When the 2017-18 NBA season begins for the Chicago Bulls, all eyes will be on 7-foot Finnish rookie Lauri Markkanen. Fans won’t have much else to watch during the season, since the team will likely be abysmal, sitting near the bottom of the Eastern Conference and looking to get one of the top prospects in the 2018 NBA Draft.
Markkanen has already given us a glimpse of how he will do against NBA talent during the NBA Summer League. However, his 14 points per game on 29.3% shooting—playing in only three of the Bulls five Summer League games due to injury—gave little reason for optimism. It was clear at times that Markkanen struggled with the bigger, stronger, NBA caliber players, and he hasn’t even faced the likes of Draymond Green, Blake Griffin or Zach Randolph.
Nevertheless, Markkanen’s recent showing in FIBA's Eurobasket 2017 for his home country Finland reminded some Bulls fans why he was taken 7th overall. It provided insight on how the Bulls can use him this upcoming season.
The first highlight shows Finnish shooting guard Sasu Salin drive right, draw Markkanen’s defender to help and kick the ball out to Markkanen for an open three—a lethal pick-and-pop. The second highlight, at the 0:11 mark, Salin drives left and dumps the ball off to Markkanen on the baseline as his defender sags off. The former Arizona Razorback rises up immediately and hits the jumper over Poland guard Mateusz Ponitka.
These two plays will likely be the easiest way for the Bulls to use Markkanen in his first year. While at Arizona, Markkanen was well-known for his ability to stretch the floor and shoot from almost anywhere. He shot 42 percent from the three point line during his one year in college.
If any Bulls guard is able to get into the lane and draw help, finding a wide open Markkanen could mean an easy source of three points. Even if a smaller guard is forced to close out on Markkanen after a big man slides over to help, there are very few guards in the NBA who will be able to affect Markkanen’s quick release.
At the 1:20 mark, Markkanen shows as if he's setting a screen on Poland point guard A.J. Slaughter, before relocating to the wing. It should be noted that this was atrocious defense by Poland, as the two defenders switched way too easily—something better defensive-minded NBA teams will not do. However, if Markkanen is able to set good screens in the NBA he should get the same result: a mismatch on a smaller defender. He is able to back the smaller defender into the mid-post, shoot a turn-around jumper and nail it. With Markkanen’s height, wingspan, athleticism and shooting ability, this is a nearly-unguardable shot.
Many NBA teams find success when they have their big man sit near the right-side of the basket on the baseline and have their point guard drive into the lane to force help. The result is a quick alley-oop pass, over the big man who was forced to help, for an easy two-points. Markkanen completes this exact play against France in the beginning of the video below.
There were instances throughout FIBA Eurobasket 2017 in which he was able to put the ball on the floor and post up. However, the Bulls will not commonly use him to score or make plays in either fashion. Once again, Markkanen will have to get stronger before taking on good post defenders on a regular basis. Additionally, being able to simply drive by defenders won’t come as easily in the NBA. Hopefully for Bulls fans, head coach Fred Hoiberg and his staff will focus a majority of their time on his shooting and size, not putting him in situations where he’s not yet ready to excel.