With the Chicago Bulls set to square off against the Utah Jazz tonight, it’s worth taking a look at a key Jazz player who should be familiar to Chicago Bulls fans — Lauri Markkanen. Highly rated coming out of Arizona, Markkanen was drafted by the Bulls with the 7th pick of the 2017 draft and was immediately plugged into the rotation, appearing in 68 games.
Markkanen has a great blend of size, athleticism, and shooting ability. He contributed solid shooting and rebounding capability to the Bulls, but when a new managerial regime came in during the 2020-21 season, it was clear he wasn’t in the plans. The Bulls ended up shipping him out in a multi-team trade in which Markkanen eventually landed in Cleveland and played his way to a nice payday and contract with the Utah Jazz.
As the drafted centerpiece of the Jimmy Butler trade to Minnesota in 2017, Markkanen was always going to have a ton of pressure on his shoulders to come in and make an impact. When he was confident in his shot, he made opposing bigs think twice before leaving him alone out on the perimeter. Although a sub-par defender, Markkanen could typically provide enough offense to counteract any defensive shortcomings.
It seemed as if Markkanen was continuously going through various crises of confidence during his Bulls tenure, whether from himself, the coaching staff, or the front office. Given the right environment, he had the potential to be a Chicago Bulls centerpiece. Now, it seems like he’s found his niche in Utah.
Lauri Markkanen was supposed to be the Chicago Bulls’ big-man 3-point threat. Will he come back to haunt the Bulls’ decision to trade him?
Markannen is having arguably his best season in the NBA this year. It’s still early, but he’s averaging a career-high in points and has the highest Player Efficiency Rating of his career so far. His usage rate is the second-highest it’s ever been and with that has come an uptick in his turnover percentage, but that means that Utah is using him as a distributor of the ball, as well. In fact, Markkanen’s assist rate this season is 10.5%, a career-high. When Markkanen is operating as a playmaker he is a devastating offensive force.
If he’s available to play tonight, the Bulls are going to have to find a way to disrupt his rhythm throughout this game.
This season, Markkanen has added some midrange elements to his game. He’s always been a very good 3-point shooter, but so far this season he’s taken the most 2-point attempts per game in his career while shooting a career-high 62% from inside the 3-point line. He’s spending more time in the paint, grabbing rebounds at a high rate — he only needs 8 more offensive boards to surpass his total from the 2021-22 season. With his improvement in the paint, he’s added another dangerous element to his game that will keep the Chicago Bulls occupied all game.
Markannen and the Jazz are going to pose a stiff test for the Chicago Bulls. The Bulls have performed well against strong opponents, beating both the Bucks and the Celtics recently, before falling back to Earth with an overtime loss to the Thunder. If the Bulls can contain Markkanen, prevent him from getting into a rhythm and disrupting the Jazz offense, they can come out with a win. If Markkanen has the freedom to shoot, pass and rebound at will, the Bulls may be left wondering what might have been had Markkanen stuck around.