Bulls

Lauri Markkanen needs to get a "little more greedy" on offense

Lauri Markkanen needs to get a "little more greedy" on offense

PORTLAND, Ore. -- The Bulls know how good Lauri Markkanen can be. But in his second season, fulfilling that potential has been a process filled with stops and starts.

Some nights—like the Finnish power forward’s 27-point performance in the Bulls’ Jan. 4 loss to the Indiana Pacers, or back-to-back 30-point games in December against Orlando and Cleveland—there are glimpses of the inside-outside threat whose combination of smarts and instincts around the basket and a deadly three-point stroke that promises to make him a building block for years to come.

Other nights, like the Bulls’ 124-112 Wednesday night loss to the Portland Trail Blazers, Markkanen is too deferential and reluctant to aggressively hunt his own looks.

In that game, Markkanen shot just 4-of-12 from the field. Since returning from the right elbow sprain that kept him out the first 13 games of the season, there have been plenty more nights like that. It’s something the Bulls know they need to change.

“He’s got the green light,” Bulls coach Jim Boylen said Wednesday night. “But he’s not that kind of guy. Maybe we’ve got to talk to him about changing his mentality a little bit.”

Part of Markkanen’s hesitancy surely comes from the injury, which affected his shooting elbow and kept him out of commission for most of training camp and the start of the regular season. He’s been playing catch-up since his return to the lineup on Dec. 1, just one game before the Bulls fired head coach Fred Hoiberg.

Between Markkanen’s injury and that greater organizational upheaval, carving out a consistent role has been a work in progress.

“I think it just takes time,” Markkanen said. “We’re working on it every day. There’s games where I get the ball a lot and there’s games where I don’t. So I just try to control what I can control. Play defense and do my best on that end of the court, and I know the offense will follow. It hasn’t been really consistent yet, but I’m sure that will come.”

Markkanen has developed a reputation among his teammates as being an unselfish team, team-first player. While that’s an admirable quality, on a team as lacking in shooters as these Bulls, Markkanen’s selflessness may be a bug rather than a feature. The team certainly wouldn’t mind if he was more selfish with the ball.

“I’d like him to be a little more greedy,” Boylen said. “I’d like him to be a little smarter with some of his possessions to get a quality shot. It’s part of the process. He missed games last year, he’s missed games this year. He’s probably just getting to a full first season right now. That’s not an excuse, but it’s the reality of it. I think he’s got to be timely in what he does, but also aggressive.”

In Markkanen, guard Zach LaVine and rookie center Wendell Carter, Jr., the Bulls have three foundational pieces as they move forward with their rebuild. And in a season that finds them with an abysmal 10-31 record at the halfway point, their sole focus should be on developing those three players’ chemistry and establishing their roles for the future. That could mean force-feeding Markkanen more looks to get him comfortable with the idea of looking for his own shot.

“It all starts from being aggressive,” Markkanen said. “Hopefully get to my spots. But I’m the type of person, I try to make the right basketball play. Whatever it is to help make the team better. That’s how I’ve been as long as I can remember. I’d rather take those good shots and make the team better that way.”

The Bulls’ five-game road trip, which began with the loss to Portland and continues Friday night against the Golden State Warriors, will provide plenty of opportunities for Boylen to further integrate Markkanen into the offense. Everyone acknowledges that he’s disappointed with the way things have unfolded thus far.

“I’m sure there’s some of that,” Boylen said. “We’re all human. But we’ve got to keep pushing forward. He’s got to go have his best performance of the year tomorrow, and then do the same thing the next game.”

Bulls look for second win of the season over Trae Young, Atlanta Hawks

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USA Today

Bulls look for second win of the season over Trae Young, Atlanta Hawks

The Bulls will look to snap a three-game losing streak when they welcome Trae Young and the 6-18 Atlanta Hawks to the United Center tonight. The game tips at 7 p.m. CT on NBC Sports Chicago —until then, here's what to watch for:

Hawks’ last five (2-3)

  • Dec. 10 — L at Heat: 135-121 (OT)

