Bulls

Bill Wennington breaks down what caused Lauri Markkanen's third-year struggles

Bill Wennington breaks down what caused Lauri Markkanen's third-year struggles

It's one of the most pressing questions facing the Bulls' rebuild at present: What in the world happened to Lauri Markkanen?

After a second season that showed such promise, the 22-year-old Finnish forward has taken a step back in Year 3, averaging career lows in points (14.7), rebounds (6.3) and field goal attempts (11.8) while shooting just 42.5% from the field and 34.4% from 3-point range. In 50 games — he missed nearly six weeks from Jan. 24 to March 4 with an early stress reaction in his pelvis — before the NBA suspended its season, he averaged just 0.1 more minutes than his rookie campaign.

Still, Markkanen's talent, tools and the potential he flashed in his first two seasons are too tantalizing to simply give up on — especially for a Bulls team that has invested so heavily in him. That makes finding the root of his struggles all the more important.

Over the course of a disappointing Bulls season, fans and media alike have flooded out of the woodwork to posit their own theories for the cause of Markkanen's regression. Former Bulls center and current Bulls radio color commentator for 670 The Score Bill Wennington added his opinion in a guest spot on a recent episode of SportsTalk Live:

I think we’ve (the Bulls) kind of limited Lauri a little bit in his skillset, what he can do, because we’re having him stand out just at the 3-point line, and that kinda takes away from his game just a little bit. And, hey, does he have to be more aggressive? Yes he does. Does he have to make a better effort rebounding, I’d like to see the rebounding come up. Yes he does. 

But we also have to put him in positions to be successful as a player. Again, up until this season, everybody was loving Lauri. What’s changed? What’s different with his game now over the last two years where we thought, ‘Oh boy, we’ve got something good going on here.’

That critique points to the complexity of Markkanen's struggles. His spotty usage (he can't control his minutes) and meandering role in the team's offense can be in part attributed to the Bulls' schemes at times neglecting his strengths as a ballhandler and creator. But, as Wennington notes, Markkanen can do more to take his destiny into his own hands — the chasm between his second- and third-year rebounding numbers are an indicator of that, as is his deflated volume of shots.

"What Lauri is not right now is a strong, aggressive leader where he’s going to enforce his will upon other people. That’s not going to happen right now," Wennington said.

But that's not intended as to belittle Markkanen completely. Wennington, like many in the Bulls' organization and fanbase, believes things can turn back around.

"Can it get better? Yes it can. Do I want it to get better for Lauri? Yes I do," Wennington continued. "Lauri is a multi-faceted player that, as a 7-footer, can shoot 3s, and can put the ball on the floor and handle the basketball well for a 7-footer and can get to the rim."


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So, how should the Bulls go about extracting Markkanen's maximum potential? Wennington drew on his experience with the Phil Jackson-era Bulls — an experience in which he earned three rings during the Bulls' second three-peat — to offer something of a solution.

"I like to use the analogy of me because I know me the best and I like talking about me more than anyone else," Wennington joked. "When I came to the Bulls, the triangle offense was run out of the center spot with Bill Cartwright as a center, or as a low-post passer. Phil Jackson integrated me into the triangle offense by using my jump-shooting ability. He tweaked the offense a little bit and made me run some screen-and-rolls from the outside and fade and pop a little bit, where he could take advantage of me hitting jump shots and spreading the floor a little bit."

Is Wennington suggesting the 2020-21 Bulls implement the triangle to assuage their offensive woes? Of course not. But with a bit of intentional gameplanning suited towards Markkanen's strengths, a dash better injury luck and a healthy dose of contract-year assertiveness, Markkanen could just be on his way to a bounceback in Year 4.

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SportsTalk Live Podcast: NBA, NHL seem close to return, MLB lurks in distance

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: NBA, NHL seem close to return, MLB lurks in distance

Laurence Holmes, David Haugh and Jay Cohen join Kap on a Memorial Day edition of SportsTalk Live.

0:00 - It looks like we’re getting closer to the return of team sports. The NBA is in talks to resume its season at Disney World, while the NHLPA approved a 24-team playoff format.

5:00 - MLB and the players continue to negotiate their restart plan.

13:00 - Sam Smith tells a San Francisco radio station the Michael Jordan lied in “The Last Dance” when he said he would have considered returning.

20:00 - The guys share their favorite non-title clinching moments in Chicago sports history.

Listen here or below.

Sports Talk Live Podcast

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Top 'Last Dance' moments to get you through first Sunday without Michael Jordan

Top 'Last Dance' moments to get you through first Sunday without Michael Jordan

So you’re sitting around Sunday night, missing “The Last Dance.” We get it, we wish it was still on too.

To help us all get through this first week without it, we’ve compiled some of our favorite “Last Dance” stories so that we can remember the good times together.

Whether it’s your first time seeing some of these, or just a fun look back, we hope you enjoy.

Recounting the best quotes from “The Last Dance”

We’ve got Jordan, we’ve got Kobe Bryant, we’ve got Dennis Rodman-- and yes we’ve even got some Carmen Electra for you.

Michael Jordan jamming to different songs takes over Twitter

If there was one thing more fun than simply watching “The Last Dance,” it was talking with your friends and family about “The Last Dance.” Some of the after-show interviews with athletes, coaches and pundits added incredible insight. And sometimes a memelord would create something so fun that you couldn’t help but watch and laugh. This is one of those latter moments.

Rod Thorn: Michael Jordan didn’t ask for Isiah Thomas to be left off Dream Team

One of the biggest beefs in basketball has a light shined on it. But after all this time, there are still conflicting reports as to what happened back in 1992.

Did Utah pizza give Michael Jordan food poisoning and was it intentional?

The “flu game” is one of the most iconic performances in Michael Jordan’s career, but now we’ve learned it wasn’t the “flu game” at all! Certainly one of the most intriguing new wrinkles out of all the details we learned across the series.

Scottie Pippen on Jerry Krause: ‘The greatest general manager in the game’

The beef between Pippen and Krause was well documented, especially early in the series. But by the end even Pippen had to give it up for Krause.

Why Scott Burrell appreciated Michael Jordan's harsh leadership style

Arguably the most emotional moment we saw during Jordan’s interviews was when he described his leadership style with his teammates. It’s clear Jordan pushed the Bulls very hard, and it’s easy to see how it could rub some people the wrong way. But not Scott Burrell.

How Bulls helped Scottie Pippen earn millions more on way out of Chicago

After one early episode of “The Last Dance,” many people on social media were incredulous that Pippen’s long-term contract was never renegotiated considering his important contributions to the team. However our K.C. Johnson set the record straight for how the Bulls made things right with Pippen when he was on his way out of town.

Why running it back would not have yielded the Bulls a seventh title in 1998-99

To finish this post off, we’re going back to K.C. Johnson who tells us why the 1998 title would’ve been the last for the Bulls dynasty, no matter if Jordan, Jackson and co. returned, or not.

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