Bulls

Lauri Markkanen's production is down, and the Bulls must find a fix

Lauri Markkanen's production is down, and the Bulls must find a fix

BOSTON — This was touted as Lauri Markkanen’s breakout season. Instead, 41 games in, he’s scoring fewer points per game than in his rookie season while barely averaging more playing time.

The lack of production is a combination of factors. Markkanen got off to a slow start, missing open shots and struggling to adjust to the Bulls’ new offensive scheme that features reading and reacting and equal opportunity, rather than a true pecking order. He has battled a sore oblique and is currently playing through a sprained left ankle.

The limited playing time can’t be overlooked, either.

“Obviously, I had my bad stretch in the beginning and kind of picked it up after that. Just don’t know what to say. I’ve had my moments. But I obviously expect more from myself,” Markkanen said following the Bulls’ 113-101 loss to the Celtics. “So I’m disappointed in myself because I think if I played at a normal level, we’d probably have a couple more wins. I think I can do a better job.”

Markkanen is a team-first guy who never will rock the boat. Nevertheless, he fielded a follow-up question on whether or not he could be more impactful with more playing time and more shots.

“That’s our system now,” he said. “It’s just trying to figure it out because there are games that I’m really involved and I’m bringing the ball up. I can do a better job. I look in the mirror. I can rebound better and get out and run. I need to look at myself first. Just gotta figure out what it is.”

This issue is compounded on nights when Thad Young gets rolling, as he did against the Celtics. Taking advantage of the Celtics’ smaller, switching defense, the Bulls finally utilized Young in the post, a place he has made the majority of his living during his 13-year NBA career.

“It wasn’t in the game plan. It just happened to be they had a small lineup and we tried to take advantage of it,” Young said. “If they came with a double [team], I’d pass out of the double. They weren’t coming with a double at first. So I was like, ‘All right. Easy layups.’ Just playing basketball.”

Coincidentally, Young fielded questions following the morning shootaround about how much the system is calling for him to play on the perimeter. He’s currently averaging the second-highest 3-point attempts per game of his career.

Zach LaVine talked about how much he liked seeing Young operate in the post. So is this something the Bulls could employ against other teams, no matter their defense?

“That’s up to Coach to look at the film and see if he wants to do something with that. I’m always here whenever you need me to do whatever,” Young said. “Whatever they tell me to do, I try to do to the best of my abilities. I think it could be something we try to use when the time is right.”

With Wendell Carter Jr. sidelined four to six weeks with a sprained right ankle, Boylen has talked about developing Daniel Gafford and Luke Kornet. He has rarely played Markkanen and Young together, and Markkanen sat for close to 11 minutes of game action on Monday when Young got rolling offensively.

“Our guys understand if somebody has it going, we’re going to leave him in there,” Boylen said. “We’ve done that throughout the year.”

But at what cost for the franchise’s future? Boylen was one of many pointing to the Bulls’ offseason moves as clearing the runway for LaVine and Markkanen to ascend towards stardom.

Instead, Markkanen is putting up numbers that resemble his rookie season.

“I feel like you get a little bit cold after that,” Markkanen said of his lengthy sitdowns. “But it’s nothing you can’t get through. 22 years old, you get warm going to the scorers’ table.”

The Bulls need more out of Markkanen.

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Zach LaVine continues All-Star push with historic outing against Cavaliers

Zach LaVine continues All-Star push with historic outing against Cavaliers

Forget statement games, Zach LaVine is having a statement month. 

In 10 January games, the Bulls’ 6-foot-6 messiah is the fourth-leading scorer in the NBA, averaging 30.6 points on 50% shooting (22.8 attempts). 

To borrow a word from Jim Boylen, his latest installment — 42 points on 19-for-31 shooting in a game the Bulls clawed back from down 19 in the second half to topple the Cavaliers 118-116 — was “herculean.”

“If that's not an all-star performance I don't know what is,” Boylen said. “He’s been a monster, man. He’s been a monster.”

To LaVine, there isn’t much supernatural about these types of nights; he’s been preaching his confidence and readiness to carry this team since day one. LaVine scored 21 of his 42 points in the fourth quarter, and on a night he conceded his legs were a tad worn, he attempted only six 3-pointers, instead finding most of his offense in the midrange and at the rim.

