Chicago Bulls: What’s next for forward Lauri Markkanen?

Lauri Markkanen, Chicago Bulls Mandatory Credit: Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports
Lauri Markkanen, Chicago Bulls Mandatory Credit: Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports /

The Chicago Bulls shocked fans Thursday morning by acquiring All-Star big man Nikola Vucevic from the Orlando Magic. Arguably more shocking though, is that Lauri Markkanen is still in Chicago.

After the Finnish forward failed to reach an agreement on a contract extension with the Bulls this offseason, rumors began to swirl about what was next for Markkanen. His mediocre play this season only added fuel to the trade rumors. Markkanen has been shooting as well as ever (17.7 PPG, 39.0 3P%), but fans have become increasingly frustrated with his play elsewhere on the court.

Markkanen struggles mightily on the defensive end, with his -1.4 Defensive Box Plus/Minus ranking second lowest on the Bulls, only ahead of sophomore guard Coby White (-1.9 DBPM). Additionally, despite his 7’0″ frame, Markkanen struggles to crash the boards, totaling just 5.9 RPG this season.

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Mix in seemingly constant injuries and you have a player who is falling short of living up to the unicorn-level expectations set when the Bulls took him seventh overall in the 2017 NBA Draft.

With Nikola Vucevic on his way to the Windy City, what does Lauri’s role look like on the Bulls going forward?

Chicago Bulls addition Nikola Vucevic: Everything Markkanen could be

The Chicago Bulls have seemingly moved on from one European big man to another this deadline, adding Swiss 2x All-Star Nikola Vucevic. Sadly for Markkanen, Vucevic does everything he does, but better.

Vuc is a lights-out shooter from deep (40.6 3P% on 6.5 3PA), but his scoring options aren’t limited to staying behind the arc. He is also a post-scoring machine. Vucevic’s 5.0 post points per game are third in the NBA, behind only Joel Embiid and Nikola Jokic.

Additionally, Vucevic is a dual-threat after a set screen. He shoots lights out on the spot up (51.0 eFG%) and is the league’s leading pick and roll scorer at 5.4 points per game on that type of play.

He does everything Markkanen does and more, filling his offensive role completely in the starting lineup. The same goes for almost every other aspect of their play.

Vucevic is also a far better rebounder than Markkanen (11.8 RPG, 5th in NBA), and a more respectable defender (0.1 DBPM). There’s little reason to start Markkanen next to Vucevic when the Bulls have a lockdown defender and veteran playmaker in Thaddeus Young who fits perfectly at the four and could cover for Vucevic’s mediocre defense.

Young is already in the starting lineup at center, and with his natural position being power forward, it would make sense to move Markkanen to the bench and slide Young over next to Vucevic.

Off the bench, though, Markkanen could thrive. Even with his shortcomings, Markkanen is a great shooter with plenty of offensive potential. The Coby White-Markkanen pick and roll has shown flashes in the past, and the two could dominate second units for the Bulls.

With less intense defensive assignments in the second unit, Markkanen could focus more on scoring and worry less about the other end. It’s a win-win.

No matter how you slice it, Markkanen just doesn’t feel like a good fit next to Vucevic. He’s an outstanding offensive talent but is completely outclassed by his new teammate. Lauri simply doesn’t make as much sense as Young does in the starting lineup, but off the bench, Markkanen could be a scoring dynamo if given the chance.

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