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."