Chicago Bulls: Pressure could be mounting on Lauri Markkanen

(Photo by Steven Ryan/Getty Images)
(Photo by Steven Ryan/Getty Images) /

NBC Sports Chicago detailed a bit deeper on the looming question marks for this Chicago Bulls rebuild heading into an offseason with a lot of controversy.

In a piece where Mark Schanowski of NBC Sports Chicago opened up on the biggest unanswered questions of the Chicago Bulls roster potentially heading into the offseason, he mentioned some particular players by name. One of those Bulls players was third-year power forward Lauri Markkanen, who had some serious struggles throughout the 2019-20 regular season prior to the NBA’s hiatus.

The 2019-20 NBA season was put on hiatus thanks to Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert testing positive for the novel coronavirus on March 11 prior to a game against the Oklahoma City Thunder. And the last game that the Bulls got to play in came against the Central Division foe Cleveland Cavaliers at home at the United Center on March 10, that ended with a win by the final score of 108-103.

Moreover, Markkanen likely had his worst season in the NBA to date prior to the hiatus. Markkanen played in 50 games so far this season while averaging 14.7 points per game, 6.3 rebounds, and 1.5 assists, while shooting 42.5 percent from the field, 34.4 percent from beyond the arc, and 82.4 percent from the charity stripe.

Those per game averages helped Markkanen mount a -0.5 box plus/minus rating, 0.5 value over replacement player rating, .084 win shares per 48 minutes, and a 56.0 true shooting percentage. Most of his advanced stats so far this season were the worst of his NBA career in three years.

The question that Schanowski posed in his piece on NBC Sports Chicago on March 30 was as follows: “Was Lauri Markkanen’s slump in his third NBA season just an outlier, or will the Bulls have to adjust their evaluation on his potential?”

Here’s what else he had to say on the matter in this article.

"Markkanen’s future is the biggest question facing the franchise right now. Was he held back by the changes to the offensive system this season, or does he simply lack the aggressiveness necessary to average 20 points and 10 rebounds over a full season?Markkanen took a significant step backwards in year three, and the Bulls were hoping they would get a better chance to evaluate his play over the final 17 regular season games. Don’t forget: Markkanen is eligible for an extension to his rookie contract this offseason, and it’s hard to imagine the Bulls offering him a near max deal coming off a sub-par season in which he averaged 14.7 points and 6.3 rebounds while shooting just 42.5% from the field.All options have to be on the table for Markkanen, including a possible trade if contract negotiations result in a stand-off or the opportunity to acquire an All-Star level veteran presents itself. It’s likely the 7-foot forward will be back next season, and he could have an expanded role in the offense if a coaching change is made."

One of those points from Schanowski highlights the main looming concern for the Bulls front office in all likelihood for Markkanen heading into the offseason. He’s eligible for a contract extension this coming offseason, but he won’t be getting the dollar amount that was anticipated if he had taken that leap to stardom this season.

Markkanen might want to take another year to prove himself. He’ll be in the final year of his rookie contract next season, so maybe the pressure of playing for his next salary could elevate his performance. Something will have to give for Markkanen to put his best foot forward next season.

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There could still be a season left for Markkanen and the Bulls to play in before it’s all said and done for the 2019-20 campaign. That depends on what happens with COVID-19 in the coming months and if there’s enough of a clear-up to play games again.

For more information on COVID-19, you can visit the CDC’s website.