On Tuesday, the Chicago Bulls exercised the third-year option on Lauri Markkanen, and fourth-year options on Kris Dunn and Denzel Valentine. This means that all three players will be on the Bulls through the 2019-20 season. The Bulls picking up the options on these three players is hardly news, as all three have long been expected to be a part of the Bulls long-term plans. But with Markkanen, Valentine and Dunn all due to be back around the same time, we look at exactly what each of these players will bring to the Bulls when they return.
Lauri Markkanen: An alternate option to LaVine on offense
To even the most casual of Bulls fans, it should be obvious that Lauri Markkanen’s return is the No. 1 thing that can help this year’s team get back on track. In his rookie season he put up 15.2 points, 7.5 rebounds and shot 36 percent from the 3-point line. He did all of this while only taking 12.7 shots per game with a 21.9 percent usage rate. The biggest storyline for this year’s Bulls squad was how big of a step forward Markkanen was going to take after his stellar rookie season, and his aggressiveness on offense was going to be a huge indicator, and still will be.
Obviously, the Bulls have gotten use to Zach LaVine controlling the ball--as they should--and he has actually managed to become a more efficient scorer while taking on an astronomical share of the offense (34.3 percent usage rate would’ve ranked second to only James Harden in terms of starters), but the team would no doubt benefit by Markkanen taking some responsibility off of his plate.
Markkanen will probably work his way back into shape slowly, but LaVine’s play style suits Markkanen’s skill set almost too well, and should be able to push Chicago to at least a few surprising victories. Last season Markkanen scored 6.5 points per game from catch-and-shoot opportunities and along with Nikola Mirotic, they were far and away better than any Bulls player in this category. Now with Mirotic out of the picture completely, he will be free to feast on catch-and-shoot opportunities.
LaVine has turned himself to one of the league’s more dominant players in terms of driving to the basket, but his drive-and-kick game leaves much to be desired. With Markkanen’s 7-foot frame (and added muscle) allowing him to shoot over even solid closeouts, he will provide LaVine with an easy escape valve during his more reckless forays to the rim. And the inverse is true as well, as Markkanen’s (likely) improved inside scoring will provide LaVine the opportunity to take less difficult shots from the perimeter.
It seems like LaVine may have plateaued as a passer, capable of racking of 3 assists per game and not much more, but Markkanen is one of the most talented players he has played with in his career, and his presence will open up the floor even further for LaVine, who is averaging a career-high 28.1 ppg.
Denzel Valentine: Secondary rebounding from the wing
Valentine has stated before that he believes he should be a starter in the NBA, and with how poorly the short-handed 2018-19 Bulls are playing, it is hard to say that he shouldn’t be given a fair shot. He had 37 starts last season and shot 38.6 percent from 3-point range, a mark that would make him one of the four best shooters on this year’s team. But there was another area where he stood out last season: defensive rebounding.
Chicago was second in the league last season in terms of defensive rebounding percentage (at 80.6 percent) and it was perhaps the only thing they did well on the defensive side of the ball. And Valentine played a big part in their defensive rebounding prowess.
In 2016-17, Valentine grabbed 2.6 rebounds per game in 17 minutes a night. The following season, he increased that mark to 5.1 rebounds per game (4.5 of them defensive boards) in 27 minutes a night. Even without being a starter, let’s assume Valentine will get north of 27 minutes a night this season. If his numbers continue to progress, you could see a world in which he averages 7 rebounds per game, further aiding the Bulls already potent grab-and-go ability, which they don’t take advantage of enough now.
The Bulls currently sit at 22nd in the league in fastbreak points per game, so far a disappointment considering their 15th rank in fastbreak buckets last season. But you can’t initiate the fastbreak if you can’t secure the rebound. Valentine may never develop the foot speed to be a positive on defense. But he collects defensive rebounds at a higher rate than Jabari Parker despite giving up approximately two inches and 40 lbs to him. The Bulls could use Valentine back, as his specific skill set helps make others better, something that could be a boon for this current roster.
Kris Dunn: The ability to fight through screens
This clip is from Dunn’s rookie year with Minnesota, but it illustrates his defensive prowess perfectly:
He tries to spin around the screen to meet his man and then he tries hard as he can to stop his man from receiving the handoff, resulting in Joel Embiid taking a 3-point shot, which is definitely preferable to giving up middle penetration to a guard. Dunn always gives effort like this on defense, even when his aggressiveness can get him into trouble--he fouled out in the one game he played in this season--like his short performance this season has shown.
When he returns to the lineup, the hope is that Dunn will lead the defense through his actions, though being vocal will help as well.
Obviously the team was upset that Klay Thompson used their horrible defensive effort to set an NBA-record, but again it was their effort. At some point you have to refuse to be embarrassed and if you rewatch Thompson’s 14 -3-pointers, it is clear that Chicago was not making adjustments.
He can keep the beard 🧔 pic.twitter.com/74lkajbM8p— Golden State Warriors (@warriors) October 30, 2018
Stopping, or at least slowing down Thompson means that the defender does his work before the catch. On Monday night, the Bulls were simply running at Thompson as hard as they can. With the speed of his shooting release, if you have let Thompson catch the ball comfortably in his shooting pocket, you are too late. This is all to say that the Bulls played like they didn’t know their personnel and/or gameplan, and whether this is on the coaching or the inexperience of the players, it is clear Dunn will help when he returns.