Though as Bulls fans we’ve become accustomed to seeing key players miss months of basketball, it doesn’t make losing Lauri Markkanen only days before the Bulls’ first preseason game any easier. As an integral centrepiece of this rebuild, this injury news — at any point of the season — is tough to swallow.
But if there’s one position on the roster we should feel comfortable in the Bulls managing in the interim, it’s power forward. As management have done for the last several seasons, they’ve stacked the frontcourt with multiple options who are willing and able of playing serviceable minutes.
Behind Markkanen, Bobby Portis is among the best reserve fours in the league, as he proved last season. Projected to be a center long-term, rookie Wendell Carter Jr. could spot some minutes at power forward. Though either of these players stepping into the starting lineup in Markkanen’s absence would work, the obvious solution is shuffling Jabari Parker up from small forward to power forward, the position he’s spent most of his professional career playing. And it looks like that’s exactly what’s going to happen.
Lost chemistry time
Slotting Parker in at power forward and shuffling the decks on the wings is a temporary fix. It will work, and it may not hurt the Bulls too much in the win column. Still, while the Bulls may be able to cover themselves from a game-to-game perspective, they won’t be able to recoup any lost time in development.
This season offered an opportunity to learn more about the core pieces of the roster. With Zach LaVine missing most of last season due to injury, his partnership with Kris Dunn and Markkanen was already an open question. After those three only playing 255 minutes in 12 games together, year two of the rebuild would be defined by their cohesion. Now, with Markkanen not expected to be back before December, the Bulls will need to hit pause on learning how these three, plus Parker, can integrate together.
Markkanen’s absence won’t hinder Dunn and LaVine from developing their unity as a backcourt. Parker, too, can still find his feet in a new offense surrounded by new faces. We may find these three immediately gel well together. But in some ways, that may be a problem.
Concerns about Markkanen’s place in the offensive hierarchy already exist. Losing two months with injury whilst his teammates form an on-court flow may make reintegrating Markkanen more challenging than initially thought.
Should LaVine and Parker come back strong from their collective knee injuries and score the ball with ease to open the season — an undoubtedly good thing — it will be hard to interrupt once Markkanen does return.
Dunn, too, will now be asked to have the ball in his hands more as a scorer. If he too continues his upward trajectory as a scorer, a young offense may quickly become wedded to the idea of being ball dominant on the perimeter — another existing question prior to Markkanen’s injury.
Though such concerns exist, it doesn’t mean they can’t be solved. What is does mean, however, is finding the answer will take more time than previously anticipated.
Parker getting comfortable at PF
Despite intentions to convert Jabari Parker into a small forward, Markkanen’s injury will allow the newly acquired Bull to slot into his preferred position. Spending 78 percent of his career to date at the four, Parker will have no problems standing in for his injured teammate, and this will keep the Bulls afloat for now. The real issue, however, is when Markkanen returns.
At this point, we should expect the Finnish forward to slot straight back into his starting four spot when healthy. This will push Parker back down to small forward, the position intended for him all along. Trouble is — as it’s been since they acquired him — Parker isn’t a naturalised three.
Though he may start in absence of Markkanen, the Bulls will be doing a disservice to Parker’s development by only playing him at power forward. The Bulls must remember why he was brought here: To be the long-term solution at small forward. This theory should still be tested, even if Parker is projected to spend more minutes at power forward at the beginning of the season than previously anticipated.
If nothing else, Parker is only here for one guaranteed year. Using that time wisely means a lot of minutes at small forward, to learn if it can work, and if it makes sense to retain Parker beyond this season. Beyond that, it’s also important for when Markkanen returns.
Allowing Parker to grow comfortable at power forward would be problematic. Assuming Parker has short-term success at power forward, what then? Does he become perturbed moving back to small forward, with less shots in a position he’s not comfortable in? Does this create unnecessary tension between Parker and Markkanen?
The Bulls can do their best to avoid these scenarios by going ahead with plans of Parker playing big minutes at small forward. Time will confirm these questions, but how the Bulls use Parker in Markkanen’s absence will go a long way in answering them.