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At Least Lauri Markkanen Was A Bright Spot in Ugly Opening Game Loss

The Markkanen era is off to a pretty good start

Chicago Bulls v Toronto Raptors Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images

The long-anticipated NBA regular season debut of the Finnish Freak came to fruition last night.

And the Bulls new seven-foot toy didn’t disappoint. Thrust into a starting role after his teammates tried to kill each other earlier this week in practice, Markkanen played 33 minutes in the Bulls opening night loss against Toronto yesterday, scoring 17 points on 5-for-12 from the field and shooting 2-for-6 from behind the 3-point line. He also pulled down eight rebounds.

Here’s some general observations from Markkanen’s debut:

First, drawing tough, lengthy Serge Ibaka as your opening night matchup isn’t easy. But Markkanen held his own defensively, limiting Ibaka to eight points on 3-for-8 from the field. When Markkanen was on offense, he made it tough on Ibaka with his constant movement and ability to stretch the floor all the way out to the 3-point line.

The highlight in the video (~35 second mark) where he sets a screen on Jerian Grant’s man and then rolls to the basket a step ahead of Ibaka and subsequently finishes over him after collecting his own offensive rebound was encouraging. He showed some toughness and rebounding instincts around the basket which were major question marks for him coming out of college.

The Bulls run Markkanen off a lot of screens, and it doesn’t take much for him to create shooting room for himself with his quick, high release and ability to fade-away slightly when he shoots without hurting his accuracy. At one point in the highlight package (~55 second mark), Markkanen gets fouled on a 3-point attempt when Ibaka has to rush on roller skates after Justin Holiday picked him.

Overall, Markkanen didn’t look particularly sharp shooting-wise last night. However, watching how he unabashedly looks for his shot is refreshing to see from a 20-year-old rookie.

"I thought Lauri was really good. He ran the floor well. He was OK (defensively). We want him hunting shots. What we like most about him is he has no fear out there. He can miss two or three in a row and if he has any daylight, he's going to shoot with confidence." -Fred Hoiberg on Markkanen per the Chicago Tribune

Markkanen also runs the floor extremely well for a big man. At about the 1:20 mark of the highlight video, he kind of lumbers along behind Kay Felder on a mini fast break before receiving a pass, hitting that second gear, and exploding for a finger roll layup. The fact that a 240-pound, seven footer “exploded” and has a second gear speaks to the novelty of his game. Here is his shot chart from last night.

Despite all the positives, it’s impossible to come to a conclusion about a player based on one game. But that it was a good ‘one game’ is a good sign.

“There’s a lot to improve, but if I had any nerves for the first game, those are behind now,” Markkanen said. “I let the game come to me. I’m not forcing anything, so my chances are there. That’s pretty much it.” -Chicago Sun-Times writer Joe Cowley

Is Markkanen’s future as an NBA player going to more closely resemble the guy who struggled mightily in the 2017 Summer League, or the guy that absolutely dominated the EuroBasket tournament in September? Or will his ceiling as a player be somewhere in between?