Bulls

Observations from Bulls-Suns: Lauri's struggles, a Lottery update, more good from Shaq Harrison

Observations from Bulls-Suns: Lauri's struggles, a Lottery update, more good from Shaq Harrison

The Bulls broke their losing skid and ended their quick three-game road trip on a high note with a commanding win over the lowly Phoenix Suns. Here are three observations from that.

Lauri Markkanen still can’t find his stroke

The raw numbers weren’t going to be an issue for Lauri Markkanen on Monday night, squaring off against the 29th-ranked Suns defense. So it wasn’t all that surprising that he put it on the Suns for 17 points and nine rebounds in 31 otherwise methodical minutes. He added a pair of blocks – the first time he’s done that since before the All-Star break – and had some good moments as expected.

But Markkanen’s final line wasn’t all that. He had three buckets in the latter half of the fourth quarter with the game essentially out of reach. Until that point Markkanen had just 11 points on an otherwise pedestrian night. His late baskets still count, of course, and he didn’t have to do as much with an aggressive Zach LaVine and Robin Lopez doing his 20-point thing, but this was a night for Markkanen to really stretch his wings and try to get out of his slump.

Instead he struggled from deep again and didn’t seem all that aggressive against a defense that was allowing the Bulls into the paint whenever they wanted. Markkanen was 7 of 15 from the field, but just 2 of 6 from outside the paint. He buried an open triple, had a few good drives for buckets and went back to the patented Lauri Drag Step, but the night still felt lacking.

As we’ve said before, perhaps we’ve been spoiled by what Markkanen did in February to expect more of that each night. But against a terrible Suns defense this was really a chance for Markkanen to feast and it didn’t happen, despite the decent final line.

A loss…wouldn’t have been the worst thing

Right before the Bulls tipped off in Phoenix the red-hot Cavaliers won again. You read that correctly. The jump-start Cavs, led by rookie Collin Sexton and Cedi Osman, closed out the playoff-bound Pistons, who were without a resting Blake Griffin.

So as the Bulls tipped off against the Suns, they were just a single game back of the Cavaliers for the third worst record in the NBA and, thus, a 14 percent chance at winning the Zion Williamson Sweepstakes.

A few hours later the Bulls had won and so they didn’t “gain” any ground on the Cavaliers. With just 10 games left in the regular season it’s getting more difficult to see the Bulls catching Cleveland to join the 14 percent club.

Per Tankathon, Cleveland has the fifth toughest schedule in the NBA remaining. True, they’ve knocked off some playoff teams of late, but that’s still tough sledding when considering they need three wins AND the Bulls to go winless the rest of the way to be caught by Chicago. The Bulls have the 13th most difficult schedule remaining, for whatever that’s worth.

The Bulls will take the win, breaking a five-game skid. But a loss wouldn’t have been the worst thing in the world. The 14 percent’ers will have to wait until Wednesday.

Shaq Harrison continues to prove his worth

OK, it wasn’t all bad. Zach LaVine had an excellent all-around night, the bench was great and the offense posted 116 points and did so without Otto Porter Jr. And the man who replaced Porter in the starting lineup, Shaq Harrison, may have had the best night of anyone.

As has been the case with Harrison in most of his good nights, his statline won’t jump out. But Harrison’s 6-point, 3-rebound, 3-steal night was exactly what the Bulls needed to complement what Lopez, LaVine and birthday boy Kris Dunn (14 points) were doing.

Harrison was playing passing lanes, making his patented effort plays and was once again strong going to the rim. He’s never going to be a plus on the offensive end but the more aggressive he is attacking the basket, the better off he’s going to be.

And he knows his value. Harrison attempted nine shots and all came in the restricted area. As is the case with him, he was just 3 of 9 on those shots. But good on him to know where he’s needed on the offensive end. He’s passing out of looks that the defense might be giving him to open up a better look for the Bulls offense. He continues to play himself into the conversation for a nice contract this summer.

Why the Bulls should take Carsen Edwards with the No. 38 pick

Why the Bulls should take Carsen Edwards with the No. 38 pick

 

Carsen Edwards figures to be one of the more polarizing prospects in the late-first round to second round range of the 2019 NBA Draft. Generously listed at 6-foot-1 and (a much more accurate) 200 lbs., the diminutive guard burst onto the national scene after his super-hot scoring stretch during the NCAA Tournament.

He is an extremely talented scoring guard and his track record is impressive. He averaged double-digit scoring figures all three years of his NCAA career and helped Purdue rack up an 83-25 win-loss record over that same span.

