This is one of the most pressing questions facing the rebuilding of the Bulls today: What really happened to Lauri Markkanen?
After a second season showing such promises, the 22-year-old Finn forward has taken a step back in his third year, career lows in points (14.7), rebounds (6.3) and field target efforts (11, 8) when shooting only 42.5% from the field and 34.4% from the range of 3 points. In 50 matches – he missed nearly six weeks from January 24 to March 4 with an initial stress reaction on his hip – before the NBA suspended his season, he averaged just 0.1 more minutes than his rookie campaign.
However, Markkanen’s talent, tools, and potential he portrayed in his first two seasons were too tempting to give up so easily – especially for the Bulls who had invested heavily in him. That makes finding the roots of his struggle more important.
During the disappointing Bulls season, fans and media alike flooded wood to put their own theories for the causes of Markkanen’s regression. The former Bulls center and current Bulls radio color commentator for 670 The Score Bill Wennington added his opinion at the guest spot on the latest episode of Sports Talk Live:
I think we (Bulls) are somewhat limiting Lauri a bit in her skillet, what she can do, because we make her stand out in the 3-point line, and that’s a bit far from her game. a little. And, hey, does he have to be more aggressive? Yes, right. Does he have to make a better rebound effort, I want to see the rebound appear. Yes, right.
But we also have to put him in a position to be successful as a player. Once again, until this season, everyone loves Lauri. What changed? What’s different from the game now for the past two years where we thought, “Oh my God, we have something good going on here.”
The criticism points to the complexity of Markkanen’s struggle. Its irregular use (he cannot control his minutes) and the winding role in team offenses can be partly attributed to the Bulls’ scheme sometimes ignoring its power as a ball player and creator. But, as Wennington noted, Markkanen can do more to take his destiny into his own hands – the gap between the second and third year rebound figures is an indicator, as is the volume of his deflated shot.
“What Lauri does not currently have is a strong and aggressive leader where he will enforce his will towards others. That will not happen now,” Wennington said.
But that was not intended to completely underestimate Markkanen. Wennington, like many in the Bulls fan organization and fan base, believes that things can turn around.
“Can it be better? Yes it can. Do I want it to be better for Lauri? Yes I do,” continued Wennington. “Lauri is a multi-faceted player who, as a 7-footer, can shoot 3s, and can put the ball on the floor and handle basketball well for 7-footers and get to the edge.”
So how should the Bulls extract the maximum potential of Markkanen? Wennington used his experience with the Bulls of the Phil Jackson era – an experience in which he obtained three rings during the Bulls’ second three peat – to offer something of a solution.
“I like to use my analogy because I know I’m the best and I prefer to talk about me than anyone else,” joked Wennington. “When I came to the Bulls, the triangle offense ran out of the midpoint with Bill Cartwright as the center, or as a pole crosser. Phil Jackson integrated me into the triangle violation by using my jumping shooting ability. He tweaked the violation a little and made me run multiple screens-and- roll from the outside and fade and pop a little, where he can take advantage of me hitting a jump shot and spreading the floor a little. “
Did Wennington suggest that the Bulls 2020-21 apply a triangle to allay their offensive misery? Of course not. But with a bit of deliberate planning matching the strength of Markkanen, better injury fortune and a healthy dose of firm contract year determination, Markkanen could have been on his way to a bounceback in the fourth year.
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