Player ranking fun began this week with Sports Illustrated’s Ben Golliver and Rob Mahoney releasing their rankings of the top 100 NBA players of the 2018-2019 season.
As you probably could have guessed, the Chicago Bulls weren’t well represented. Lauri Markkanen was the top-ranked (and only) player on the list at number 84, third among his draft class behind Jayson Tatum (No. 39), and Donovan Mitchell (No. 34).
The 21-year-old Finnish forward endured months of losing and tanking with the Bulls, he struggled to adjust to his defensive responsibilities, and he missed 14 games due, in part, to minor back injuries. Despite those hurdles, Markkanen was an easy All-Rookie First Team selection because he proved to be a legit marksman with a quick, natural release and range that extended multiple steps beyond the arc. Indeed, the 7-footer drilled 145 threes last season, the most in NBA history by a rookie taller than 6’9”.
As the season progressed, his signature pick-and-pop game was supplemented by fake-and-drive action that allowed him to use his length to finish in one-on-one scenarios. While not yet much of a playmaker, Markkanen can handle well enough to locate pull-up shots or get going downhill. On the defensive end, he switched and hit the boards better than expected, but he still ranked outside the top 300 in Real Plus-Minus due to strength limitations and awareness issues. Markkanen is reportedly adding weight in anticipation of playing more center, a tough ask given that he had the lowest block rate among 7-footers who logged at least 2,000 minutes in 2017-18. The good news is that he projects as such a potent offensive weapon that he only needs to become a passable defender to emerge as the face of Chicago’s youth movement. — BG
For those wondering, Zach LaVine and Jabari Parker made the biggest snub list. But as the authors note, their method doesn’t do any favors towards two players with three torn ACL injuries between them since they entered the NBA.
Injuries and injury risks are an inevitable component of this judgment. Past performance (postseason included) weighed heavily in our assessment, with a skew toward the recent. First-year players were not included. A predictive element also came into play with the anticipated improvement of certain younger players, as well as the possible decline of aging veterans. Salary was not taken into consideration. Otherwise, players were ordered based on their complete games.
Outside of LaVine’s injury issues, Mahoney rips him for his empty-calorie scoring. Despite his team-high 16.7 points per game last season (doesn’t include the traded Nikola Mirotic), LaVine was sixth on the team with a 14.6 player efficiency rating. His career effective field goal percentage wasn’t above the 2017-2018 league average mark, and he hardly gets to the free-throw line (23.2 percent free-throw rate during his career) which kills his efficiency. Meanwhile, the critique around Parker centers around his injury history, poor defense, and questionable fit in a modern-day NBA offense.
It’s a bit unsettling that two guys who will make almost $40 million combined next season aren’t even top 100 players. But again, this is the subjective (if informed) opinion of two guys so don’t read too much into it. Last season, Robin Lopez was the only Bulls player to make the list.
Finally, how do the Bulls stack up against other teams in terms of top-100 players?
Unsurprisingly, the Golden State Warriors and the Boston Celtics finished at the top with six players apiece. The Denver Nuggets, Philadelphia 76ers, Toronto Raptors, Minnesota Timberwolves, and Utah Jazz all had five.
The Bulls couldn’t even win the snubs category, as their two were behind the Lakers and Clippers who had three apiece.