Chicago Bulls: Lauri Markkanen’s importance coming to the forefront

How crucial fourth-year power forward Lauri Markkanen is to the Chicago Bulls frontcourt rotation really is showed up in the last few games.

On the night of Jan. 6, the Chicago Bulls and first-year head coach Billy Donovan had their two-game winning streak snapped at the hands of the underrated and improving Sacramento Kings on the road. A nice outing from second-year point guard Coby White went all for naught in a narrow loss to the Kings, by the final score of 128-124 at the Golden 1 Center in a late tip off on the west coast.

The Bulls also got a productive game out of shooting guard Zach LaVine in this loss to the Kings. White and LaVine combined for a whopping 78 points on the night. That included a career and game-high 36 points out of White individually, who was ultra efficient with no turnovers.

Moreover, the Bulls are showing of late, that even with really productive and efficient performances out of the likes of White and LaVine, the rest of the rotation is not picking up the pieces necessary to win a lot of the games they should be handily. When White and LaVine give the Bulls the type of offensive production that they did against a team like the Kings, that should at least be a 10-15 point victory.

Even the play of third-year center Wendell Carter Jr. inspired confidence in how he can lead this frontcourt for the rest of the season. Carter Jr. himself finished up with a season-high 17 rebounds and 11 points, while shooting around 50 percent from the field.

One player that the Bulls could really use back in the rotation is fourth-year seven-footer and 23-year-old power forward Lauri Markkanen. The “Finnisher” got off to a red hot start out of the gates this regular season, but had to slow down due to both injury issues and a violation of the NBA’s health and safety protocols.

As a team, the Bulls have played in nine games so far this season. But Markkanen himself has only played in four of them (and the first four at that). He even left the fourth game of the season early with a lower-body injury concern.

In those bits and pieces of four games played so far this season, Markkanen averaged 17.3 points per game, 6.8 rebounds, 1.3 assists, 0.8 steals, and 0.3 blocks. And he shot 50.0 percent from the field, 47.8 percent from beyond the arc, and 77.8 percent from the free-throw line.

With Markkanen still out of the lineup at the moment, the Bulls are left handing more minutes at the four out to the likes of rookie forward Patrick Williams, veteran small forward Otto Porter Jr., veteran forward Thaddeus Young, second-year center Daniel Gafford, etc. A lot of the frontcourt rotations that Donovan has to piece together in Markkanen’s absence are less than ideal.

According to a report from K.C. Johnson of NBC Sports Chicago on his Twitter timeline on Jan. 6, Markkanen and point guard Ryan Arcidiacono won’t join the Bulls during this west coast road trip in all likelihood. They violated the league’s health and safety protocols associated with COVID-19, and thus have to remain in quarantine through this process.

Combo guard Tomas Satoransky and small forward Chandler Hutchison have already tested positive for COVID-19 recently, which leaves this Bulls bench even more shorthanded.

Most importantly for Donovan and the Bulls in the near future (at least once they return home from this west coast road trip), is getting Markkanen back in the starting five. Hopefully his other injury concerns will be alleviated by that point too.

Next up for the Bulls, following the tough loss to the Kings on Jan. 6, is another step in this Western Conference road trip set for the night of Jan. 8. The Bulls tip off against the defending NBA Champion Los Angeles Lakers on the road on Jan. 8, at 9 p.m. CT.