Lauri Markkanen gives rebuilding Bulls a player who 'fits in today's NBA'

Lauri Markkanen gives rebuilding Bulls a player who 'fits in today's NBA'

The Bulls haven't been shy about adding shooting in the NBA Draft in recent years. But never quite like this.

After completing a blockbuster deal that sent Jimmy Butler to the Minnesota Timberwolves, the Bulls used the No. 7 pick to select Arizona’s Lauri Markkanen during Thursday’s NBA Draft. The move signaled the first of what’s sure to be many steps as the Bulls rebuild a roster that was unable to compete with Butler, a three-time All-Star, leading the way.

That process is beginning with an elite shooter at a premium position. In a draft dominated early by point guards and small forwards, the 7-foot Markkanen was the first power forward selected.

The Finnish sharpshooter represents a new wave of sought-after big men. In addition to the 15.6 points and 7.2 rebounds he averaged as a freshman at Arizona, he connected on better than 42 percent of his 3-pointers. He made 69 3-pointers and grabbed 266 rebounds, joining Texas’ Kevin Durant as the only two freshmen since 1992 to reach those thresholds.

Markkanen was one of a record 16 freshman selected in the first round on Thursday, and certainly fits the mold of the Bulls getting younger and more athletic.

“Lauri Markkanen is a very good basketball player. We’re really excited about his potential,” Bulls VP John Paxson said after the draft. “Maybe as good a shooter that was in the draft this year. And the way our game is going, those big, mobile guys that can space the floor give your guards opportunity to create and find gaps.”

It's an issue that plagued the Bulls last season. Inconsistencies from Nikola Mirotic, a restricted free agent who Paxson hinted the Bulls will bring back next season, and Bobby Portis left the Bulls without much in the way of floor spacing, with Robin Lopez's ability to make shots from 15 to 17 feet out the only real frontcourt threat on the perimeter.

The Bulls attempted the second fewest 3-pointers per game and were 24th in 3-point field goal percentage last year, so adding a piece in Markkanen will only improve on those numbers.

Because the trade that sent Butler and the No. 16 pick to Minnesota in exchange for that No. 7 pick as well as Zach LaVine and Kris Dunn came about so abruptly, Markkanen admitted he didn't have much contact with the Bulls during the pre-draft process.

Markkanen was aware of the blockbuster deal involving Butler and the Timberwolves, so he knew he was heading to Chicago even after commissioner Adam Silver announced his name and he put on a Minnesota Timberwolves hat. The trade wasn't finalized by the NBA for about 90 minutes.

"I'm really honored to be a part of this organization," he said. "I can't wait to go there and do what I can. It's just a blessing to be here. And of course Michael Jordan, the greatest player ever to play, so it's huge to be a part of it."

Markkanen said he'll be in the weight room this summer and knows he'll need to work on his defense, but what he adds to the Bulls and how it fits in today's NBA made him the Bulls' target after they agreed to the Butler trade.

"He’s mobile, he’s got a motor, he’s a worker," Paxson said. "And we just thought he was at that spot was gonna be a fit for the direction we’re headed and a guy that fits with how we want to build this team and fits in today’s NBA."

Wendell Carter Jr. endorses Zion Williamson as NBA Draft's top pick: 'No doubt about it'


Wendell Carter Jr. endorses Zion Williamson as NBA Draft's top pick: 'No doubt about it'

Wendell Carter knows a thing or two about elite Duke prospects. So it isn’t surprising that he, too, has become enamored with freshman sensation Zion Williamson. He also believes, like many others, that the latest in the line of five-star Blue Devils should be the first player called in June’s draft.

“He’s a for sure No. 1 draft pick. No doubt about it,” said Carter, who spoke with the media for the first time Tuesday after undergoing surgery on his left thumb. “I don’t understand how anybody can pass up his athleticism, his potential.”

Carter isn’t far off in his assessment. Williamson, the 6-foot-7, 285-pound forward, has taken college basketball by storm in his first season in Durham. He’s averaging 21.5 points, 9.4 rebounds, 1.8 blocks and 2.0 steals per game and is a nightly feature on SportsCenter’s Top 10 plays for his gravity-defying dunks.

He’s arguably the best pro prospect since Anthony Davis in 2012, and he’s as unique a combination of size, strength and skill as the league has seen since LeBron James in 2003. Though his teammate, wing R.J. Barrett, has also solidified himself as a top 2 or 3 pick, there really isn’t anyone in the same ballpark as Williamson.

So it’s not just Carter showing a bias toward his Duke alums. Carter has never shared the floor with Williamson despite being just a year older than him, though he has seen the freshman play. Williamson also attended a Duke game last season where Carter and teammate Marvin Bagley were working toward solidifying themselves as top-10 picks.

Carter hasn’t played with Williamson, but maybe that’ll change in a few months. Even with Monday’s win over the Cavaliers the Bulls still sit at 11-36, the fourth worst record in the league and within shouting distance of Phoenix (11-37), New York (10-35) and Cleveland (9-39). The league’s three worst teams also hold the same 14 percent chance of winning the Lottery while the team with the fourth (12.5%) and fifth (10.5%) worst records hold slightly lower odds.

Whoever gets lucky on May 14 will have the right to draft Williamson, who Carter certainly has bought in on.

“That’s a freak of nature, a once-in-a-generation type player. I believe he’ll be No. 1.”

Bulls Outsiders Podcast: Bulls notch 1st win in 2019


Bulls Outsiders Podcast: Bulls notch 1st win in 2019

On this edition of the Bulls Outsiders podcast; Matt Peck, David Watson, and John Sabine recap the Bulls 104-88 win over Cleveland on Monday and discuss what this win means for the team and also the current state of the 2018-19 Chicago Bulls.

1:32 - Does beating the worst team in the league mean anything for the Bulls?

4:57 - Breaking down the wins in the 2018-19 Chicago Bulls season

8:50 - Are the Bulls willing to move on from Kris Dunn?

12:14 - On Wayne Selden Jr. getting more minutes than Jabari Parker

13:02 - Are the Outsiders "Night People?"

14:58 - Has it been better to be a Cavaliers fan or Bulls fan over the last 20 years?

21:09 - Three Potential Coaches who could replace Jim Boylen next season

23:45 - What if Stacey and Neil called Derrick Rose's game winner vs. Suns?

25:31 - The Outsiders "Dream" Coaching Candidates

Don't forget, you can watch Bulls Outsiders after Bulls Postgame Live on NBC Sports Chicago following every game. You can also stream the show on Facebook Live and interact with Matt, John and David.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Bulls easily on your device.