Chicago Bulls: Lauri Markkanen working his way back into the lineup

Fourth-year Chicago Bulls power forward Lauri Markkanen could be back in the rotation reportedly as soon as Jan. 15 against the Thunder.

Chances are at this point that the Chicago Bulls do get the 23-year-old seven-footer and fourth-year power forward Lauri Markkanen back in the mix at least before the end of the weekend for game action. Most indications are that he could be back in the starting five for the Bulls at least within the next five days, since he’s back at practice this week.

A report from Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times on the afternoon of Jan. 13 brought about the possibility of Markkanen returning to the rotation as soon as the Bulls Jan. 15 road showdown against the Oklahoma City Thunder. In what will be the third game for the Bulls (including the preseason slate) in the last five weeks against the Thunder in OKC, Markkanen could be ready to go.

It is worth noting that the Bulls will have a lengthy rest between their last game and their next. First-year head coach Billy Donovan and the Bulls were supposed to face the Boston Celtics at home at the United Center on the night of Jan. 12. But that game was pushed back due to novel coronavirus related issues on the Celtics side. They did not have the NBA’s required minimum number of players to take the floor for that game.

Moreover, getting Markkanen back in the rotation (or even the starting five) would be huge for Donovan and the Bulls. They’ve had to tool around with a frontcourt rotation that includes a mix of rookie forward Patrick Williams, veteran small forward Otto Porter Jr., and/or veteran forward Thaddeus Young getting a lot of minutes at the four in Markkanen’s absence.

At this point of the regular season, Markkanen has only played in four games. In fact, he hasn’t played in a single full game since the turn of the calendar year. He originally missed time due to a lower-body injury. And then he had to face the mandatory quarantine the wake of a breach of the league’s health and safety protocols.

In four games played so far this season (all of which he started in), Markkanen averaged 17.3 points per game, 6.8 rebounds, 1.3 assists, 0.8 steals, and 0.3 blocks. And he shot an efficient 50.0 percent from the field, 47.8 percent from beyond the arc, and 77.8 percent from the free-throw line.

Markkanen could add a steady hand to a Bulls team that is currently sitting on a three-game losing streak. Granted some other key pieces of this core, including shooting guard Zach LaVine and point guard Coby White, caught fire in his absence. It will be interesting to see how those two events correlate once Markkanen does return to the rotation.

The last game that the Bulls did play in resulted in a tough three-point loss at the hands of the Los Angeles Clippers back on Jan. 10. That rounded out a four game west coast road trip. The team will now face another road trip against the Western Conference starting with the Thunder on the night of Jan. 15.