Lauri Markkanen's arrival the biggest change for Bulls: 'He's a hell of a guy to have on our side'

Lauri Markkanen's arrival the biggest change for Bulls: 'He's a hell of a guy to have on our side'

There’s something different about the Bulls over the last week.

While the practices have been longer and there’s a more energetic head coach bouncing on the sideline, the biggest difference that’s affecting this team most is the player that led them to a victory Friday night.

It was Lauri Markkanen’s third game back since suffering a sprained right elbow in training camp, and after two performances that knocked rust off of the 21-year-old’s game he finally put together a performance that the Bulls hope becomes a constant.

Markkanen scored 24 points for a second consecutive game, knocked down four 3-pointers and hit the game winning shot over an outstretched Paul George and Steven Adams with 4.9 seconds remaining, ending a seven-game losing streak and giving Jim Boylen his first win as an NBA head coach.

“That big Finnish kid isn’t bad,” Boylen said after the game. “He made some great plays down the stretch.”

Markkanen’s spin move on George and finishing layup over Adams and George will be the highlight of the night, but it finished off a sequence for the 21-year-old that showed just how versatile he can be. On the Bulls’ previous possession Markkanen took a similar dribble handoff from Zach LaVine and instead of attacking the basket found a nopen Justin Holiday on the left wing for a 3-pointer that gave the Bulls a two-point lead with 23 seconds left.

“He’s smart. Lauri’s not one of those guys that thinks he has to take the winning shot. He’s one of those guys that feels he’s going to make the winning play, whatever that is,” Boylen said. “That’s the beauty of that dude.”

The other beauty of Markkanen was his shot taking and shot making in the first half. Like they’ll do to plenty of opponents this season, the Bulls abused the Thunder’s top-ranked defense with pick and pops using LaVine and Markkanen. LaVine had nine turnovers but also pitching in seven assists. It’s a small sample size, but the Bulls’ ability to space the floor with Markkanen has resulted in LaVine racking up 16 assists the last two games.

Markkanen hit all four triples in the first half, and the Bulls’ spacing on that end of the floor was noticeably better as they scored 70 points and shot nearly 60 percent from the field.

 “Lauri spaces the floor. He shoots the ball so well, especially when he starts getting his rhythm back,” LaVine said. “He helps me a lot because I always have an outlet. I draw the double team Lauri gets to the cup. I can always spread it out to him.”

He battled foul trouble a large portion of the second half, picking up his third and fourth fouls in a six-second span just 90 seconds into the third quarter. He also banged up his elbow setting a down screen for Justin Holiday, and he received treatment on the bench while sitting for nearly 12 minutes.

But he showed no ill effects of the banged up elbow once he returned. He hit a turnaround jumper on his first possession back in the foufth quarter to pull the Bulls within five, and his steal off an errant Russell Westbrook pass led to two Bulls free throws that tied the game at 100.

Once LaVine got a little too much hero ball going Jim Boylen spaced the offense out and gave multiple options on sets rather than LaVine do it all himself. Markkanen came up big, once on the pass to Holiday and once on the final make of the game.

“First of all he cares about the team. I don’t know if it’s playing with his national team or whatever it is, but he’s such a good teammate,” Boylen said. “And he understands how to play. He has great confidence and him and I have a relationship where I think it’s one of those deals where we kind of look at each other and we know, like, it’s just there. And I’m thankful for that.”

The Bulls look different with Markkanen on the floor. While Boylen taking over as head coach, running two-and-a-half-hour practices and getting the Bulls back to the basics have been the main headlines, there’s a different swagger in the air with No. 24 on the floor. It’ll only get better when Kris Dunn and Bobby Portis return, potentially as early as tomorrow night against Boston, but the ups and downs of this season will continue to ride with Markkanen.

It really doesn’t matter to me if I’m going to take the shot. I just want to make the right play,” he said. “We’re just trying to make the right play and I think everyone has bought into that.”


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Derrick Rose's unforgettable playoff debut

Derrick Rose's unforgettable playoff debut

Derrick Rose had already established himself as the odds-on favorite to win the Rookie of the Year award when the 2009 NBA playoffs opened on April 18th in Boston. The defending champion Celtics were expected to make short work of the Bulls, who earned the #7 seed with a 41-41 record under 1st year coach Vinny Del Negro.

While the game was nationally televised, Kendall Gill, Stacey King and I huddled up in one of our station’s conference rooms to watch the playoff opener and prepare for our post-game coverage on what was then Comcast SportsNet.

What we saw was one of the most electric performances of Rose’s career. He made defensive ace Rajon Rondo look like he was wearing cement sneakers, driving to the basket with that extra gear of speed few players possess.

When it was over, Rose had tied Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for the highest scoring playoff debut in NBA history, finishing with 36 points on 12 of 19 shooting from the field and a perfect 12-for-12 from the free throw line, leading the Bulls to an upset win over the defending champs, 105-103 in overtime. Rose also dished out 11 assists, showcasing the play-making ability that would make him one of the league’s most feared players.

