Lauri Markkanen

Three takeaways from Bulls' hard-fought loss in Utah

Three takeaways from Bulls' hard-fought loss in Utah

In Friday night’s eight-point loss to the Jazz, the Bulls actually won the turnover battle, a rare occurrence for the young squad. And they received solid contributions off the bench from the likes of Jabari Parker (!!), Robin Lopez and even new Bulls swingman Wayne Selden Jr. Even though this loss ties the Bulls longest losing streak of this season, there were plenty of positives to gather from the Bulls effort in Utah.

Jabari Parker is still around.....

And he is still a pretty good scorer and a poor defender, and it still seems like the Bulls should play him more. Parker checked-in in the first quarter and after starting off slow, he got going in the second quarter. In that period, Parker had 7 points, 4 rebounds and an assist with no turnovers.

And just as important, he confidently stepped into a 3-pointer, his first 3-point make since December 10. Overall Parker finished the night with 11 points on 50 percent shooting from the field. He did look a bit winded early on, but that’ll happen when you only get two meaningful appearances over a 15-game stretch.

But Parker looked solid against a good Utah team, there is no reason to keep him out of the rotation going forward.

Even if Jim Boylen doesn’t believe Parker can truly be a successful sixth man for the Bulls, 18-to-20 minutes a night is enough to give him decent run and not disrupt the rest of the rotation too much. And playing him more is unlikely hurt his trade value, as his trade value as of now is tied to his contract rather than his on-the-court production.

The Bulls need to work very hard on closeouts and 3-point defense in the next practice

The Bulls--while being 15th in the league in opponent’s 3-point percentage at 35.5 percent--are not very good at limiting opponents’ 3-point attempts, with teams getting up 33.1 3-point attempts per game against them. And that showed up big-time in this game. The Jazz--who attempt 32.7 3-point attempts per game--got up a whopping 45 3-point attempts against the Bulls, connecting on 16 of them. Unsurprisingly, this was the major difference in the game, just as it was in the loss to the Warriors on Friday night.

At the end of the first quarter Ingles was 3/5 from the 3-point line, and the Jazz (as a whole) went 6/13 from 3-point range.

Interestingly enough, if you look at just the second through fourth quarters, the Bulls won that frame 83-81. And in that same span the Bulls held the Jazz to 31 percent from the 3-point line. Conditioning may or may not be a crucial component of the Bulls defensive slip-ups. But this game suggested that perhaps their main issue is a lack of defensive focus at the beginning of games.

After playing two games against teams who have great 3-pointers shooters, the Bulls next game will be against a Lakers team that actually has a worse 3-point percentage than them (and will likely be without LeBron James).

So attention to detail will continue to be the name of the game for these young Bulls, who need to be able to identify the most prominent 3-point threats and prioritize on the fly. If you allow an opponent’s three best 3-point shooters to hoist 22 3-point attempts--as they did on Saturday night--you are going to lose almost every time.

The Bulls may have found something in Wayne Selden Jr.

Selden was the player the Bulls kept from the trade that sent Justin Holiday to the Memphis Grizzlies. Selden is a physical guard with a capable jump shot. Last season, he shot a very impressive 40 percent from the 3-point line on 122 attempts. But part of his appeal is the ability to fit with various playing styles, and Selden looked a perfect fit on Friday night.

He went on to finish the game with 11 points on 71 percent shooting, including going 1/2 from the 3-point line.

Selden was in most of the positive lineups against  the Jazz, the most important fact being that a lineup of the core four (Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen, Kris Dunn Wendell Carter) finished with a +0 plus/minus rating, and finished with the second-most points of any Bulls lineup on the night.

He also made an excellent effort play that will no doubt get him in Jim Boylen’s good graces, and giving effort like this on a nightly basis will likely keep him in the rotation moving forward.

BONUS takeaway: Bulls had a block party, various Jazz players were invited


 

Markkanen, Carter and Dunn combined for five of the Bulls seven blocks. And while the Bulls may use a slow-tempo offense under Boylen, being more active in rim protection will ignite more opportunities for the Bulls to get out in transition. This will also help the Bulls front office better evaluate their young talent.

