The Bulls held on to win what will perhaps go down as their weirdest win on the 2018-19 season. In a game with 23 lead changes and 17 ties, the Bulls came out on top after a series of fortunate (or unfortunate depending on where you stand on wins and losses these days) events. With the game tied at 106 all, former Bull DJ Augustin was fouled by Kris Dunn and received two free throws. Augustin--a career 86.3 percent free throw shooter--missed both free throws to give the Bulls life late in the matchup.
A clutch putback tip-in from Robin Lopez wasn’t the final nail in the coffin for the Magic, as wing Evan Fournier hit a huge 3-point shot with just over 7 seconds left in the game. This setup Markkanen’s clutch free throw attempts at the end of the game, in which he sank two of three to seal the Bulls 15th win of the season.
Lauri Legend in the making
The number one thing Bulls fans were concerned with post-Bobby Portis/Jabari Parker trade was if the departure of the two offensive-minded forwards would allow Markkanen to flourish. So far the answer is a resounding yes.
NO SHOT is a bad one for these guys tonight🔥🔥🔥🔥 pic.twitter.com/1kpwAoj6GB— Bulls Talk (@NBCSBulls) February 23, 2019
The Finnisher finished (see what we did there?) with 25 points, 11 rebounds, 2 assists and a steal in 38 minutes of playing time. The double double was Markkanen’ 8th in his last 10 games, and his 13th double double overall on the season.
In the month of February, Markkanen is putting up All-Star numbers. Through 7 games he is averaging 25.3 PPG, 12.2 RPG, 2.6 APG and shooting 47 percent from the field. But just as important as the fact that he is putting up great stats is the way he is collecting those numbers. In recent weeks, we have seen a lot more from Markkanen in terms of taking his defender off the dribble, as he possesses solid speed for a big man.
So far through 36 games played in 2018-19, Markkanen’s 3-point percentage is 38.3 percent, just over a 2 percent increase from last year. And on top of that, he is actually attempting more 3-pointers as well. So with defenses frantically trying to deny him clean 3-point looks, using a--dare I say “Mirotic-esque”--pump fake to open up a driving lanes will take Markkanen’s burgeoning offensive game to the next level. In fact, a pump fake and side-step is the exact move that led to Markkanen drawing the foul on Aaron Gordon that led to the game-winning free throws.
The moment a solid NBA player becomes a superstar is when volume meets efficiency. Markkanen’s usage rate has increased from last year and his offensive rating has increased by about 4 points as well. If Markkanen’s season goes as it did last year, we can expect to see more fireworks as the Bulls closeout 2018-19. In the ‘17-’18 season, April was Markkanen’s highest scoring month.
The steadying force
Bulls head coach Jim Boylen was yet again--and rightfully so--quick to compliment Otto Porter on his play since joining Chicago.
“He’s just a steady force. He can be a receiver or a creator. Those guys are invaluable.”
Porter racked up 17 points, 5 rebounds and 4 assists, a block and a steal in 38 minutes. His 17 points came on an inefficient 15 field goal attempts, but he still ended up a team-high +10 from the field. Boylen was right to call OPJ a “steady force” because whether or not he has a great shooting night, he is willing to do all the little the things to contribute to winning basketball.
You can always count on Otto-matic Otto--he of the career 40.2 percent 3-point percentage-- to hit a couple 3-pointers, but with Chicago, he has started to explore his off the dribble game. He is shooting 33.3 percent this season on pull-up 3-pointers--down from 45.2 percent last season in Washington--but he has more than doubled his pull-up 3-point attempts as a Bull.
Porter is not going to turn into Steph Curry overnight, but even at 25 years old, he can get even better at pull-up jump shooting. This part of his game being unlocked in Chicago gives Boylen another competent ball handler to run secondary pick-and-roll actions.
Through his five games as a Bull, Porter is averaging 2.6 APG, almost a full assist better than his season average. Yet another part of his game that seems to be evolving under Boylen. And most important is the fact Porter’s sharing ways seems to have rubbed off on the rest of the roster.
LaVine the PG?
Through 7 games in February, LaVine is averaging 5.9 APG, which would be higher than any season-long assist average of his career. And this isn’t some sort of random flash in the pan, as the 2 turnovers per game he is averaging in February are the lowest of any month this season.
If LaVine--who has always been a solid passer despite his reputation--can consistently keep the turnovers down while playmaking this much, the idea of him as the Bulls long-term answer at point guard has to be taken seriously.
The main issue with the defensive-minded Dunn being the starter at point is the fact that he cannot hit an open 3-point shot, which was on display on Friday night, as he went 0/2 from 3-point range. Juxtapose this with LaVine, who absolutely made it rain from deep.
As per usual, LaVine wasn’t a major difference maker on defense, but he did a solid job all night. He was very adept at sliding his feet to stay with Augustin and though he did give up his fair share of easy drives, he defended without fouling (1 personal foul on the night).
LaVine’s 22 PTS came on a very efficient 14 shots, and this is no doubt the type of offensive performance that Boylen and co. hope to see more of over the last 23 games.