The good and the bad from Lauri Markkanen's preseason debut

The good and the bad from Lauri Markkanen's preseason debut

Lauri Markkanen's debut wasn't exactly a thing of beauty. 

The rookie forward struggled to find his shot, missing all six of his 3-point attempts and finishing just 1-for-9 from the field. There were a few positives, though. 

Markkanen trailed a fastbreak for his first preseason basket, smoothly finishing in the lane. His reputation for stretching the floor also forced the Pelicans into tough choices in the halfcourt set. 

Watch the video above as Bulls Pregame and Postgame host Mark Schanowski breaks down a few key plays in the rookie's first preseason minutes. 

Five takeaways from the Bulls' preseason comeback win over the Pelicans

Five takeaways from the Bulls' preseason comeback win over the Pelicans

The Bulls started slow but finished red-hot in their 113-109 victory over the Pelicans. It was an impressive way to open the preseason the slate on what expects to be a rebuilding year for a team littered with youth.

The Bulls will be right back at it tomorrow night against the Mavericks on NBC Sports Chicago, but before we get to that here are five takeaways from game No. 1.

1. The defense is going to struggle

This probably isn’t a news flash for anyone, but the Bulls defense is going to be very poor in 2017-18. The Pelicans scored 46 points on 70 percent shooting in the first quarter, getting every outside look they wanted and getting to the hole at will to draw fouls. True, the Pellies only shot 47 percent from the game and committed 16 turnovers, but there wasn't a lot to like on that end of the floor.

Of those few positives were Justin Holiday on the perimeter, Nikola Mirotic on the low block throwing his new body around, and Jerian Grant. Losing an All-NBA defender in Jimmy Butler was bound to hurt the Bulls' defense (that finished sixth in efficiency a year ago) but it might be worse than initially thought. Some of it is a product of putting more shooters on the floor; some of it is just not enough athleticism.

2. The Bulls are going to shoot a lot of 3-pointers

Preseason basketball is always a little more scattered than what regular season offensive sets look like. That being said, it’s clear the Bulls want to shoot 3-pointers early and often. With the Three Alphas and their ugly percentages gone, Fred Hoiberg can put lineups on the floor with four 3-point shooters. The Bulls shot a whopping 35 3-pointers in the win, with nine different players hoisting triples; to put that in perspective, last year they attempted 22.3 3-pointers per game.

They made 16 of those, which is certainly a positive sign, and got promising performances from deep from Denzel Valentine (4-for-7), Nikola Mirotic (3-for-8), Paul Zipser (2-for-3) and Jerian Grant (2-for-2). They did all that without Lauri Markkanen (and Zach LaVine), meaning even more 3-pointers could be on the way once he, and even Quincy Pondexter, returns.

3. Jerian Grant looks more comfortable than Kris Dunn

Jerian Grant said during the first week of training camp he was excited to have his first legitimate chance at earning a starting spot in the NBA. The deck is stacked against him given that his competition, Kris Dunn, was part of the Jimmy Butler trade that the Bulls need to have something to show for. But through one week (and now one game) it’s apparent Grant has the upper hand.

Grant finished with 11 points and nine assists, hit a pair of 3-pointers, grabbed a steal and finished an outstanding three-point play in the third quarter. He was a team-best +15 and had just one turnover in 20 minutes. Dunn, on the other hand, made a few careless turnovers (three in 22 minutes) and struggled defensively until late in the game in essentially mop-up time. His basketball savvy is apparent, and he has the size to compete, but he still hasn’t put it all together. He had 11 points on 5-for-8 shooting thanks to a late surge, and he added three assists. Dunn will start Wednesday against the Mavericks, but for now Grant looks like the answer at the point.

4. Justin Holiday is going to have take on a larger role than expected

At least until Zach LaVine returns, the best wing on the Bulls roster is Justin Holiday. Paul Zipser is going to contribute, and Antonio Blakeney has some solid potential. But it's Holiday that gives the Bulls their best two-way wing in a league where that's essential, tanking rebuilding or not. Holiday looked the part in his first game back with the Bulls, scoring 14 points on 6-for-12 shooting, grabbing a game-high three steals and contributing elsewhere with three rebounds and four assists. Holiday is just a career 40 percent shooter, and he's averaging less than a free throw per game 203 career appearances. If he can improve on some of that efficiency in a larger role, it'd go a long way for the Bulls. Someone has to score, and someone has to guard the NBA's top wings. Holiday could do both.

