Each Tuesday leading up to the start of the 2018 regular season, Insider Vincent Goodwill and Mark Strotman are analyzing a burning question the Bulls must answer this season. Today the pair looks at which player the Bulls will lean on most in the clutch.
Vincent Goodwill: Who takes the last shot? The answer is easy: The hot man. But that isn’t the fun answer to give as the preseason approaches and roles are yet to be defined. Despite last season’s record and the Tank-a-thon that plagued the Bulls along with several other franchises, the Bulls had their share of clutch moments—so in theory, they’ll have plenty of options when close games wind down.
Zach LaVine came up big in his showdown against Jimmy Butler and the Minnesota Timberwolves, carrying the Bulls to an emotionally-charged win. He also stole an inbounds pass against the Orlando Magic, racing downcourt for a clinching dunk with his team trailing.
Kris Dunn was a catalyst when the Bulls had their best stretch of the season, a 14-7 mark buoyed by the return of Nikola Mirotic. He showed signs of maturity and growth with his decision-making, helping inspire the Bulls with his energy and moxie.
And if you want a bucket, a healthy Jabari Parker can get one as quick and easy as anyone with his combination of shooting and ballhandling at his size—if he’s right and if he’s a fit with this roster.
But we all know the Bulls believe in Lauri Markkanen being the future of the franchise and will put him in premium positions to succeed. However, to trust one with the singular responsibility would be unfair.
No one has proven anything consistently enough to get the call yet, and there’s only a handful of players you give the ball to, clear out the offense and let him work. With that said, the Bulls can employ a variety of options and Fred Hoiberg has shown an ability to draw up late-game actions to free up shooters with off-ball movement and cutters.
From this seat, Markkanen has to be involved, as the best shooter on the team and the matchup problems he’ll present even later in games when teams traditionally go small.
And if he comes with an improved game this season, armed with a better handle to break down a defense, the answer could be easy.
But as it stands, having Markkanen as a screener with LaVine or Dunn as a ballhandler could be a pick-your-poison proposition for defenses, with LaVine and Dunn being quick enough to get to the lane and Markkanen’s defender unable to leave him beyond 20 feet.
If LaVine is the ball handler, it could negate Dunn because he’s not yet respected as a jump shooter to keep help defenders away. If Dunn is handling, LaVine can’t be left alone by defenses, and neither can Parker if he’s on the floor.
No matter the option, late-game situations are about creating matchup problems and Markkanen’s size and shooting will be feared by opposing teams.
So…clear the floor from 25 feet. If LaVine is handling, watch for an in-and-out dribble to the elbow for a jumper. If Dunn is there, he’s going straight to the bucket until something collapses.
And if Markkanen catches with confidence…good night, Chicago.
Mark Strotman: Last year’s 27-win Bulls didn’t find themselves in many scenarios defined by the NBA at “clutch,” a five-point game with 5 or fewer minutes remaining in the fourth quarter or overtime. And seeing as the stakes weren’t all that high, there isn’t much we can take from those clutch numbers.
But it’s not a surprise that, if narrowed down to clutch situations in the final 2 minutes of contests, Lauri Markkanen (35) and Kris Dunn (32) led the team in field goal attempts. Zach LaVine had 15 attempts in just nine qualifying games, while Markkanen (30) and Dunn (26) appeared in more closely contested games.
With LaVine’s injury-riddled season and Markkanen being a rookie, Dunn actually found the most success in clutch situations. He averaged 2.8 points on a blistering 48.3 percent clip and made 85 percent of his free throws. Markkanen averaged 2.3 points on just 37.7 percent shooting, while LaVine averaged 3.0 points but on just 27.3 percent shooting in those nine games.
So, does that make Dunn the go-to guy in the clutch? We understand the open-endedness of this question. Time, situation, hot hand and opponent will dictate which player takes the final shot more often than not. Regardless of how much you like one of the Bulls as potential closing scorers, there isn’t a Harden, LeBron, Lillard or Curry on this team. At least in the early going the role will be dictated by outside factors.
But one would think the goal is for Markkanen to find comfort being that player. There isn’t a player on the Bulls with a more unique and versatile skill set, something that comes in handy in clutch moments when a secondary or tertiary move is at times necessary when the defense reacts. Markkanen should lead the team in 3-point shooting next season, has shown some ability to put the ball on the floor and, if needed, is a superb free throw shooter.
What’s more, even though Markkanen is just 21 years old this feels like one of the stages of his progression. LaVine is the $78 million man, but Markkanen has the look and feel of a future franchise player. No one should expect Kevin Durant NBA Finals daggers from the get-go, but Markkanen should want the ball in clutch settings. It remains to be seen how LaVine will handle not being a primary guy down the stretch, and Dunn’s numbers have earned him looks. Jabari Parker is a pure scorer, lest we forget about the free agent. But your best player should have the ball in his hands when the game is on the line. That’s Markkanen.