Over the next month leading up to #OpeningNight, we’ll be previewing some of the key players on the Bulls for the 2017-2018 NBA Season. We’ll give you our thoughts on what you can expect, as well as a best-case scenario for each player we highlight. Kicking off this series: Lauri Markkanen.
The 7th overall pick in the 2017 NBA Draft. The 7-foot tall Finnish sharpshooter. We’ve all heard the comparisons. Dirk Nowitzki 2.0? That’s certainly what Bulls fans will be hoping for.
But let’s pump the brakes juuuust a bit. Don’t get me wrong, if Lauri develops into even 75% of the player Dirk is, then I’d be happy. I just think we should temper expectations for a one-dimensional player who needs to bulk up a bit if he wants to have a long and productive NBA career.
Lauri has serious shooting ability, make no doubt about it. He is a big man with range, which in this era of the NBA, is a must in order to make room for the explosive guards and wings. I’m certain he can excel as a pick-n-pop option, ala Ryan Anderson. I’m more interested in seeing if he can develop into a decent defender and someone who won’t be a liability while on the floor. If he can improve on his off-ball defense, and rim protection, he’ll become a respectable NBA defender. He also needs to get stronger and improve on his rebounding to compete with the athletic big men that are abundant in the NBA. This clip shows Lauri out of position and had that shot not gone in, there would have almost surely been an offensive putback.
Still, this is a young player who has talent and the Bulls think he can be a key part of the franchise moving forward. How and when Lauri develops, will go a long way to turning the Bulls from the projected worst team in the NBA (according to ESPN’s Basketball Power Index) into a potential playoff contender in a couple of seasons.
Best Case Scenario
With the Bulls currently having Lauri, Nikola Mirotic (just re-upped on a two-year deal…..), and Bobby Portis at Power Forward, there will be plenty of minutes available for Markannen to highlight his offensive game. The big man from Arizona averaged nearly 16 points and 7 rebounds per game in his only year on campus and is coming off an impressive performance with the Finnish National Team at EuroBasket. He could average anywhere between 25-28 minutes a game and get some valuable experience in his first year as a pro. A stat-line of 8-12 points per game accompanied by 4-6 rebounds per game is definitely not out of the question. As we saw in Eurobasket, Lauri is not afraid of the pressure and shows both the ability and willingness to be the guy at the end of games. His back to the basket game shows promise, while his already smooth face-up game continues to improve. Lauri also adds some build to his frame, and while still not an elite defender or rebounder, he shows flashes in both areas and starts to look like a bargain as the #7 overall pick. Lauri finishes in the top 3 in Rookie of the Year voting and the Bulls have a legitimate stretch four that they can build their team around.
“We’ve all heard the comparisons. Dirk Nowitzki 2.0?”
While beating out the likes of Jayson Tatum, Markelle Fultz, and Ben Simmons may seem like a lofty goal, Markkanen will have every opportunity to prove his worth as the Bulls are committed to a rebuild and should use this year to develop their young players.
It’s almost impossible to think that Lauri will ever reach the level of greatness that Dirk has. (I mean seriously, Dirk is currently 6th in NBA career points. SIXTH!!) But in order to give Bulls fans some sort of hope for the future, Lauri needs to have a strong rookie campaign. I look forward to watching him develop this year and I hope to give him two thumbs up at the end of the season.