Bulls

Lauri Markkanen plays multiple positions but is he more suited for one?

Lauri Markkanen plays multiple positions but is he more suited for one?

DeMarcus Cousins routinely gave the “they have this guy on me” look to Bulls rookie Lauri Markkanen, as Cousins’ eyes were bigger than saucers while giving Markkanen his first taste of NBA basketball.

A couple duck-ins, some veteran hooks and some downright bullyball was in store for Markkanen, whose eyes were saucer-like for a different reason at times in the Bulls’ 108-95 loss to the New Orleans Pelicans Sunday night at the United Center.

Considering Markkanen has missed time with back spasms in training camp and battled it a bit since being drafted, one would think pitting him against the likes of Cousins wouldn’t be the best recipe for his short-term health.

But in the words of late Chicago comedian Bernie Mac, “they gotta learn, they gotta learn!” so it’s a bit of a conundrum as the Bulls want to develop him and give him as much playing time as possible without putting him in positions where he’ll be overwhelmed.

“He’s so strong and it’s fun to compete against him,” Markkanen said. “It shows I gotta work on some things, but good learning experience.”

When a reporter asked Markkanen about a spin move Anthony Davis unleashed for a 3-point play, the rookie was quick to point out playfully, “it wasn’t on me,” as Nikola Mirotic was victimized in that instance — although Markkanen will receive his lesson from some elite power forward at some point this season when the games do count.

Markkanen played 15 minutes Sunday, and upon his entrance at the start of the second quarter, the seven-footer launched a triple when he first touched the ball 11 seconds in.

It came up short, as did many of his nine shot attempts. His only field goal was a layup in semi transition in the second quarter as he grabbed three rebounds and scored four points.

“I’m confident,” Markkanen said. “Shots weren’t falling today but I just gotta go back to the gym. But I’m not worried about that.”

[RELATED: The good and bad from Lauri Markkanen's preseason debut]

As for getting out on the floor, Markkanen said, “(It) felt good. Good training camp. We’ve been going hard at it, so it didn’t come as a surprise. I was pretty nervous sitting on the bench before I got in. But once I got in, I got to play basketball again. It was fun.”

Considering the Bulls have two rotation-worthy centers and power forwards, he’ll have to play both to get on the floor, but it would behoove the Bulls to keep him at power forward rather than center.

“Pretty much the same (responsibilities). Depending on who’s playing the four but it’s about the same,” Markkanen said. “It don’t matter to me but it’s more low post if I’m playing the five. I got some stuff to work on now, so…”

One of those things isn’t necessarily his feathery-soft jump shot, as he looks to have more than his share of friendly bounces because of how it can curl around the rim, as long as he gets it there.

He has the green light from Fred Hoiberg, something not many rookies can enjoy as soon as they step on the floor. Hoiberg’s favorite stat about Markkanen appears to be “FGA” as he’s routinely raved about Markkanen’s 0-for-10 performance in a summer league game because Markkanen kept shooting.

“That’s one thing everybody loves about Lauri,” Hoiberg said. “He didn’t make any of them, but he kept shooting and the next night he bounced back with a big game. We want him aggressive. When he’s open we want him shooting the ball. He’s one of the best shooters on this team.”

Even still, Hoiberg wasn’t discouraged by the stat line and knows Markkanen won’t be going against the likes of Cousins and Davis every night.

“Great first experience to get out there against two of the better bigs in the league,” Hoiberg said. “First time against an NBA opponent and hopefully we’ll build from here. Happy to see him continue to be aggressive even though his shot wasn’t falling.”

And if the small sample size holds true, the shots won’t stop coming, no matter where he’s playing.

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

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USA TODAY

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.