Afterwards, the soft-spoken Rose downplayed his record-tying performance, saying simply, “I just thought about it like I was playing in a regular game.”

But his coach was more than impressed, Del Negro telling reporters, “He has a quiet confidence about him and he’s only going to get better. If people aren’t familiar with Derrick, then they’re not basketball fans.”

Rondo had a great offensive game for Boston, leading the Celtics with 29 points, 9 rebounds and 7 assists, but conceded that chasing the warp speed rookie had taken its toll on him physically. “I’ll be fine Monday”, Rondo said afterwards. “Just now, I’m extremely tired.”

While hosting the postgame show that afternoon, I remember being amazed at the confidence the 20 year old Rose showed in dissecting one of the league’s best defenses. His poise under pressure was one of his greatest strengths, and his ability to get to the rim and finish high difficulty shots would make even the most experienced reporter reach for superlatives.

Stacey gained a national following describing the exploits of the humble, high-flying star from Chicago, and his call of Rose’s dunk over Phoenix guard Goran Dragic is still a YouTube classic.

It really was an amazing ride covering Derrick’s 8 years as a member of the Bulls and that playoff game in Boston will always stand out as one of his career highlights. The Bulls went on to lose that 1st round series in 7 classic games, but the rest of the league was put on notice.

Derrick Rose was going to be one of the most exciting young talents the league had ever seen.

Season in Review: Ryan Arcidiacono checks all the boxes in pleasantly surprising season


Season in Review: Ryan Arcidiacono checks all the boxes in pleasantly surprising season

Over the next month we'll be recapping each of the Bulls' individual 2018-19 regular seasons.

Previous reviews: Lauri Markkanen | Shaq Harrison

Preseason expectations: Arcidiacono made waves in Summer League by connecting on nearly 48 percent of his 3-point attempts in five games but only played 34 minutes in five preseason games, leading many to believe he would be the odd man out with the Bulls already having Kris Dunn and Cameron Payne. He surprisingly made the team in mid-October, only for the Bulls to sign both Tyler Ulis and Shaq Harrison the following week. And yet Arcidiacono stuck on the 15-man roster, presumably as emergency depth behind Dunn and Payne.

What went right: Relatively speaking, just about everything. Arcidiacono became a focal point when Kris Dunn suffered a sprained MCL in the first week of the season. He took over the starting job from Cam Payne in early November and didn’t relinquish it until Dunn returned. Payne was eventually waived and Arcidiacono assume back-up duties before entering the starting lineup again when Zach LaVine missed five games with a sprained ankle.

Arcidiacono excelled as both a perimeter threat (38 percent from beyond the arc), an exceptional distributor with the first unit (he had nine games of five or more assists as a starter) and provided exceptional energy and hustle that enamored Jim Boylen the entire season. He was a glue guy but also a rather efficient one: his 34.3% assist rate led the team, his 54.8% effective field goal percentage was third behind Otto Porter and Robin Lopez, and he 4.23 assist-to-turnover ratio was third in the NBA. He did just about everything asked of him, played multiple positions and did it end-to-end. He was accountable, too, leading the Bulls with 81 games played; he was a DNP-CD in the third game of the season and played the final 79.

What went wrong: He certainly has his limitations and his lack of size was an issue defensively. He also went through an ice-cold stretch from Nov. 30 to Feb. 22, when he shot 25.6 percent from deep over a 37-game span. He wasn’t a consistent outside threat, though his changing role in that span could have accounted for some of that. But that’s about it. Arcidiacono was reliable, versatile and played with *spirit and soul* from start to finish. His ceiling isn’t all that high, but his floor is.

The Stat: 1.9 on 45.5

Arcidiacono was lights out from beyond the arc to begin the season. From Oct. 18 to Nov. 28, he made 1.9 3-pointers per game at a 45.5 percent clip. The only other players to reach those marks in that span were Steph Curry, Derrick Rose, Danilo Gallinari, Buddy Hield, Bojan Bogdanovic, Joe Harris and Bryn Forbes. Three of those players (Curry, Hield, Harris) competed in the 3-Point Shootout at All-Star Weekend in Charlotte.

He also shot better than 44 percent from deep over the final 23 games of the season. From Feb. 23 until April 10, he was one of 24 players to do so.

2019-20 Expectations: It’ll be a numbers game for the Bulls and Arcidiacono. His hot stretch to end the season and his consistent effort will make him a target in restricted free agency. It’s no secret the Bulls want him back but they’ve also got Kris Dunn under contract and likely will be addressing the point guard position in the draft or free agency. He could have priced himself out of Chicago.

If he returns, his expectations will be a more consistent outside shot and continued managing of the second unit. His aforementioned ceiling will keep him from adding a bunch to his game, but if he can take care of the ball and hover around 39 percent from deep all year – instead of going 45 percent to 25 percent and back to 45 percent – he’ll be a valuable piece to the bench and the perfect role player.