  • Dec. 8 — W at Hornets: 122-107

  • Dec. 4 — L vs. Brooklyn: 130-118

  • Dec. 2 — W vs. Warriors: 104-79

  • Nov. 30 — L at Rockets: 158-111

Storyline(s) for each team

For the second time this season, the Bulls and Hawks are set to square off (the first a 113-93 drubbing by the Bulls on Nov. 6), and for the second time this season, the Hawks enter said matchup on the second night of a back-to-back. On Nov. 6, Atlanta laid an egg the night after a hard-fought win over the not-yet-disappointing Spurs in San Antonio. This time, they’re coming off an excruciating overtime defeat in Miami (something the Bulls can relate to). The Hawks’ loss to the Heat may have been even more painful than the Bulls’, if only because of the virality of it:

 

 

Overall, the Hawks have underwhelmed this season, one in which their young and exciting core of Trae Young, John Collins, Kevin Huerter, DeAndre Hunter, and co. were expected by some to push the franchise closer to contention (hey, the Bulls can relate to that, too!). They enter play 6-18 (3-15 since Nov. 6) and still without Collins, who is 19 games into a 25-game suspension for violating the NBA's Anti-Drug Program. This is a winnable game.

The Bulls are banged up and fast-falling from the Eastern Conference playoff race, but strung together a couple — all things considered — quality performances against two of the league’s best teams in the Raptors and Heat earlier this week. The moral victories won over the course of their recent real-life defeats will resonate a little stronger if they can come out and play a complete game against this Atlanta team tonight. 

Player to watch: Jabari Parker (and Zach LaVine)

Screw it. These are two not-great basketball teams that chuck a ton of 3-pointers, so if the aesthetic of this one doesn't end up all-together pleasing (likely), it’ll at least be fun to watch Parker, a son of the city, go to work. He’s currently in the midst of something of a bounceback campaign — averaging 16.2 points, 6.4 rebounds and 13.2 FGA on 50.2% shooting — with an emphasis on the 'bounce':

 

This also has the potential to be a big Zach LaVine game. It feels like you could posit that every night, but this Hawks team truly is a juicy matchup for him — Atlanta enters this game the 29th-rated defense in the league (114.3) and lacks a true lockdown presence on the wing to throw at him. Just two weeks ago, remember, James Harden torched the Hawks for 60 points and eight assists en route to a 158-point team performance. LaVine, shooting 33.3% and averaging only 2.3 fourth-quarter points in the Bulls’ last three games, feels due.

Matchup to watch: Trae Young + Hawks’ secondary playmakers vs. Bulls defense

On Nov. 6, the Bulls put together one of their most impressive defensive performances of the season, holding the Hawks to 6-for-30 3-point shooting and forcing 24 turnovers (the most they’ve forced in a game this season; they lead in the NBA in opponent turnovers per game).

It was a banner night for the Bulls’ blitzing pick-and-roll coverage schemes — in the game, they completely corralled Young, the Hawks highest-usage (33.4%) and most dynamic player, holding him to nine points, three assists, four turnovers and 3-for-12 shooting (0-for-8 from 3-point range). On the season, he averages 29.4 points and 8.7 assists per game on 38.2% 3-point shooting (9.3 attempts). 

Without his most reliable playmaking screen-and-roll partner in Collins, the Bulls were able to cut the head (Young) off the proverbial snake of the Hawks’ offensive attack the last time these two teams met. Tomas Satoransky (season-high 27 points on Nov. 6) and Kris Dunn's length and activity were key to containing Young off screens, and they'll be huge factors tonight, when the emphasis will again be on forcing the ball out of Young’s hands and into the hands of Atlanta’s secondary playmakers (primarily, their forwards). Those players weren’t able to make the Bulls pay last time, and based on the team’s league-worst 32.1% 3-point shooting percentage, there’s a solid chance they could fail to do so tonight, as well. 

After that aforementioned Nov. 6 game, Hawks head coach Lloyd Pierce said, of the Bulls' defensive strategy, that they'll "never let Trae [Young] have an easy game for the rest of his career." That quip, of course, was in reference to Young’s 49-point outing against the Bulls last March. Pierce's theory will be tested again tonight.

Injury/miscellaneous updates

Yesterday, news broke of another Otto Porter Jr. injury setback — he is now set to be evaluated over the course of the next four weeks, the latest in a series of alterations to his original recovery timeline. Needless to say, a return isn’t in sight, for him or Chandler Hutchison, who is still dealing with a bruised shoulder. Even beyond Porter and Hutchison, the Bulls’ injury report is beginning to lengthen, but chalk most of these up to the wear and tear of the regular season:

As of this writing, the Hawks’ most significant absence will be Collins. Other than that, they come into this one mostly healthy.

