Anytime a star player isn’t getting up as many shots as they should, it’s a problem. Such was the case after the Bulls 96-93 loss to Brooklyn Nets, when Lauri Markkanen had only had 6 attempts in the entire game with 1 of them coming after the first quarter. That changed for the better in the Bulls 90-80 win against the Orlando Magic.
After starting 1 of 7 from the field, Markkanen caught fire and tore it up for the rest of the game, hitting the next 11 of his 13 shots to finish with 32 points, including this vicious dunk on Nikola Vucevic which got the United Center crowd on its feet.
Orlando didn’t have an answer for him all night and it helped that the Bulls were running plays for him. Once again, Markkanen displayed his deadly shooting ability and used it to carve up the Magic defense.
Dribble hand-offs were a patented staple in Fred Hoiberg’s offense and it’s good to see Chicago still use some variation of it. This was a play the Bulls used in both the 2nd and 4th quarter to get Markkanen open with space to shoot. It starts with Kris Dunn passing it off to Robin Lopez at the three-point line. Lopez gets it, turns, and begins to move towards the other side of the court. Meanwhile, Markkanen is already there and is setting a screen for Antonio Blakeney, who is curling from the corner. Blakeney goes around the screen and towards Lopez. It looks as it will be a hand-off between the two of them but Lopez ends up throwing it to Markkanen, who popped out to the three-point line after setting the screen. Johnathan Isaac, who is guarding Markkanen, is situated way too deep when the first screen occurs and is too far away to close out when Lauri gets the ball. To make matters worse for him, Lopez sets a “screen” and steps right in front of the place where he wants to go as he tries to get back. Since Mo Bamba didn’t follow Lopez and is sitting back in the paint, there is no Magic defender to even contest the Markkanen jumper. It’s an easy step back and splash three.
One of the more effective plays Chicago’s used this season has been the Dunn and Markkanen PNR combo. It worked to perfection on this sequence. Markkanen starts off at the top of the three-point line with the ball in his hands and he’s moving towards Dunn, who is running off a Justin Holiday screen. Evan Fournier, who is guarding Holiday, doesn’t switch with Aaron Gordon and continues to chase Dunn around the three-point line. As soon as Dunn gets around the screen, Markkanen fires a pass towards him. Dunn catches the ball and continues to run towards the top of the three-point line. Markkanen does a really good job of making sure Fournier has to deal with the pick, even moving a bit up away from the three-point line to get in his way. The other key defender in this is Isaac. He’s way too high up to guard the switch and as soon as Dunn goes around the screen, Isaac is out of position. The lane is completely open and Dunn takes full advantage, barreling down towards the basket in full force. The Orlando defense is now in scramble mode with both Isaac and Vucevic crashing down to help on the drive. This leaves Markkanen wide open at the top of the three-point line. Dunn sees him and fires a kick out pass. Lauri catches it, rises up, and knocks down an easy three-pointer.
With his shooting range, Markkanen can stretch the defenses, making life easier for other players such as Dunn (and Zach LaVine when he returns) to drive. He also possesses a super ability to stop on a dime and hit a pull-up jumper when run off the three-point line. Especially with LaVine injured, Markkanen is now logically first on the Bulls pecking order in terms of shots. The Bulls need to keep feeding him.