Is Lauri Markkanen Trying to Dunk on the Bulls Front Office? Because He's Been Killing It Lately

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Is Lauri Markkanen Trying to Dunk on the Bulls Front Office? Because He’s Been Killing It Lately

Chicago Bulls

Forget Dogecoin and Gamestop, it’s time to buy low on Lauri Markkanen.

The Bulls fourth-year player has scored 30 points in back-to-back games for the first time since February of 2019. On the season, he is averaging 20.3 points on 51.8 percent shooting from the field and 41.3 percent from downtown – all three marks are career-highs. Sure, we’re only 12 games into the season, but there is undoubtedly something different about this version of Lauri Markkanen. He looks not only like someone comfortable and confident in a new offensive system, but also like someone playing with something to prove … and I don’t think any of us would consider that a coincidence.

Over the offseason, Markkanen failed to reach an agreement with the Bulls new front office. In fact, reports surfaced that the two sides weren’t even close to perceiving Markkanen’s value equally. But can we blame them? Markkanen was coming off a season with career-worsts across the board, and the Bulls front office wanted to avoid overpaying a player who was trending in the wrong direction. Not to mention, a low-ball offer couldn’t too badly hurt the Bulls with only restricted free agency on the horizon. The Bulls knew they would still have control over Markkanen’s future come 2021, and that’s certainly an advantageous situation to be in.

The question then became whether or not Markkanen would take a failed negotiation to heart or into the gym. And we might have our answer.

“With Lauri, it’s all about confidence … he’s very, very, very good and, you know Lau, obviously we all understand his situation,” Zach LaVine told reporters after the game. “He’s going out there and proving what he’s worth. We like that chip on his shoulder, as well.”

Your thoughts, Coby?

“Last year, I think a lot of people gave up on him; except his teammates,” Coby White told “This year we know who Lauri can be. He’s not just picking and popping. He’s putting the ball on the floor, getting to the basket, getting to the free throw line, getting and-1s, creating for others, getting downhill. When Lauri is aggressive, he can’t be stopped. He looks like a star. I think last year he took it as, ‘A lot of people doubting me, (so) this year I’m going to prove that I’m still Lauri Markkanen from my first two years; I’m still that dude.’ He’s been proving a lot of people wrong.”

His teammates see a man on a mission, and the stats back that up. The strides he has taken on the offensive end is staggering when compared to his first three seasons in the league. White is correct, he is putting the ball on the floor, getting the basketball, and (most importantly) converting at a jaw-droppingly improved rate. Markkanen is finishing 76 percent of his shots at the rim, which ranks in the 84th percentile, per Cleaning the Glass. Over the last two seasons, by contrast, he shot 60 percent (23rd percentile) and 63 percent (30th), respectively. I’d say it also doesn’t hurt his case that his teammates are helping out far more around the rim. As things currently stand 67.6 percent of Markkanen’s shots five-feet or less from the basket are assists compared to 56.5 percent in 2019-20.

Markkanen has always been considered a good 3-point shooter for his size, but there is no question that he has struggled to fully live up to expectations behind the arc over the last couple of seasons. However, he has turned his 34.4 percent clip from 2019-20 into the aforementioned 41.3 percent this season. A lot of that is simply thanks to Markkanen just shooting better, but I also don’t think it’s crazy to think it’s due to Donovan’s motion offense. Markkanen has always been someone who performs better in stride, and unlike last season, he is either pick and popping or stepping into his 3-point attempts more often. Rhythm goes a long way, my frents.

Anyway, combine his current 3-point prowess with the improved finishing around the rim, and it’s why we’ve seen his overall effective field-goal percentage take a remarkable leap through the first quarter of this season.

Now, is this just another flukey February (remember 2019?) or the slow build of a strong semi-breakout season? With the coaching changes and his role more comfortably established, I feel good about the chances of it being the latter. We’ll see.

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Author: Elias Schuster

Elias Schuster is the Lead Bulls Writer at Bleacher Nation. You can follow him on Twitter @Schuster_Elias.