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Otto Porter Jr. suffered an injury setback, where could the Bulls look for wing help?

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USA TODAY

Otto Porter Jr. suffered an injury setback, where could the Bulls look for wing help?

The Bulls are in a dire spot in terms of their wing depth and that was something that was true before Otto Porter Jr. suffered another injury setback

Chandler Hutchison and the then returning from injury-Denzel Valentine served as the Bulls only real small forwards behind Porter on the depth chart, and Bulls head coach Jim Boylen did not make Valentine a significant part of the rotation until early December. Now, with Porter out and Hutchison still out nursing his persistent shoulder injury, the Bulls are starting guard Kris Dunn at the three with Valentine as his backup. 

Starting the 6-foot-3 Dunn at small forward is quite a tough ask for a Bulls team that has struggled heavily rebounding all season long (Bulls currently rank 29th in the league in rebound percentage). So with the 8-17 Bulls looking nothing like the Eastern Conference playoff contender that they expected themselves to be, they will need to string together a sustained stretch of good basketball to prevent themselves from becoming a clear-cut lottery-bound team (yet again).

The Bulls haven't announced any intentions to make a roster move, but with the buyers and sellers starting to become clear, who are some wings that could potentially help the Bulls and are reportedly available?:

Robert Covington 

Robert Covington is the least likely option for the Bulls in terms of available wing help. It was reported by The Ringer's Kevin O' Connor that title-contending NBA teams have been monitoring the Minnesota Timberwolves and Covington, who has long been one of the league's premier 3-and-D forwards. This season Covington is averaging 12.5 points, 5.3 rebounds, 1.3 steals, and 0.9 blocks per game while shooting 36.9% from 3-point range. Covington is shooting 5.5 attempts per game from 3-point range and is hitting a career-best 90.2% of his free throws. 

Covington has been heavily linked to the Houston Rockets which makes a ton of sense considering that he started his career there and would be able to play a familiar role, acting as a catch-and-shoot specialist next to James Harden. Though Covington makes the most sense on a contending team, he would have value to the Bulls. Covington's contract has two more seasons on it at a reasonable amount (around $11 to $12 million per year) and even once Porter returns, he would be an amazing addition to a Bulls bench that has already been outperforming the starters on a regular basis

Danilo Gallinari 

It was correctly assumed that when the Oklahoma City Thunder made their franchise-changing trades for Chris Paul, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, and Danilo Gallinari, they would be open to moving the players for the right trade offer. It has been reported that the Thunder are indeed open to trading Gallinari (and others).

The Bulls aren't in desperation mode, but that is OK in regards to Gallinari, as he is an asset that may be able to be acquired at a reasonable price. The Thunder came into Tuesday with an 11-12 record, good for the No. 7 seed in the West, but they may not care as much about making the postseason considering their long-term goal is to collect as many valuable assets as possible.

The Thunder may not necessarily enter "tank mode" but if the 31-year old Gallinari—who is on an expiring deal—is not a part of their plans for next season or beyond, he could be had for a reasonable price despite currently averaging a solid 18.3 points per game. The Bulls have their own draft picks, plus the Thunder reportedly are open to taking back salary, so any combination of Bulls players could work to get a deal done. 

DeMar DeRozan

Despite being in clear need of help on the wings, DeMar DeRozan doesn't exactly fit this year's Bulls but hey, beggars can't be choosers. The Bulls would be lucky to an All-Star talent to their roster in a buy-low move, and DeRozan potentially presents the opportunity to do just that. 

The four-time All-Star has a 2020 player option, which is likely to be accepted and represents the last year on his deal. Depending on who the Bulls gave up in a potential deal for DeRozan, they would be able to pair his proficiency as a scorer (especially in the pick-and-roll, where he is averaging 0.92 points per possession) with Lauri Markkanen and/or  Zach LaVine's abilities as 3-point shooters. 

The Spurs look to be on the cusp of missing the postseason for the first time since 1997 and could be more open to making an in-season trade than they have in the past. He is by no means a great fit in Chicago but there are a few things he does well that could make a difference. DeRozan's 5.8 free throw attempts per game would lead the Bulls and his 57.1% true shooting would be better than any Chicago wing outside of Valentine. If the Spurs and Bulls both continue to slide in the standings, even starting discussions on such a trade could become more of a reality.

Attention Dish and Sling customers! You have lost your Bulls games on NBC Sports Chicago. To switch providers, visit mysportschicago.com.

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.