smart, active defender will help make up for what Markkanen lacks on that end of the floor.
This was the idea behind drafting Carter — His strengths will hide Markkanen's weaknesses and vice versa. Great help by Carter when Harden isolated and got a step on Markkanen. pic.twitter.com/u8Wsd1Wexc
— Stephen Noh (@StephNoh) December 2, 2018
Carter’s rim protection and help-side defense can make up for Markkanen, and others getting beat off the dribble by quicker guards and wing players, as shown here.
But on top of that, Carter can at least hold his own when switched out on perimeter players himself, which allows others to stay on their matchups. In the second quarter yesterday, he got a stop against Chris Paul and later forced a guard to pass out of an isolation and into a turnover.
That kind of versatility, especially from a power forward, is huge in today’s NBA. And it allows for Markkanen to be the non-traditional center he is on both ends of the floor.
Of course, there’s always the chance that the Chicago Bulls might move on of them to try and acquire a big name talent down the road, like an Anthony Davis. If the Bulls miss out on a top-five pick in the draft next year, that might be something they seriously consider in the future.
But for now, it’s fun to think of what these two players can do on the court together once they get more minutes. Aside from LaVine shooting until his arms fall off and dunking on everyone, Bulls fans do need something to watch this year as this team struggles, after all.
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