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Have the Bulls already made a rebuilding mistake in taking Lauri Markkanen?

hmm, let’s just assume they’re ALL mistakes first

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2017 Las Vegas Summer League - Dallas Mavericks v Chicago Bulls Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Lauri Markkanen, who as part of the Jimmy Butler trade the Bulls were able to move up 9 spots in the 2017 draft to take (one of the ‘lottery pick’ assets the Org. will claim they acquired), had an OK summer league. Not especially good, but not horrible to the level of, well, the rest of their ‘guys they really like in our building’.

I listened to the latest Ringer NBA podcast where they talked summer league, going through the top picks’ performances and they totally skipped over Markkanen. The Bulls weren’t mentioned at all until the very end, when it was lament over them selling the 38th pick because they had nobody in mind to take.

Lament turned to outright derision when circling back to the first round: (my paraphrasing)

Chris Vernon: I was skeptical when they picked Markkanen, and admittedly that was compounded by the Jimmy Butler deal. You have to take someone at #7 who you foresee being a possible star. It’s possible Malik Monk, Donovan Mitchell, Dennis Smith can be a big star. It’s impossible to me where Markkanen will be a big star. Nothing at summer league changed my mind, in fact it only strengthened it. There is no chance Markkanen will be an NBA All-Star.

Kevin O’Connor: I’d like to say that’s a bold statement but it’s really not. Markkanen could be a Ryan Anderson, Channing Frye, type of quality player. An NBA executive told me back in February, when I was really liking Markkanen, and even before going into context of how he rebounds like a guard, not defending very well at all...the executive doesn’t think Markkanen will even be that good of a shooter. Markkanen had great shooting numbers in college, but the exec’s point was that Markkanen’s release is a little bit too low. He’ll be the type who hits when open but will struggle on contested looks. I personally think Markkanen’s shot is fine, but this guy I was talking to is a lot smarter than me.

Then to further pile-on, Henry Bushnell of Yahoo’s Ball Don’t Lie called Markkanen one of his ‘losers’ of Summer League, and then mentioned the Bulls as a further loser for not taking Dennis Smith Jr.:

This is going to shock you, but a player whom most draft experts thought wasn’t one of the seven best players in the draft class … didn’t look like one of the seven best players in the draft class. Markkanen converted less than 30 percent of his shots, was a minus offensively, and generally didn’t look comfortable on either end. That’s to be expected, to some extent, but it shouldn’t make Bulls fans feel much better about what was already a questionable pick.

It’s possible we’re falling victim to confirmation bias here, and judging Markkanen’s performance harshly simply because we’re looking for evidence that the pick was a mistake. On the plus side, Markkanen did pull down nine rebounds per game. And the poor shooting is as much a product of the small sample size as anything. But the Finnish big man didn’t stand out like other top-10 picks did.

(Yeah, possible! I have the same biases, man.)

At least Markkanen has merely turned 20 years old. So that’s reassuring in that he’s still very much a prospect.

But while summer league performance means little (It should surprise nobody that Gar Forman had particularly goofy anecdotal evidence of this, and further not-surprise you that I’m not bothering to look it up at the moment), the question will remain whether the Bulls played it too safe in their ‘first’ ‘real’ ‘rebuild’ ‘path’ ‘pick’.

The front office themselves didn’t really speak to this, instead self-owning by admitting they didn’t interview Markkanen nor did their coach know much about him. But in hearing KC Johnson tell it (and he gets it from the team, more or less) in radio appearances since draft night, the Bulls value Markkanen fit as not only a floor-spacer, but as a frontcourt player. That they weren’t inclined to pick another guard because they just acquired two in the Butler trade.

(and then hilariously tried to pass along a Bulls defense of not taking Jordan Bell - to which, whatever, they should pick somebody is more of the point - as the Bulls being set with 5 bigs already)

I think we can all agree, if true, this is bad process. The Bulls are in their vaunted PATH down the toilet, and the only way out is through stars. They managed, deal-makers they are, to acquire no potential stars or future lottery chances in a trade of a top-15 player in his prime with 2 seasons of affordable contract remaining. So with the moving up of 9 picks of the speculatively-loaded 2017 draft you shouldn’t worry about position or fit. Granted this is mostly conjecture from myself and the beat writers (and Ricky, an actual draft expert, touched on this a couple times), but it looks like the Bulls may have played it too safe with Markkanen.

But again, he’s 20. I won’t write off the star potential yet, but we can form opinions that don’t project well. The other big bet for GarPax is that it’s indeed Kris Dunn who’s the star, to where you indeed don’t ‘need’ to take another swing at a lead guard of the future. They’re very likely wrong on that too, and that’s a big deal. Unless you are of the belief that there are no stakes in anything GarPax does and they’ll keep giving themselves more chances, but in a real functional organization that’s a risky play.