With Selden looking like a good fit with this group, it will be fun to see if Chicago can build off of this solid performance--though obviously, they hope it results in a win next time--as they take on a Lakers team next, that will likely be without Bulls arch nemesis LeBron James.

It’s time for Lauri Markkanen to ball out and strive for greatness

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USA TODAY

It’s time for Lauri Markkanen to ball out and strive for greatness

I love Dirk Nowitzki. He's one of my five favorite players of all time. Besides the obvious reason, his incredible basketball prowess, Nowitzki grew each and every year to reach his full potential. 

I used to be hard on him. Nothing he did was good enough for me. Dirk had 30? Should've had 45. Dirk scored 45? So? They lost cause he went 1-6 in the 4th quarter. Dirk beat Kobe? Do it in the playoffs. Mavs can't get to the Finals? His fault. 

I was hard on him because I recognized his potential. I knew he was 7-foot with an uncanny touch from the perimeter. I could see his fadeaway was unguardable. I saw he could not be stopped by anyone in the league. I saw that he was the best player on the floor most nights. The problem was he needed to believe it. 

So I continued to not be impressed. I wanted greatness. 

Then it happened. Game 5, 2006 vs. The Suns. Series tied at 2. When his team NEEDED it, Dirk dropped 50 on Phoenix. It was cold-blooded and effortless. I almost shed a tear. It was his Leroy from The Last Dragon moment. He had “The Glow”. He reached that upper level. An MVP award followed the next season and a few seasons later he won an NBA title.

It finally clicked. He believed. 

That's what I want for Lauri Markkanen.

It's time for the kid gloves to come off, Lauri needs to ball. He needs to step his game up. He has all the tools, height (7-foot), a 3-point shot people wish for, a solid basketball IQ, gorgeous footwork for a man his size, can rebound effectively, create his own shot, draw contact, be a presence on the defensive end, cool nickname, charming smile and the list goes on. He's a walking double-double with the potential to be the aforementioned Maverick great. 

The problem is he has to believe it.

Far too often this season he's been passive. He's passed up good shots to give the rock to no one worthy of receiving it, let alone shooting it. Far too often he makes a move, then two more and winds up taking a bad shot or getting it blocked or turning it over. I watched him bring the ball down the court, take Bogdan Bogdanović to the post, a shooting guard mind you, and get bodied out of the post by Bogdan and forced into a turnover. A double dribble no less. It's frustrating to witness. 

I watch players like Nikola Vučević put up solid numbers and max out his potential. Lauri is far more talented but the difference is Nikola believes. When he makes his move in the post, he makes it confidently. No pump fakes or bringing the ball down around his waist while trying to make two spins off the pivot. He just balls out. 

That's what I'm asking Lauri to do.

Lauri needs to understand this team will go as he goes. He has to put up 25+ points for them to have a shot at winning. His play on both ends makes it easier for everyone else on the team, not him taking nine or 10 shots and having a 15 point, six rebound night. That's not gonna cut it. 

Even with the problems I have with his lack of desire to be the man and not asserting himself properly, he's averaging 17.0 points and 7.3 rebounds this season. It's only his second year in the league and he's coming off an injury. Hell, he just got his driver's license. 

Does he need time to grow? Sure. Am I being extra hard on Lauri? You bet because he can trip and fall into 17 points and 10 rebounds. 

I will continue to be demanding because I want more from the Finnisher. 

I want greatness.

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Lauri Markkanen destroys Nikola Vucevic with a vicious poster dunk

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USA TODAY

Lauri Markkanen destroys Nikola Vucevic with a vicious poster dunk

Get up or get out the way, Nikola Vucevic.

During the third quarter of Friday night's Bulls vs. Magic game at the United Center, Bulls forward Lauri Markkanen brought down the house with a nasty slam dunk. Markkanen got loose, dribbling down the center of the lane and throwing down a vicious one-handed dunk over Vucevic. Take a look:

Beautiful. Here's another angle, in case you wanted to see Markkanen's poetry in slow motion:

As a reminder, Vucevic is the Magic's starting center, standing 7 feet tall and weighing 260 pounds. Markkanen received a technical for taunting Vucevic after the dunk, but honestly, it had to have been worth it.

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