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."

Jimmy Butler may have gotten uninvited to the Wade's BBQ again


Jimmy Butler may have gotten uninvited to the Wade's BBQ again

Jimmy Butler is in hot water with the Wades ... again.

Maybe not really, but the two former Bulls teammates exchanged pleasantries on Instagram after Butler commented on a photo Dwyane Wade's wife Gabrielle Union posted poolside, saying: "WELL DAMN!!"

Wade, a three-time all-defensive second team, came to his wife's defense when Butler posted a video the next day with the caption: "The good, the bad, and the ugly...", prompting Wade to respond: "Put well damn in caps on my wife photo again and you're gonna see what the good, the bad and the ugly is like."

*Mic drop*

It appears this won't affect Butler getting an invite to the next get together. Or so he hopes...

"Well that escalated quickly," Butler responded to Wade. "Point noted.. I'm still coming to the bbq tho 😂😂😂"

SI names Lauri Markkanen a top-five candidate for a breakout season

SI names Lauri Markkanen a top-five candidate for a breakout season

Lauri Markkanen has been making headlines this offseason, mostly for bulking up considerably, and making appearances around Chicago at Nike camps and Jabari Parker’s camp, but as the season nears, his on-the-court exploits are starting to come up as well. On Thursday, Sports Illustrated put Lauri Markkanen on their list of five breakout candidates for the 2018-19 season

SI writer Michael Shapiro had this to say about Markkanen:

Markkanen has all the tools to be a future All-Star, and it looks as though he has the mindset, too. He seemed to take his matchup with Porzingis personally in early January, demanding the ball down the stretch en route to a career-high 33 points in a road victory. The Bulls enter 2018-19 on the outside of the East playoff picture, but Chicago is now home to the NBA’s newest unicorn.

High praise indeed for Markkanen, and well-deserved praise considering that he finished with a usage rate lower with the Bulls than his college stint at Arizona, yet still was able to have an impact on the Bulls. Shapiro mentioned Markkanen’s burgeoning off-the-dribble game as the skill that most stood out, and speaks to the Finnish big man’s All-Star potential. 

While the 21-year-old’s threes lived up to the hype, it was his prowess of the bounce that made the biggest impression. Markkanen showed a deft handle and array of canny fakes in the post, adding a mean streak to boot. The Finnisher lived up to his nickname, unafraid of contact and eager to fight for position in the post. The stereotype of the soft European big man doesn’t apply here.

The numbers back this up. 

Among the Bulls top 10 players in drives per game last season, Markkanen finished second in field percentage (on drives) at 46.1 percent. If that numbers rises, or more likely, Markkanen drives to the basket more, his scoring total will increase. And when it came to finishing around the paint in general, he shot  67.6 percent on shots from zero-to-three feet, making him the third best in that range out of the Bulls top nine rotation players last season. Yet among the same group of players, Markkanen ranked sixth in shot attempts from zero-to-three feet. With the presence of Wendell Carter Jr., and another year of internal growth from Bobby Portis- bigs that can stretch the floor -Markkanen should be the recipient of more plays putting him in a position to score around the basket.

On a roster that will surely give big minutes to Parker, Kris Dunn, Carter, Chandler Hutchison and a working-his-way-back to form Zach LaVine, Markkanen may be surest 3-point shooter on the floor. This means defenses will key in on his outside shot. If players are routinely closing out hard on Markkanen- as they should -this will open up more driving opportunities for the nimble seven-footer. 

The third or fourth season is usually when young players take the leap from good to great, but Markkanen will be playing with the most talented group of teammates he has ever been surrounded with. How he handles playing with this group will go a long way towards establishing what kind of player he will be in the future, specifically if he is an All-Star caliber talent. On the 2018-19 Bulls, someone will have to hover around a 20 percent usage rate, making them a clear third-option, whoever that player is, his last name should not be Markkanen.