Since the beginning of the season, we’ve been waiting for Lauri Markkanen to return to form – to be The Finnisher again.
Unfortunately, it hasn’t happened yet. Perhaps we read too much into his performance last February, when he averaged 21.8 points and 12.6 rebounds per game. But, I mean, that did happen – Markkanen played at a consistently elite level for a stretch of 10+ games (with the underlying skillset, trend lines, and upside to support it). But, again, so far during the 2019-20 season, we’ve seen nothing of the sort. So what happened? And how are the Bulls planning to turn it all around?
Well, before Markkanen went down with his latest pelvis injury, it became increasingly evident that head coach Jim Boylen’s new “system” wasn’t built to use the best version of Markkanen. The 22-year-old turned into a seven-foot spot-up shooter whose lack of touches were as mind-boggling as Boylen’s timeouts usage.
We’ve tackled this issue from different angles, several times before:
- How the Bulls are using Markkanen,
- When the Bulls are using Markkanen
- Markkanen should be a better rebounder
Of course, some of this also falls on him. It always does, for every player. Markkanen simply needs to find a bigger voice both on and off the court. He also needs to display more consistent aggressiveness. Put simply, he isn’t entirely off the hook for how his season has gone (and that goes without even mentioning the unexpected injury issues).
But still … I think we can all agree this falls *mostly* on the coaching staff’s inability to make their system work for Markkanen.
So the next step now is wondering what the heck is this team going to do about all of this? Remember, even Markkanen knows he can do a lot more than shoot from downtown (which make up about 53.5 percent of his shot profile).
Well, according to Vice President of Basketball Operations John Paxson, the Bulls are well aware of their need to fix Markkanen’s role. During yesterday’s post-trade-deadline press conference, Paxson began with a flat-out denial of any report that Markkanen wanted off the team and then proceeded to tell reporters, that upon his return, the Bulls will be focused on putting him in a better position: “Our responsibility is to put our players in a position to succeed and get better. And we’re going to have an opportunity when Lauri gets healthy.”
Great … but what does that mean?
Boylen has been stubborn all season long about changing his “system.” How can we be sure that an increased role for Markkanen isn’t just handing him more spot-up 3’s? For him to finally break out of his season-long slump, Boylen would have to be willing to change the team’s gameplan on both ends of the court, and we have no reason to believe that will happen.
Moreover, doesn’t Paxson saying the Bulls have an opportunity to put Markkanen “in a position to succeed” once he returns inherently concede they haven’t been doing so all season? Why are you waiting until there are around 20 games left in the year to finally consider this?
Perhaps they thought he would mesh well with Boylen’s tactics this preseason, but smart organizations and coaching staffs recognize these faults before they happen. And if they can’t catch them before the season starts, they’re able to make quick early-season adjustments. The Bulls have stuck with the same plan since Day 1, and the quiet trade deadline only demonstrates that mindset more.
Ultimately, Markkanen has displayed the talent necessary to have All-Star aspirations and be a frightening double-double machine. His size combined with his ball-handling and ability to work on the move makes him, not only a strong fit for the modern NBA, but also a rather unique player … if they can make it work.
The Bulls might say they plan to do right by Markkanen once he’s back on the court, but if they really want to help, they would find them a new head coach.