1. Lauri Markkanen
As the saying goes, when there’s smoke, there’s fire. That’s why everyone should have taken notice when former Bulls prospect Lauri Markkanen posted averages of 27.9 points, 8.1 rebounds, and 2.4 assists per game while powering his home country Finland through the EuroBasket tournament this summer.
After the Utah Jazz dealt away star duo Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert, they were likely expecting to be on the losing end of things far more often than not. Markkanen, however, had other plans. Joining his new team in Utah, Lauri has finally shown what he can do when allowed to be the first option on offense, averaging 21.8 points and 8.6 rebounds through 15 games.
Against all odds, this wild turn of events has the Jazz standing at 10-5 and jostling for supremacy in the Western Conference. Without Markkanen, none of this would have ever been possible.
The Chicago Bulls failed by never giving Lauri Markkanen the chance to be a true first option on offense.
As unbelievable as it sounds, Lauri’s early-season dominance has to have put him in the driver’s seat for the Most Improved Player award and it’s looking increasingly likely that he may earn All-Star consideration for the first time in his career if he keeps this up. With the Jazz being the unexpected feel-good story of the year, Lauri will surely be a fan-favorite pick and should garner plenty of fan votes.
Markkanen finally looks like the aggressive player Bulls fans always wanted him to be, as he’s shooting his highest percentage on two-point attempts of his career at 64.1%. Lauri’s not even shooting particularly well from deep yet, only making 34.4% of his three-point shots, but has more than doubled his career-best offensive box/plus minus at 3.6 (previous best was 1.4).
This all goes to show how mistaken the Bulls were to force Lauri to strictly be a perimeter-oriented player during his time in Chicago. Markkanen was instead slotted into a complementary role alongside LaVine by disgraced former head coach Jim Boylen, instead of being encouraged to become the best version of himself.