Who’s going to be the Bulls next All-Star?
I hate to throw questions in as my lede, but this isn’t rhetorical – I’m genuinely curious to know what you guys think. After all, the NBA Draft and free agency may have dropped some new, exciting players on our doorstep, but the fate of the upcoming season doesn’t really rest in their hands, does it? I don’t think so. In fact, I’d argue that Lauri Markkanen and Zach LaVine are going to be the definitive keys to the 2019-2020 season.
So considering the weight sitting on their shoulders this year, let’s take a look at what each player needs to do to become the team’s next All-Star. First up (for today), The Finnisher.
House of Highlights provides us with an awesome 10-minute package of Makkanen’s top plays last season, so let’s start there.
If you ever doubted why Markkanen has been viewed as one of the best young forwards in the league, that video package should address your concerns.
It’s pretty easy to see what’s so intriguing about Markkanen, right? He may already be the best seven-foot shooter in the league and has an incredible touch for a player his height. He controls the ball well and has the proper length to be one heck of a two-way player. Watch closely and you can also see how well he works off-the-ball, he knows where to plant his feet for a spot-up shot and what lane to fill when working in transition.
He’s on the cusp of being one of the league’s best forwards, but is this his ceiling?
At just 22-years-old he certainly can have another level to his game, but the question is will he reach it. In the second part of last season, we saw the best version of Markkanen to date. He looked healthy, quick and, well, like an All-Star. In fact, during the month of February, alone, he averaged 26 points with 12.2 rebs and 2.4 assists over the course of 11 games. Put less statistically … he went OFF.
I mean look at these numbers he posted against playoff-caliber teams in the Eastern Conference:
- 2/8 vs. BRK – 31 pts and 18 rebs
- 2/11 vs. MIL – 20 pts and 17 rebs
- 2/23 vs. BOS – 35 pts and 15 rebs
- 2/25 vs. MIL – 26 pts and 12 rebs
Yeah, pretty insane, right?
However, once March hit, Markkanen cooled off. And after February, he averaged only 16.8 pts and 8.9 rebs over the course of his next 13 games (he was inactive for the final seven games of the season). By no means is that bad, but it illustrates the two sides of Markkanen, and the latter isn’t going to make an All-Star game.
Other than the stat-line itself, Markkanen needs to become the aggressor. I struggle to call him inconsistent, because – in a lot of ways – his numbers aren’t … but he is. Markkanen plays with a very soft touch and a level of finesse that allows him to put up strong numbers, but if he is going to become the All-Star the Bulls are looking for, he needs to assert himself more. Towering over players at seven-foot, Markkanen has the potential to “body” guys, but his lack of strength and aggressiveness is keeping him from making it happen.
During an interview with the Chicago Sun-Times back in January, being more aggressive was something Markkanen even alluded to when asked about his lack of touches: “And if there’s times where guys don’t find me, they will find me once I am more aggressive and stuff.”
He followed that up by saying: “There’s games where I get the ball a lot, and there’s games where I don’t. So I just try to control what I can control. Play defense and do my best on that end of the court, and I know the offense will follow. It hasn’t been really consistent yet, but I’m sure that will come.”
If Markkanen’s going to be an All-star, his court presence needs to be consistent.
Many expect Markkanen to get more playing time at the center position this season, and now it especially makes sense with the addition of Thaddeus Young, who could possibly play at the four while Markkanen plays the five. The defensive rebounding prowess appears to be there, but his offensive savvy in the paint is almost nonexistent. He is 74th in points in the paint along with 83rd in offensive rebounding, those numbers need to go up for a guy his size (Young is six-foot-eight and better in both categories).
Add some muscle and his presence underneath the basket will certainly improve. Not to mention, maybe he’ll grow a little more confident to create his own shot off-the-dribble. His ball-handling may not be the best, but for a big man, he can move across the court pretty darn well. Markkanen has a nice enough touch around the basket that creating his own shot and driving toward the hoop (whether it be via the pick-and-roll or his own doing) should be a larger part of his game plan. Fortunately, I think the addition of Tomas Satoransky should help open things up for Markkanen this season. After all, Satoransky has already hinted at wanting to help feed Markkanen the ball.
At the end of the day, a peak Markkanen is an unstoppable forward, but a passive, less confident Markkanen is nothing more than the third or fourth-best player on a playoff contender. Which version will we get? I know, I started AND ended with a question.