3 Takeaways: Lauri Markkanen slaps the sophomore slump across the face in road win over Nets

3 Takeaways: Lauri Markkanen slaps the sophomore slump across the face in road win over Nets

In the first Bulls game with Otto Porter Jr. on the roster, they played like a completely different team in a surprisingly comfortable win over the (likely) playoff bound Nets. 

Ottomatic” Otto Porter Jr. is the ideal small forward for this current Bulls roster

The Bulls came out hot on offense in this one, clearly playing different on offense with the added offensive gravity of Otto Porter.

The newest member of the Chicago Bulls went 3/3 from the field in the first quarter, including one 3-point make. But even though Porter, didn’t attempt many 3s in the first half, he did the little things to help the overall flow of the offense.

Porter set screens, stayed in constant motion on the perimeter and made timely off-ball cuts to the basket that either got him an open shot or drew the attention of opposing help defenders.

As Kendall Gill hinted at in Bulls Postgame Live, Porter played like he had been with the Bulls since training camp, rather than a player who literally took a commercial flight to join up with his new team within the last 48 hours.

OPJ--Stacey King and Jason Benetti’s nickname for Porter--finished a team-high +18 from the field. This game was a great showcase for Porter, and Bulls got to see exactly what he will be for this team on a nightly basis: a plus/minus monster.

With Porter on the Bulls roster for the first time, they played perhaps their best game of the season, putting up a season-high 125 points. Chicago also finished with a team assist rate--27 assists on 46 made field goals--that is over 2.5 percent higher than their season average.

The most clear takeaway from this game is that Otto Porter makes the Bulls a better team on both ends of the floor, and he is going to do quite a bit to aid along the development of the young core just by being a functional small forward.

Lauri Markkanen just slapped the sophomore slump in the face

There are plenty of think pieces that tackle whether or not the sophomore slump is a real phenomenon, but whether or not it is always true, it is clear that the transition from Year 1 to Year 2 is tough in the NBA due to the opposition having plenty of (NBA) game tape on your strengths and weaknesses. But in terms, of the upcoming opponents for the Bulls, throw your Markkanen game tape out of the window, because no particular defensive scheming is going to slow down “The Finnisher” right now.

Over his last six games, Markkanen has put 24 PPG, 14 RPG on 47.4 percent shooting from the field and 41.5 percent from the 3-point line.

NBA defenses have tried very diligently to run Markkanen off the 3-point line and force him to make a high-percentage of 2-point shots. Despite taking more shots overall in 2018-19, Markkanen’s 3-point percentage has risen while his 2-point percentage has dropped significantly. All of this is to be taken with a grain of salt, as his elbow injury earlier in the year caused him to the first 23 games of the season.

But with a 32 game sample size under his belt, it is clear that Markkanen is on the rise.

He is averaging more minutes, points, rebounds, free throw attempts, steals and blocks per game than he did in his rookie season. Three games into February (30.3 PPG, 12.3 RPG), Markkanen looks like he has a lot more in store for Bulls Nation post All-Star break.

The new look Bulls roster could do wonders for Kris Dunn

Earlier in this very post, I mentioned how Porter’s main benefit to this Bulls roster is the fact that he is a functional SF. And by that statement, I meant that the fact Porter’s skill set--proficient 3-point shooter, solid defender, low-usage player--lines up so perfectly with what the Bulls lack, making it easier for the core group to focus on improving on their weaknesses.

Kris Dunn has had a very up-and-dow season, that has led to Bulls President of Basketball Ops John Paxson stating that the franchise is “still evaluating” Dunn. But again, the Porter addition--as well as the less heralded additions of Wayne Selden, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot  and Brandon Sampson--specifically helps out Dunn since it appears unlikely that he will ever develop into even a league-average shooter.

Dunn’s 3-point attempt rate has actually decreased this season from last year, which effectively nullifies the fact that he has increased his 3-point percentage to a career-high 36.7 percent through 28 games. But with this new look roster, it is actually possible for Bulls head coach Jim Boylen to surround the shooting-deficient Dunn with four 3-point shooters.

Both Dunn (and Boylen for that matter) have somehow received both fair and unfair amounts of scrutiny this season. However, now that Markkanen, Porter, and Selden are all shooting the ball well from deep (at the same time), and the new look roster is performing well (so far), we will likely see the best version of Dunn and Boylen down the stretch.

Jersey from LeBron James' first-ever SI cover sells for over $180K


Jersey from LeBron James' first-ever SI cover sells for over $180K

LeBron James is arguably the second-greatest basketball player of all time, with a claim to being the true GOAT depending on who you talk to. But one thing we can all agree on, with James entering his 17th season in the NBA, is that we don't know how much longer we will get to see him grace the NBA hardwood. With the final stages of James' illustrious NBA career in sight, fans have started to buy up all of the LBJ merchandise they can find and as of Sunday night, one of the rarest pieces of James memorabilia is off of the market. 

