Long back when Fred Hoiberg was head coach, in a season where Chicago has been short handed due to injuries, Saturday was a bit of relief. Despite the 121-105 loss to the Houston Rockets, there was one big silver lining in the return of Lauri Markkanen.
After missing more than 20 games with a right elbow injury, Markkanen didn’t have the best stat line, scoring 10 points on 4 of 14 shooting from the field with 4 rebounds. As expected, he looked a bit rusty.
But there were still flashes of the player we saw last year.
(0:47 - 0:53)
We all know Markkanen for his shooting but last year he also displayed the ability to put the ball on the floor and make plays that way too. Markkanen isn’t involved in the big man involved main action of this sequence. It’s Jabari Parker who runs runs up to set a screen on Zach LaVine’s man on the other side of the court. But at the last second Parker stops right in Eric Gordon and runs back. While he didn’t even make an attempt at a screen, Parker was useful as a diversion and got the Houston defense to bite. Both Gordon and PJ Tucker, who was guarding Markkanen, dove down on Parker. This gave LaVine enough space to fire a pass across to Markkanen. Tucker was caught out of position when the pass was made and had to scramble back to Lauri quickly. As soon as the ball arrived, Markkanen was on the move. He hesitated for a bit to look like he was driving left before quickly switching over to his right. With Tucker flat-footed Markkanen was easily able to drive past him towards the rim. James Harden made swipe at the ball but that was all the resistance Markkanen had to deal with on his way to an easy right handed layup.
(1:08 - 1:19)
Again the Bulls use a fake screen action and this time it gets Markkanen an open three-point shot. This time instead of Parker being the “screen” man, it was Wendell Carter Jr. who had the honors. It starts off with LaVine dribbling past half court as the Bulls begin their offensive possession. As soon as he goes just past the Rockets logo, he moves to his left towards the Bulls bench. Carter Jr. is already there when LaVine begins to move and looks like he’s going to set a screen on Eric Gordon. But right before he makes contact with Gordon, Carter Jr. slips back towards the paint. Houston switches as Clint Capela steps up to guard LaVine. Meanwhile, Markkanen is wide open at the top of the three-point line. As WCJ was stepping up, Markkanen was on the move too. He stops right inside the three-point line and pivots like he’s going to be the screener for LaVine. Harden doesn’t fall for the fake, keeping his eyes on the movement happening on the other side. When Carter Jr. dashes towards the paint Harden drops back, pointing to Gordon to switch onto Markkanen. Gordon doesn’t hear him quick enough and is a step slow getting over. By that time LaVine had already passed it to Markkanen, resulting in an easy catch and shoot three.
It was an ok debut for Markkanen. He wasn’t spectacular and certainly looked like a guy who is going to need a couple of games to ease into the flow of things. However, all things considered , this was a positive for the Bulls. Another piece of their young core is back, and more importantly can now try and develop some chemistry with WCJ and LaVine.