Lauri Markkanen is entering his third season with the Chicago Bulls. Can the team expect their 7-footer to make the leap to stardom?
Every talented young player faces what Chicago Bulls forward Lauri Markkanen is about to endure – heightened expectations. As a lottery pick, it just comes with the territ0ry. When you’re the centerpiece of a trade that ships out the team’s former franchise player, it’s inevitable.
The 2019-20 NBA season represents Markkanen’s third in the league. The gloves are about to come off – it’s time for the 7’0″ Finnish star to make the leap. A cornerstone of the team’s rebuilding project, it’s a matter of necessity as much as it’s a hopeful expectation.
That leap Markkanen is expected to make? It’s transforming from an exciting young player with loads of potential into a star capable of leading his team to playoff glory. That playoff glory? It’s needed sooner rather than later.
Lauri Markkanen is an animal.
His game stats from last night:
31 points / 17 rebounds / 1 big W against the Hawks pic.twitter.com/Nxj2M8l2Wq
— Chicago Bulls (@chicagobulls) March 2, 2019
Can Markkanen undergo such a transformation in 2019-20?
Lauri Markkanen is good, really good, but how high is his ceiling?
When a team is losing 60 games in a season and reports surface during a forgettable season about mutinies or the potential of them, individual performances often go overlooked. That’s seemingly been the case in Chicago, where Lauri Markkanen and Zach LaVine posted strong numbers a season ago.
The Chicago Bulls were a paltry 22-60 in 2018-19, finishing with the NBA’s fourth-worst record. That won’t draw much attention to the talent on the squad.
In his second season, Markkanen posted 18.7 points and 9.0 rebounds per game while shooting 43.0 percent from the field and 36.1 percent from beyond the arc. Solid numbers for a young player in his age-21 season. Peering at his per-36 minutes’ stat line and he’s up to 20.8 points and 10.1 rebounds.
Checking with his advanced stats, the 7-footer posted a 17.1 Player Efficiency Rating (PER – league average is 15), 25.1 percent usage rate (a percentage of team plays used by a player while he’s on the floor)
Markkanen has been pretty good, but what is his ceiling?
These numbers show an upside for the Bulls’ big man, but they don’t show his ceiling. Could he become the next Dirk Nowitzki, an MVP-caliber talent capable of carrying a franchise to a championship?
Is he more of a Bojan Bogdanovic, a nice complementary piece for a playoff contender?
It’s fun to compare Markkanen to a legend like Nowitzki, especially if MVP and championship trophies are on the horizon. A future Hall-of-Famer, Nowitzki jumped from 17.5 points per game in his second season to 21.8 in his third.
Whether Markkanen can make that type of leap depends on how the Bulls choose to utilize him offensively.
It matters where Markkanen shoots, obviously, but also when he shoots.
An excellent 3-point shooter, Markkanen posted his best efficient field goal percentage (eFG) on catch and shoot opportunities – 54.2 percent – while his worst – 38.7 percent – was on pull up shot attempts. 40.9 percent of his shot attempts were on catch and shoot attempts, so getting Markkanen to the right spots on the floor with proper ball movement is an important element to his success.
12/21: 32 PTS, 4 3PM, 12-20 FGM
12/23: 31 PTS, 5 3PM, 11-18 FGM
— NBA (@NBA) December 24, 2018
It’s important for head coach Jim Boylen to get Markkanen involved early in the shot clock. Marrkanen’s eFG was at its peak (60.4 percent, 42.0 from 3-point range) in 2018-19 when he got his shot off with between 15 and 18 seconds remaining on the shot clock, 55.2 percent between 18-22 seconds.
Lauri Markkanen made 100 3-pointers faster than the best shooters in NBA history. pic.twitter.com/ZjQlyZslOG
— ESPN (@espn) January 16, 2018
The problem is, the situations were very rare, only 8.7 percent and 5.0 percent of his shot attempts took place during this time frame. The most frequent range (27.6 percent) for Markkanen’s shot attempts came with 7-15 seconds remaining, with him making 49.3 percent of his shots.
Marrkanen’s also better with 1 dribble or less, shooting an eFG of 48.8 percent with one dribble, 56.5 percent on zero dribbles. Contrasting that with the extreme, 7 or more dribbles, where the Finnish born star shot 37 percent and it shows a glaring difference.
Getting Lauri the ball early and in spots where he can flourish is fundamental to success, both for Markkanen and the Bulls.
He can also be a monster on the boards
Markkanen might not be a defensive wizard, his defensive rating of 112 is proof of that, but what he can do is rebound. He averaged 9.0 rebounds a season ago and that number could improve next season. In 20 of his 52 games last season, Markkanen posted double digits in rebounds, seven more contests of nine. He snared a career-high 19 boards vs. the Brooklyn Nets in January.
This is Lauri Markkanen’s 6th game of at least 20 points/10 rebounds in his last 7. And it would’ve been 7 straight had the NBA not taken one rebound away after reviewing Bulls-Grizzlies game before All-Star break.
— K.C. Johnson (@KCJHoop) February 24, 2019
He has the potential to be a consistent double-double machine. With additional bulk, he could average double figures in both points and rebounds this season.
He’ll need to increase his ability to rebound in traffic against opponents to increase his numbers. He snagged only 24.5 percent of rebounds when going up against another rebounder, 5.1 when there were two or more. Additional bulk and increased awareness of shooter tendencies will be key here.
Markkanen’s defensive capabilities are a detriment to his game, though he’s shown he has above-average athleticism for a 7-footer. He doesn’t block many shots, less than one per game for his career, and doesn’t create many turnovers.
What to expect from the Bulls’ big man in 2019-20
The former Arizona Wildcat’s real value is on the offensive end. His shooting percentage could actually see even more improvement in 2018-19. The key is whether Boylen and his staff can utilize their big man’s skills efficiently and often enough.
He’s athletic enough to create matchup problems for opponents when he slides over to play center, which he may need to do out of necessity this season. With Robin Lopez gone and Luke Kornet and Cristiano Felicio the backups to Wendell Carter Jr., Markkanen could spell Carter from time to time.
With Markkanen teaming with Carter and Zach LaVine, the Bulls have a nice young nucleus growing in Chicago. The 2020 All-Star Weekend will descend on the Windy City in February. It’s conceivable that either LaVine or Markkanen could make their All-Star debuts on their homecourt.
All-Star participant or not, the expectations are high in Chicago for Lauri Markkanen, will he be able to make the leap from good to great?