The St. Vincent-St. Mary's Irish jersey that James wore on his first-ever Sports Illustrated cover went for a whopping $187,500 in a Goldin Auctions event. The SI cover that James wore the jersey on in 2002 featured the title "The Chosen One", detailing how NBA franchises were already lining up for their shot at drafting James despite him just being a high school junior at the time. 

The $187,500 paid for the jersey is (somewhat shockingly) more than the amount paid for Michael Jordan's final Bulls regular season jersey, which sold for $173,240 back in 2015, then the highest price paid for a Jordan collectible ever at any auction

Only time will tell if another piece of James (or Jordan) memorabilia will eclipse the $200k mark but with a decent chunk of James' career still left, one would think that is a strong possibility.

Though Goldin Auctions founder Ken Goldin was off a bit, projecting that the jersey would sell for somewhere in the ballpark of $300k or more, the now-legendary jersey still ended up breaking the record for the highest price paid for a LeBron James jersey. 

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Even with unproven wing depth, Bulls will monitor Otto Porter Jr.'s workload

Even with unproven wing depth, Bulls will monitor Otto Porter Jr.'s workload

As the Bulls played out the string last season, fielding glorified G League lineups, meaningful days still existed.

April 3 was one of them.

Not only did the Bulls scratch out a fun, one-point road victory over the Wizards, executive vice president John Paxson, coach Jim Boylen and general manager Gar Forman met with Otto Porter Jr. and his longtime strength coach from his alma mater of Georgetown.

That meeting mapped out Porter’s offseason plan and began the strong communication that continued Friday when Boylen and Porter met to discuss the organization’s approach for a proper workload for the crucial veteran. Following Sunday’s practice at the Advocate Center, Boylen for the first time publicly disclosed the Bulls’ plan to play Porter in the neighborhood of 30 minutes and approach back-to-back games on a case-by-case basis.

“We will manage him appropriately,” Boylen said. “He will not play over 30 minutes in anything we do to get going here. We’ll manage him on the off days in a real respectful way. Obviously, he’s a big piece. He’s our starting 3, a big wing. And we need him.”

The Bulls have a set of back-to-back games in this first week of the regular season, with their home opener against the defending NBA champion Raptors coming Saturday following a game at the Grizzlies Friday.

“We’ll see how he feels,” Boylen said. “It might be a situation where we manage him the first night in order to play him the second night. Or manage him the first night and the second night he feels maybe a night he doesn’t play. But we have a plan. It’s rough because it’s depending on how he feels.”

Right now, Porter feels good.

“Preseason has been great, making sure my body is healthy, making sure I get my reps in, making sure as a team we’re ready to go,” Porter said following practice. “I’ll hold it down for us until we get Chandler (Hutchison) back. That’s going to be always my job.

“But we got a lot of guards that can play the three too. We got a lot of guys that can play multiple positions. If somebody goes down, the next man always got to step up and replace – not replace but do more – and I feel like everybody is going to do more.”

Hutchison has yet to play with a hamstring injury. Shaq Harrison missed all five preseason games but is available for Wednesday’s opener in Charlotte, N.C.

Boylen said there are many options to keep Porter fresh even with Hutchison injured and Denzel Valentine currently out of the rotation, including Harrison or Tomas Satoransky at backup small forward and three-guard lineups. The Bulls also utilize big lineups with Thad Young at small forward.

“You’ve seen what we’ve done. We’ve had Coby (White), Arch (Ryan Arcidiacono) and (Kris) Dunn out there together. Playing small and fast is good. You can also put ‘Sato’ out there with that group,” Boylen said. “There may be opportunities where we go big depending on the situation of the game. We’ve practiced those lineups and scenarios.”

Porter played a huge role in the Bulls’ brief surge last February after arriving from the Wizards in a trade. He has battled nagging injuries in the past, including knee, shoulder and neck issues. Porter also underwent minor surgery on his left leg that knocked him out of the April 2018 playoffs to address a blood buildup around a contusion.

“Every season, there are ups and downs and teams go through it,” Porter said. “Right now, it’s a matter of depth and we want to start out fresh. You start out fresh, you’re already ahead of the game.”

Porter is encouraged by the Bulls’ offense during the preseason, including an increased emphasis on 3-point attempts.

“Right now, we might not be shooting a high percentage. But in the regular season, that number is definitely going to increase drastically because we’re practicing hard, making our open shots and just getting open looks,” Porter said. “We know what this offense can do for us.”