The rebuild is upon us. With Butler gone, the Bulls are going to have to find offense from somewhere else. The problem is there aren’t many options at the moment right now, both of guys who can create their own shot and 3-point shooting. Zach LaVine, who was also acquired in the trade, is a decent three-point shooter at 38.7% and is efficient with a eFG percentage of 54.4. But he likely won’t be ready to begin the season while recovering from a torn ACL.
With that in mind, the Bulls decided to go offense with the 7th pick in the NBA Draft, trading up from number 16 in the Butler deal with the Minnesota Timberwolves. Chicago took Lauri Markkanen from the University of Arizona. The power forward was the best shooting big man in the country last year and was on the All Pac-12 First Team. Markkanen has all the tools to be a stretch four in the NBA and can be someone who can provide Chicago with some much needed outside shooting. Let’s take a look at his strength and weaknesses along with his fit in Chicago.
The main reason why Markkanen was such a highly rated prospect was because of his offensive potential due to his shooting. Markkanen was a three-point sniper in his one year at Arizona, shooting 42.4% from deep and took a decent amount of them per game (4.4). He can do it all when it comes to shooting. Doesn’t matter when it comes to coming off screens or off the dribble, Markkanen has great range with his shot and is a threat anytime he catches the ball beyond the three-point line. Fred Hoiberg’s offensive system, in theory, is pace and space, and Markkanen surely provides the “spacing” part of the equation. Expect Chicago to try and run some plays for him where he is coming off a pin-down screen or in out of bounds plays where he pops out for a three-pointer. He’s also a great option for the pick and pop game and given his height, he is tall enough to rise over shorter defenders and shoot the ball with ease. When someone is able to switch on Markkanen right away off the PNR, if they are shorter than him he can shoot it right over them. With his range and shooting, Markkanen can serve as a solid kick-out option in the corner at the very least.
For a 7 footer, Markkanen can do a lot with the ball in his hands. He can put it on the floor and since many expect him to shoot, it gives him time to catch the defense off guard and drive straight to the hoop. Markkanen can also shoot the pull-up jumper and with his length and shooting touch, it’s easy for him to rise over defenders and knock down the jumper. With his versatility when it comes to shot making, Markkanen can hopefully develop into a better isolation player given his ability to shoot over smaller defenders with efficiency. Usually stretch fours don’t control the ball the whole time so it will likely be off pick and roll or screens but Chicago needs to make sure Markkanen gets as many offensive touches as possible. Especially with the absence of LaVine, who is Chicago’s best player at the moment.
Although Markkanen is a liability defensively, there is a positive in his ability to recover from switches off the PNR with his agility. His ability to switch on picks is ok at best and needs a lot of work but the initial signs are there. He also can closeout very well, preventing easy looks for opponents on the three-point line. Chicago is going to be very bad defensively and Markkanen will likely add to it but he has shown some positives. Defense is going to be the thing Markkanen has to work on the most when he gets to the NBA.
Although Markkanen is great and agile at his size, his wingspan and arm length are relatively lacking. It really limits him in what he can do, especially defensively. It also doesn’t help that Markkanen doesn’t really have any strength, and that combined with a lack of length really makes him a sitting duck when it comes to post defense. Teams are going to take Markkanen into the post and straight up play bully ball against him if he doesn’t put on some muscle. Length will also be an issue when it comes to defending in the post or at the rim. Markkanen only averaged 0.5 blocks in college and likely won’t be a good rim protector in the pro game. Larger players are going to find it very easy to score over him given the lack of getting their shot blocked. Without Jimmy Butler, the backcourt defense just got massively worse and this will mean opposition guards will easily get into the paint. Other than Robin Lopez and maybe Cristiano Felico, no other big is good at protecting the rim. Markkanen won’t add to that at all.
Rebounding will be an issue as well, given the problems described above.
The strength and length issues also creep into parts of his offensive game. Markkanen isn’t able to finish in a crowded paint area if there are larger players in front of him, which limits his ability to drive and makes him one-dimensional. He also will struggle finding good post position and his post-up game will be tough to watch. At the power forward position, Markkanen will face a lot of athletic guys and will have to hold his own and who knows if he can do that given his lack of length. He will really have to work on his game to not become a liability on this end. The best case scenario is Markkanen becomes a player who can hold his own off a switch on the PNR and stay in front of his man.
Markkanen is only 20 years old and has a lot to grow as a player and he is a guy who fits in Fred Hoiberg’s system. It is a system that requires guys who can shoot the ball and that is something Markkanen does exceptionally. Stephen Noh of the Athletic provided a similar rhetoric in his breakdown of Markkanen.
It's easy to nitpick Markkanen's flaws, but the reality is that his shooting and size are incredibly rare. He may face hostility from fans who are upset with the trade, but he deserves some patience to show what he can develop into. It's tough to envision a scenario where he becomes better than Butler, but he could end up as a special player.
With Markkanen, coach Fred Hoiberg will probably finally be able to execute his dream (nightmare?) offense for the Bulls. The Bulls have needed more shooting on the court, and Markkanen certainly provides that. The loss of Butler, who often took his time bringing the ball up the court, should help speed the pace up as well.
No matter what, Markkanen’s career path will always be part of the judgement of this Butler trade. It’s hard seeing that justification come to fruition but only time can tell. At least Markkanen will be an interesting prospect to watch on Chicago next year.