How do the Chicago Bulls get Lauri Markkanen back on track?

Lauri Markkanen’s 2nd season showed signs of a future star, but Markkanen took a step back in year three. How do the Chicago Bulls get Lauri back on track?

Chicago Bulls big man Lauri Markkanen averaged 18.7 points and 9 rebounds a game during a sophomore campaign that left Bulls fans intoxicated to watch just how he would build and evolve his game for the 2019-20 season. However, after coming out swinging against the Charlotte Hornets on opening night, Lauri struggled to find consistency in Jim Boylen’s struggling offense.

This past year we watched Markkanen go from a dynamic seven foot offensive threat who could score from all three levels to a spot shooter just waiting for the ball to hopefully kick out to him. His usage dropped from 25.1 percent to 21.1 percent. Not ideal for making the third year leap.

During Markkanen’s appearance on Finnish podcast Urheilucast in May, he discussed how his touches went from around 80 a game in his first two seasons down to just 40 in year three, an inexplicable strategy by the coaching staff. But hey when you have the opportunity to give Thad Young an equal share of the offense you have to do it right?

We don’t yet know the future of Boylen, but signs point to his time leading the team soon coming to an end. New management is said to still have high hopes for Lauri. So how does Markkanen get back on track to be the player we envisioned him to be just one short year ago?

Well to start…I’ve always thought that the Bulls could use Lauri as a seven foot Klay Thompson. Klay is the ultimate floor spacer, but unlike Lauri this past season being firmly planted on the wing, Klay is used in constant motion. Klay may not be handling the ball a ton, but he always feels like he’s involved in the offense as he’s running his defender around a million screens every game.

Why couldn’t the Bulls use Lauri in a similar way? Running players off of pin downs, flares, or elevator screens is a burden to the defense. Does it look fun guarding Klay? The defense has to shift and switch in unconventional ways, defenders don’t get to rest, and Lauri wouldn’t have to just wait for the ball to hopefully swing in his direction.

Running Lauri off screens will create a more diverse shot profile. As defenders overplay the three Lauri can curl the screen and attack with momentum going downhill.  Once downhill Lauri can either get to the rim or stop and get to his little drag step fall-away.  You can get creative and run some really fun stuff with Wendell Carter in dribble hand off situations, a la Draymond Green. You can get Markkanen flaring or find back door opportunities when the defense cheats.  Lauri may not be the shooter that Klay has been but he’s a better shooter than he showed last year and whatever offense the Bulls run next year needs to be more creative in how Lauri gets his looks.

Another guy I want Lauri to study is Chris Bosh. Raptors Bosh had a lethal face up game. Bosh would get the ball in the high post and just rise up and shoot that shit right in your grill.

I know the midrange shot isn’t very en vogue at the moment but this shot has always been a part of Lauri’s game and this past season the Bulls basically eliminated it. Yet another move that didn’t make much sense and made Markkanen a much less dynamic player.

Markkanen, like Bosh, can easily just catch, turn, and shoot. The only two instances this season where Lauri got this look when the shot clock wasn’t winding down, was on opening night when he buried the fifteen footer over Cody Zeller and against Minnesota when Jarrett Culver got switched onto him. Instead of forcing a post up when he gets smaller guys like Culver switched onto him, he can just use his height to rise and shoot an uncontested jumper.

Going back to Bosh for a minute, this shot was important not only because he could get it off over anyone cleanly, but also because it opened up his attacking game.

Lauri needs to watch how Bosh used a variety of pump fakes and jab steps to beat his man to the hoop.  It’ll lead to more shots at the rim and  more free throw attempts.  The midrange shot may look inefficient from a distance, but when you account for how that shot opens up drives to the rim, you can actually start to see how it would boost your efficiency if utilized properly.

We know Lauri is capable of attacking because we’ve seen multiple situations where he’s thrived putting the ball on the floor. Markkanen looks super fluid attacking close outs when the defense closes out too hard, we’ve even seen him initiate a high screen with Wendell, and Lauri has always looked good starting the break off a rebound.  Next, I want to see Lauri attack from that high post area.

If you go to NBA’s stats page and look at Markkanen’s shot chart you’ll notice how ridiculous his shot profile was. Why was it that Lauri had so few corner three attempts when it was an area of the floor that he was an absolute killer?

Lauri shot so many more wing shots than corner shots this year and if you watched the misses they would mostly clank off the front rim. Redistribute some of those looks to the shorter distanced corner three and shots that would normally be just short would be money.

The other hot spot was dead center. Let’s move some of those wing shots to dead on threes from the top of the key. Lauri shot about four percent higher than league average from this spot. The Bulls can run pick and pops with our guards attacking to the left so when Lauri doesn’t get a clean look and puts the ball on the floor attacking closeouts, he can get going with his momentum going to his strong side.

Finally, the Bulls need to push the pace more. They have two super speedy guards in the back-court and yet the Bulls played at a middle of the road pace. Transition early offense buckets will bump up Lauri’s efficiency.

When Lauri is the five he can run the pipe and get more rim opportunities. When Lauri is the four he can fill the wing and flare to the corner or trail to the top of the key.

Next: 2020 NBA Mock Draft with lottery simulator

Look, Markkanen had a down year and I totally understand why you as a fan may have lost faith in him. However with new management (and hopefully soon a new coach) there’s reason to be optimistic that getting Lauri back on track is a priority. The Finnisher has shown too many flashes in his first two years to not believe that he still has room to grow into the player we all know he’s capable of becoming.

 

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