Following the Bulls’ morning shootaround Thursday, Billy Donovan approached Coby White and Lauri Markkanen.
“I basically told both of them how much I appreciated them,” Donovan said.
That’s because, in Donovan’s words, they’ve moved from “starters and focal points” to “core guys.” And also -- not in Donovan’s words -- reserves, so the coach is basically thanking them for role acceptance.
“I still believe they are extremely important pieces to our team,” Donovan said. “But I give them a lot of credit. A lot of stuff has changed and a lot of guys have had to make sacrifices... I appreciate not only the way those guys have handled it but the way they have worked and tried to come to games ready to play and contribute.”
Markkanen isn’t going to average a point a minute -- like he did in providing 18 points to the Bulls’ 122-113 victory over the Raptors Thursday night.
If he does, well, somebody is going to be a very rich man come restricted free agency time.
But for the second straight game, he and White, who added 15 points in 27 minutes, impacted a crucial victory in their new reserve roles.
Nobody could have predicted Markkanen coming off the bench in his fourth season, widely considered a make-or-break year for him after he turned down the Bulls’ multiyear contract extension to bet on himself. But here we are.
“I appreciate him appreciating what we’re doing,” Markkanen said of Donovan’s meeting. “We all have to make sacrifices -- not just me, Coby. I think everybody’s sacrificed with the new guys coming in and the way we’re playing.
“As a competitive guy, you want to play as much as possible. But I can’t control that, so I’m going to take my role and do everything I can in the minutes that I get.”
In five reserve appearances since Donovan shelved the idea of starting Markkanen alongside Nikola Vučević, Markkanen is averaging 11.8 points and 4.6 rebounds on 62.1 percent shooting, including 53.3 percent from 3-point range.
That’s all in just 21.6 minutes per game and including Markkanen logging some minutes at small forward. This has featured him taking smaller players into the paint more often. Against the Raptors, he finished 6-for-6 from that range and shot an efficient 8-for-10 overall.
“It’s a little bit different just reading the matchups,” Markkanen said. “If I have a smaller guy on me, I think I’ve been posting up more now and that’s partly just the emphasis on just being physical. I just try to be aggressive, whoever it is.”
Raptors coach Nick Nurse acknowledged the impact of the Bulls’ new-look big lineup with Markkanen at small forward.
“I just think, man, those are three really good players, you got to find some minutes for them. I mean Markkanen was unbelievable and he played 18 minutes,” Nurse said. “Every time he touched the ball, something good happened. And every time we made a mistake he made us pay and he's only out there for 18 minutes. That's part of the reason they got to play him there I think. All three of those guys are worthy of big minutes.”
Markkanen certainly would prefer big minutes. In lieu of those, he’ll control what he can control and accept three straight victories, two of which he positively impacted significantly.