Lauri Markkanen’s play has been one of the few bright spots in this Chicago Bulls season. There have been a lot of horrible team performances, lots of blowouts and bad basketball, but Markkanen’s play has been a light in the darkness. Averaging 15.3 points per game on an eFG percentage of 51.6 and shooting around 35.4% from three, he’s had a very solid start to his NBA career.
In the first half of his rookie season, Markkanen had some fantastic individual performances to where it made you wonder just how high his ceiling as a basketball player can be. Games against the Pacers (32 points), and the Suns (26 points, 13 rebounds) come to mind. But the one which many will remember is the game in Madison Square Garden against the New York Knicks. In one of the worlds most famous arenas in the world, Markkanen had himself the performance of his career so far. He dropped 33 points, hitting 8 3-pointers in the process, while also grabbing 10 rebounds. His effort helped Chicago in an double OT and it came against another unicorn-type player in Kristaps Porzingis.
He had a great all-around performance. Raining 3’s on the opposition and he had a nasty dunk over Enes Kanter which got everyone up on their feet.
Knicks feed of the Lauri Markkanen dunk pic.twitter.com/yHAOcbzGs8— ⓂarcusD (@_MarcusD2_) January 11, 2018
This play was amazing. Markkanen starts off this sequence near his own paint area and begins to dribble up court in semi-transition. By the time he reaches the halfway line, it’s clear the Bulls aren’t ready to initiate any offense as it’s only Markkanen and Robin Lopez in the Knicks half. Kris Dunn is about to cross over but isn’t ready to make any impact offensively in this play. The problem for New York is that even though Chicago isn’t ready offensively, the Knicks aren’t exactly ready to defend either. Despite having all of their guys back in their own half, there is nobody guarding the paint. Kanter, who was the only big on the floor for the Knicks at the time, He wasn't back guarding the paint when Markkanen was at the top of the three-point line and left an opening near the hoop.
Sensing that he can get an easy basket if he gets to the hoop quickly, Markkanen gets to work. Former Bull Doug McDermott sees Markkanen in front of him and steps up to check him. However, McDermott stepping up actually turned out to be a horrible move. He didn’t exactly position himself the right way and let a gap to go right by him on the baseline, which is exactly what Markkanen did. McDermott’s lack of foot speed didn’t help him as he wasn’t able to recover from his mistake and was soundly beaten. Seeing Markkanen driving baseline and towards the hoop, Kanter decides to step up to challenge him. With Markkanen running with a full head of steam towards the basket and Kanter ready to go up and meet him at the pinnacle, there are only two ways this can end. Either Kanter stonewalls Markkanen’s shot or Lauri completely jams on him. You know what happened next. Markkanen went up and slammed it with some ferocity. You could see how much that meant to Markkanen by the way he screamed as he dunked it. He knew it was a monster dunk.
Markkanen was also on fire from deep, shooting 53% from downtown. He displayed the keen ability to have a quick release coming off screens and showed he can burn you if you give him any space to shoot.
Lauri Markkanen Over Kristaps Porzingis pic.twitter.com/qViyynli0z— Gustavo Vega (@iamvega1982) January 11, 2018
Here the Bulls give Markkanen a screen to open up space for a three-point attempt. Originally the play begins with Markkanen coming down to the left hand side to give Justin Holiday a pick as it looks it will be the forward catching the ball off the screen for a quick catch and shoot. Markkanen gives a half hearted screen and Courtney Lee, who is guarding Holiday, easily gets by it. But the point of the play wasn’t for Holiday and he stops in his tracks after going by Markkanen, letting Lee run right by and be in between him and the ball. Next, Holiday goes down and sets a screen on Porzingis, who is out guarding the paint. It appears the big man wasn’t anticipating Markkanen to spring out to the three-point line after setting a slip screen and was caught flat footed. To him it probably looked like a simple pick play for Holiday and he looked to be playing the drive after the anticipated by Holiday. It wasn’t the case though and he quickly realized when Markkanen backpedaled to three-point range. However, when he went to go contest, he was met by the body of Holiday. With his defender nowhere near him and Lee in the paint as he followed Holiday there, it was a free catch for Markkanen. He took the swing pass from the top of the key by Robin Lopez and calmly knocked down another three.
Lauri Markkanen has had some great moments so far in his rookie season, and a variety of them were all on display against the Knicks. He was able to launch from three also showed his ability to get up to the rim. It was the best Bulls performance of the first half.