Strengths:

Edwards is an elite volume scorer. He maintained a huge usage rate over three years at Purdue, including a 37.3 percent mark for the 2018-19 season. Matt Painter entrusted Edwards with the lion’s share of the Boilermakers’ offense every season of his career, and he stepped up to the challenge.

His finished his career with a 109.8 offensive rating, scoring 35.6 points per 100 possessions. The ability to score efficiently with high volume is the true mark of someone capable of being a star on offense.

The shooting is first thing that jumps off the page with Edwards. He has career averages of 7.1 3-point attempts per game on 36.8 percent. He would be a huge upgrade for a Bulls team that was 27th in 3-point attempts and dead-last in 3-point makes in the 2018-19 season.

If you watch film of Edwards, the high-degree of difficulty on his shots stand out. He can get downhill and draw attention at the rim, opening up shooters on the perimeter. Edwards’ confidence in his pull-up 3-point shot helped Purdue finish with one of the best offenses in the nation and also made the Boilermakers must-see TV.

Purdue was a good defensive team over Edwards’ three years there and while he wasn’t the best defender, he finished his career with 2.3 steals per 100 possessions. He gives great effort when trying to deny passes and has enough strength to hold his ground long enough to allow the help defense to come over.

Most of Edwards value in the NBA will come from his immense scoring ability. But his playmaking potential is intriguing because he became a better passer each year at Purdue, while having a bigger burden placed on him than he will in the NBA.

We know Edwards is very confident and competitive, he can shoot the 3-ball, and he is gradually improving as a playmaker. Any lineups containing Lauri Markkanen, Zach LaVine and Edwards would likely struggle on defense, but also would be full of effective 3-point shooters, a rarity for any Bulls lineup this season.

Weaknesses:

Though strong for his position, Edwards is 6-feet tall without shoes and is not going to be able to excel in a switching defense. And when his team is playing traditional defense, Edwards will need to do a lot work on fighting through screens.

NBA offenses will hunt for Edwards when he is on the floor. And a player who will need to be hid on defense will obviously cause issues for a Bulls teams without a lot of places to hide.

Though this is the weaknesses section, I would be remiss not to mention that Edwards should be able to not be awful on defense as long as he gives absolute, maximum effort. But we’ve seen what can happen to small guards on defense with today’s screen-happy game, and those flaws would be exposed even more in the postseason, which is one of the primary goals of the 2019-20 Bulls.

The Bulls do need a guard, but they need a point guard who can effective run the offense and generate great looks for others. Meanwhile, Edwards is more a shoot-first, undersized shooting guard than he is a point. In the 2018-19 season he finished with 104 assists and 113 turnovers.

He and fellow Purdue guard Ryan Cline actually shared playmaking duties during the 2018-19 season. Despite playing 52 more minutes than Cline on the season, Edwards finished with 16 less total assists.

The fact that Edwards carried the offense on his back means that a high-turnover rate isn’t the worst thing in the world. But his assist to turnover ratio is worrisome for a player who relies so much on of the dribble scoring. Edwards is a smart player who is confident and talented enough to takeover games with his offense, but that same confidence is what results in Edwards occasionally shooting his team out of games.

Long term outlook:

As a three-year NCAA veteran, Edwards is capable of being a solid backup PG in the NBA right now. His explosive display of offense during the NCAA Tournament could result in him rising into the bottom half of the first round, as there are always teams looking to add shooting. But most NBA front offices and their scouts don’t fall victim to recency bias.

So while the NCAA Tournament run helped his stock, his size and lack of defensive upside make him an excellent second round prospect, with the potential to develop into a steal if drafted in that range. If he slips to No. 38 in the draft, the Bulls would likely be more than happy to add Edwards 3-point shooting and high-scoring ability in to their backcourt mix.

Bulls Talk Podcast: How will the Bulls fill their PG need? Options in draft and free agency

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USA TODAY

Bulls Talk Podcast: How will the Bulls fill their PG need? Options in draft and free agency

Mark Schanowski, Mark Strotman and Kendall Gill discuss myriad topics, including where Otto Porter Jr.’s role stands heading into next season, how the Bulls may improve at the point guard position this summer and who they could potentially target in the NBA Draft.

4:15 – Analyzing where Lauri Markkanen and Otto Porter can improve next season

11:40 – Potential Bulls’ free agent PG targets

16:36 – Draft analysis and Darius Garland’s and Coby White’s potential fit in Chicago

23:04 Other targets for the Bulls in the first round such as Texas Tech’s Jarrett Culver

25:34 – Damian Lillard/NBA Playoffs discussion