“Make or break time, we're not gonna get back in the game by just playing nicely. So I'm gonna attack their body, try to make them make a call. Had some tough finishes, made some tough shots, but I take that upon myself,” LaVine said. 

“Just playing the right way,” he added of his recent torrid streak. “I expect to. I put the work in for it.”

But All-Star berths and widespread acclaim aren’t dolled out based on individual point totals, alone, regardless of how effortless LaVine’s prolificity looks at times. And LaVine knows that. Casting the 42 points aside, he also finished the night with a team-high six rebounds, five steals and three assists. He was all-encompassing. Michael Jordan is the only player in Bulls history to post a line with those minimums in a game.

His contributions to a tightly clamped Bulls defense in the fourth were note-worthy for a player that's often advertised his motivation to grow as a two-way, all-around player. And most importantly, the game ended in victory.

“He [LaVine] wants to win. And he knows in order to win you gotta do multiple things in this league and I feel like he did that tonight,” Kris Dunn said. “He was guarding today, scoring the ball, getting rebounds, getting guys involved. We need that from him.”

LaVine lauded the Bulls’ new-look closing lineup of he, Dunn, Tomas Satoransky, Chandler Hutchison and Lauri Markkanen. The Bulls ventured to switch pick-and-rolls with that lineup late, as opposed to their usual blitzing, and outscored the Cavaliers 31-14 in the final period while forcing 10 turnovers.

“We made a lot of defensive stops, we got in transition. Chandler [Hutchison] came in and made some really big plays. Kris Dunn on the defensive end was incredible,” LaVine said. “And that helped me even recently get in some passing lanes. We put it together in the fourth.”

Tonight marked LaVine’s third 40-point game of the season and tenth straight with more than 20. His 31 field goal attempts were a season-high, three more than he hoisted in his record smashing 49-point night in Charlotte. Night in, night out, the on-court production and responsibility acceptance is there. But behind the scenes, he’s ever-improving, as well.

“He's been talking in the huddles, he's been chattering, he's been locked in,” Boylen said. “He's bouncing back from maybe a poor moment or a bad stretch. He's bouncing back now, he's not playing backward at all. And that's what the great ones do.”

“I stepped into this year from the get-go using my voice more, and you know, I've never been a real vocal person but you know, when I say something I think my voice carries weight,” LaVine added.

LaVine isn’t getting ahead of himself. He called this win — however exhilarating — an “ugly” one and lamented the familiar lackluster play that dug the Bulls their 18-point halftime deficit to begin with.

Still, the statements are piling up. If his overall outing wasn’t enough, LaVine offered another one to the United Center crowd after his final bucket of the evening, an and-one finish through Collin Sexton with 16 seconds remaining to put him over 40 points and the Bulls ahead by four.

What did he say?

“You want the explicit version or the PG-13?” LaVine said with a chuckle. “This my stuff.” 

Continuing to stuff stat sheets, as he has been, is going to make All-Star jurors’ lives that much more difficult.

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Bulls Outsiders Podcast: LaVine makes All-Star statement in win over Cavs

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NBC SPORTS CHICAGO

Bulls Outsiders Podcast: LaVine makes All-Star statement in win over Cavs

On this edition of the Bulls Outsiders podcast, Matt Peck, David Watson, and John Sabine react to the Bulls 118-116 win over the Cavs.

1:00        On Zach LaVine and his 42 point effort

2:00        Big Dave does LaVine highlites

4:20        Viewer comment on how much of a boost LaVine will get to his All-Star bid

7:30        On the new lineup in the 4th quarter

8:20        Viewer question on LaVine being the #1 option on a winning team

11:30     Viewer comment on if LaVine can lead Bulls into playoffs

14:45     Viewer comment on Markkanen in the 2nd half

16:30     On Boylen’s timeout usage at the end of the game

18:45     Breaking news: Kendall Gill wants to know if Matt Peck saw what Derrick Rose did tonight

21:45     Viewer comment on Bulls waking up in the 4th quarter

23:30     Viewer comment on if Thibs was coaching Kris Dunn

24:20     On Olympic swimmer Ryan Held wearing a Ryan Arcidiacono rookie jersey

Listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below:

Bulls Outsiders

Subscribe:

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