5. Cris Felicio looks like he has improved once again

When's the last time you watched Cris Felicio play and he didn't look better than the previous outing? Good luck trying to figure that one out. Big Cris, fresh off signing a four-year, $32 million deal, scored a team-high 15 poiints, grabbed five rebounds and handed out two assists. He was 6-fot-8 from the field and made all three free throws. He cleaned up the glass, showed soft hands on pick and rolls and even knocked down a 15-footer late in a close game. His pick-and-roll defense was solid and he did as a good a job as could have been expected against a talented Pelicans frontcourt.

Robin Lopez still has the reins on the starting job, but it's probably in the Bulls' favor to find as many minutes for Felicio as possible. This may be getting a little too excited, but the Bulls may have found something for the future in Big Cris.

Why you should pay attention to Bulls preseason

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USA TODAY

Why you should pay attention to Bulls preseason

1. Who’s on point? The battle for the starting point guard position is a two-man race between Kris Dunn and Jerian Grant. And, let’s be honest, the odds are heavily stacked in Dunn’s favor. After all, the Bulls tried to acquire a high lottery pick to draft him in 2016, then made the draft night deal with Minnesota to acquire him in June. Dunn is working hard to fix his shot after a lost season under Tom Thibodeau in Minneapolis, and the Bulls are intrigued by his length, athleticism and defensive skills. If Dunn can do a good job of directing the offense and making impact plays on the defensive end, he’ll be the starter on opening night. Grant showed flashes of being a reliable 3-point shooter last season, and probably brings the most value as a scoring guard with the second unit.

2. Three candidates for the 4 spot. With rookie Lauri Markkanen sidelined for the first two preseason games because of back spasms, it will be interesting to watch Bobby Portis and Niko Mirotic try to get a leg up in the competition for the starting power forward spot. Coaches have raved about Portis’ tremendous work ethic this summer, and the third-year pro out of Arkansas is starting to emerge as a leader on this young team. Portis improved his shooting range a year ago, and has become even more consistent from the 3-point line this summer. Meanwhile, Mirotic will get yet another chance to prove he can be the player everyone expected when he came over from Europe three years ago. The Bulls are paying him starter’s money (two years, $27 million), now it’s up to Niko to prove he’s worth it. Both returning players will have to give up minutes to Markkanen when he’s ready to role because the Bulls are committed to making the 7-foot rookie one of the foundation pieces of the rebuild, along with the other two players acquired in the Jimmy Butler trade: Dunn and Zach LaVine. 

3. Who’s going to score? Speaking of LaVine, he’s expected to be out until December as the team takes a cautious approach to his rehab from ACL surgery. And, with Dwyane Wade now in Cleveland, someone is going to have to score. Early candidates include Justin Holiday, who figures to start at shooting guard or small forward, Portis, Mirotic, Markkanen and second-year swingman Denzel Valentine, who figures to get a chance to show off his offensive game after an uneven rookie season. Don’t be surprised to see Robin Lopez launch a few preseason 3-pointers as he adjusts to Fred Hoiberg’s free-flowing offense.

4. Pelicans' bold experiment. While most teams in the NBA are trying to copy Golden State’s small-ball, 3-point heavy attack, New Orleans is trying to get back to the playoffs behind a pair of All-Star big men in Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins. And, they have a lot invested in making it work, since Cousins will be a free agent next summer. The Pelicans are also experimenting with starting two point guards in Jrue Holiday (Justin’s brother) and former Bull Rajon Rondo. Rondo led the league in assists during the one season he played with Cousins in Sacramento, and Holiday is a good enough shooter to play off the ball. Still, if either experiment fails, Alvin Gentry could be out of a job, and New Orleans could be in for another rebuild.

5. Who’s the better rookie? When the Bulls visit Dallas on Wednesday, they’ll get their first look at Mavericks’ rookie point guard Dennis Smith, the ninth pick in June's draft. Smith was the talk of the Las Vegas Summer League with his dynamic scoring ability and athleticism, with a number of scouts and coaches predicting he could wind up being Rookie of the Year. Rebuilding teams try to find future All-Stars with Top 10 picks, and the Bulls are hoping they made the right decision to pass on Smith for an elite shooting big man like Markkanen. Only time will tell if they made the right choice, and Bulls fans should be patient since it normally takes a little longer for big men to develop.

Don’t forget you can watch all of the Bulls preseason games on NBC Sports Chicago!