There’s a lot wrong with the Chicago Bulls this season under head coach Jim Boylen, but Lauri Markkanen’s lack of shots per game is a big problem.
A lot of people in the Chicago Bulls fan base and media sphere are beating this drum this season, and were on it for a long time now. Third-year seven-footer and power forward Lauri Markkanen is clearly having a down season with the Bulls when this was supposed to be when he finally broke through with this young core.
There might not be a key part of this Bulls young core that got off to a more disappointing start this season than Lauri. He and 24-year-old shooting guard Zach LaVine were considered to be the real franchise cornerstones that got hot in February 2019 and showed what this team can do when healthy.
However, the Bulls had rather good luck with injuries up until the turn of the calendar year. Beyond injuries that limited the Bulls top two small forwards for much of the regular season, this team remained mostly healthy. Then, second-year center Wendell Carter Jr. went down with an ankle sprain in a road loss to the Dallas Mavericks that would hold him out for about four or six weeks.
Now that the Bulls are missing WCJ and former Washington Wizards small forward Otto Porter Jr., the injury situation is getting much worse. And head coach Jim Boylen is facing about the most difficult stretch of the regular season schedule by now of any team in the Eastern Conference.
The playoff chances aren’t looking great for the Bulls at the moment, but there is light at the end of the tunnel if the right moves are made by John Paxson and Gar Forman within the next month or so. GarPax needs to make solid moves around the trade deadline, and Boylen needs to make the proper adjustments with his rotations to make the most of the easier games the Bulls do have.
Boylen also needs to help reverse this Bulls trend that he can never beats teams with winning records. The lone win that Boylen and the Bulls have this season over teams with a winning record came over the Los Angeles Clippers last month.
But another adjustment the Bulls could make is allowing Markkanen to shoot more. Roughly two-dozen games into the regular season, Markkanen started to find his groove and looked like the player that so many fans expected to make a big leap this season.
While the numbers for Markkanen were improving over the last month and a half, there’s still steps he needs to take that he hasn’t yet this season. The first is gaining the confidence to take advantage of that pure three-point stroke that he possesses.
Halfway into the regular season, Markkanen is taking the same amount of three-point attempts per game that he did last year (6.4). He is hitting those three-point shots at a clip a little more than one percent less than he did last season, but his slow start is mainly what’s weighing those percentages down. He’s shooting around 35 percent from beyond the arc so far this season.
But where the real gap in Markkanen’s numbers lies is with the overall number of field goal attempts he’s taking per game. Markkanen is getting just 12 field goal attempts per game, which is about three less than he was getting last year.
Due to that fact, he’s not getting to the free-throw line as much (3.3 attempts per game from the charity stripe). He’s still shooting from the charity stripe at a very efficient clip of around 83 percent.
Since Markkanen is a rhythm shooter, he can take a while to get going at times. That means that Boylen needs to be more patient with him and take advantage of the guard depth he has at his disposal. Let the likes of LaVine and guard Tomas Satoransky create open space for Markkanen and get him more than seven looks from three-point land per game.
If opposing defenses are forced to respect the shooting ability of Markkanen from downtown more often, then he will have more open lanes to drive and also get to the free-throw line more. He’s also better when he gets going from range first.
In the last five games where Markkanen got at least 10 looks from three-point land, he’s hit on at least 36 percent of them and finished with at least 18 points in each game. He shot a little better than 40 percent from three-point range in those five games.
That number shows that Markkanen is best when he’s getting volume looks. This trend might sound weird for a player like Markkanen that relies on a pure shooting stroke and a wide range of gifted physical tools that helps him develop a versatile offensive arsenal, but that’s how he works. He’s similar to the Mavericks star forward and seven-footer Kristaps Porzingis in that sense.
The Bulls sit with a record of 14-27 at the midway point of the 2019-20 regular season. They have a chance to rebounds with a home meeting against the Wizards on Jan. 15. But their best players, like Lauri and LaVine, need to get rolling to play better down the stretch than they did to start the season.