Bulls

Lauri Markkanen battling the rookie wall

markkanen-225.jpg
USA TODAY

Lauri Markkanen battling the rookie wall

MINNEAPOLIS — The misses have come wide, long and short for Lauri Markkanen in the last couple games, perhaps a sign he’s hit the popular but unseen “Rookie Wall.”

Since coming back from the All-Star break, Markkanen has hit the same amount of jump shots as a dead man, only scoring with two dunks and missing all seven 3-point attempts.

He’s hit the point of the season where the legs turn to spaghetti as the grind of the season catches up. Last year at Arizona, he played 37 games and then went through Summer League following the draft before playing for the Finland national team. The Bulls have been careful with his minutes, particularly early on in the season when they didn’t have the depth at power forward, but Markkanen is still adjusting to the rigors of the NBA.

After seemingly peaking in January, averaging 17 points and 8.4 rebounds on 48 percent shooting and 43 from three-point range, he’s averaged just 10.8 points on 37 percent shooting and hitting just four of 27 from deep.

“Gotta get some extra shots up. I see myself thinking too much,” Markkanen said. “That’s how it is. Of course it’s frustrating to not make shots but it is what it is. Gotta work through it.”

Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg tried to pump Markkanen up recently, comparing his shooting to a golfer who’s lost his stroke. Unfortunately, it didn’t translate to Markkanen, who looked at his coach as if he grew a third eye.

By the time Hoiberg compared it to curling, he wound up confusing the press corps last week.

And yet, Markkanen hasn’t broken out of his slump. It’s been quite a while since Markkanen’s devastating performance on Broadway where he nailed eight 3-pointers against the Knicks at Madison Square Garden on Jan. 10 for a career-high 33 points.

“It’s been a long season, I’m not denying that,” Markkanen said Saturday night following the Bulls’ loss to the Timberwolves. “I just gotta work through it. At times I feel it. I felt good today. As the game went on, a little tired.”

Consistency has been a hallmark of Markkanen’s season to date. He scored in double figures 21 straight games before the last two, where he scored three points in the last two Bulls losses.

As a whole, he’s only scored fewer than 10 points six times. To compare, rookie of the year frontrunners Donovan Mitchell (nine) and Ben Simmons (six) are right around the same number.

Hoiberg boldly predicts Markkanen will burst out in a big way soon, but the rookie wall takes no prisoners, especially in the dog days of the season.

“He’s shooting the heck out of the ball in practice,” Hoiberg said. “He’s struggling right now with his confidence, no question about it. As a shooter, you gotta keep looking to be aggressive, take the open ones. It takes one game to get that confidence back.”

His looks have been relatively clean, although one can’t discount the difference between playing alongside Cristiano Felicio compared to Robin Lopez. Lopez assisted on 39 field goals, tied with Jerian Grant for second-highest feeds behind Kris Dunn.

Both Lopez and Grant are out of the rotation, while Dunn is still getting his legs back after missing nearly a month in concussion protocol. Lopez was used in a lot of dribble handoff offense with Markkanen, while also setting solid screens to free him.

Felicio doesn’t have that level of experience in this offense, and the Bulls are also running more through Zach LaVine as a primary ballhandler.

“He’s had a lot of really good games. It’s never gonna be an 100 percent season,” LaVine said. “It’s so many games you’ll eventually run into some slumps so I just think he needs to get into a rhythm. We’ve gotta help him with that too. Help him find easier shots on the floor. He’s cool, he’s good. We tell him to shoot the ball every time.”

Michael Porter Jr.: 'I'm the perfect fit for today's NBA game'

Michael Porter Jr.: 'I'm the perfect fit for today's NBA game'

Michael Porter Jr. grabbed some attention when he remarked that he was "perfect fit for today's NBA game" during an appearance on The Will Cain Show.

The interview went a long way towards showing off the uber-confident nature of Porter, who has consistently talked about being the best player in his class throughout the draft process. Porter also remarked that he was "an immediate impact guy," and that he "doesn't want it to take long to be one of the best players in the NBA."

His hubris has been intruiging considering the mystery surrounding the prospect.

During the interview Porter added that he would be open to doing more workouts for NBA front offices ahead of Thursday's NBA Draft. The only workout he has completed so far was his pro day workout in Chicago, and multiple reports have cited that Porter did look good shooting, though he was in an isolated setting with no defenders.

The one thing Porter has not done much throughout the process is talk about his weaknesses, which is somewhat concerning seeing as he has much to improve on. The general consensus is that a healthy Porter can get buckets at will. But if he can improve his ball-handling, rebounding and passing skills, he will be much more than a go-to scorer. Tightening his ball-handling skills is likely the key, as the ability to grab the rebound and push in transition would be a huge boon for Bulls head coach Fred Hoiberg's offense.

The biggest question when it comes to Porter on the Bulls is can he fit with Lauri Markkanen? Despite receiving many favorable Kevin Durant and Paul George comparisons leading up to the draft, there is a rising sentiment that his best position in the NBA may be the power forward spot. It is not yet known if he has the foot speed to stay in front of quicker wings in today's NBA. But at six-feet-ten-inches, it is easy to imagine him having a huge advantage against slower power forwards rather than wings. While Markkanen is not currently built to be a full-time center, playing him at the five with Porter at the four would present Hoiberg with a potentially devastating closing lineup.

Versatility is the name of the game in today's league, and Michael Porter Jr. may be the key to unlocking the full potential of Hoiberg's pace-and-space attack. 

Paul Zipser says he is unlikely to return to Bulls

zipser618.jpg
USA TODAY

Paul Zipser says he is unlikely to return to Bulls

Just two years after being drafted in the second round, Paul Zipser told German media that he doesn’t see the Bulls wanting him next season.

The Bulls have until mid-July to pick up Zipser's option.

"I would not be surprised if they no longer want me.” Zipser said in German and translated via Google Translate

“Actually, I'm pretty sure I will not play in Chicago soon.”

Last month, Zipser had surgery on his fractured left foot, in his native country of Germany, which grew speculation the Bulls wouldn’t pick up his player option for next season. Zipser said the surgery "went perfectly."

Zipser showed some flashes of potential in his rookie season, averaging 5.5 per game and 2.8 rebounds in 44 games. But this past season, he played more games, but injuries derailed him from improving his overall production. He finished with four points and 2.4 rebounds in 54 games, including 12 starts.

Zipser explained that things changed from his first year to his second year.

“They were very varied," Zipser said. "The first year was just going very well. I fought my way into the team from the beginning and showed how I can help the team. The Bulls just needed someone like me. That's why it worked so well. We benefited from each other - that's why we were successful.”

“That was very different. It was not right from the beginning, and I was already struggling with my injury. It was not quite clear what it is. If you have pain in your foot, you automatically go down a bit with intensity. You just do not want to hurt yourself and be completely out. It was then difficult for me to keep my head in the sport - I did not manage that well. Nevertheless, the injury should not be an excuse.”

Nothing is official yet, but it sounds like Zipser might not dress up in a Bulls uniform next year.