To say Lauri Markkanen has had a slow start to his third season in the league may be an understatement.
His rebounding numbers are down, defenders are still able to bully him in the paint, when switching on defense he is caught flat footed, his playmaking numbers haven’t improved. Worse, his bread and butter trait of being able to shoot the basketball had also fallen flat, to the the worst of his career.
However against the Detroit Pistons, Markkanen had a bounce back game, making more than six field goals for the first time since opening night in Charlotte. It helped propel Chicago’s offense on a night where Zach LaVine only scored five points and went 2 of 11 from the field. Markkanen along with the rest of the starters stepped up and led Chicago to a blowout 109-89 victory over the Pistons.
Markkanen got off to a hot start early with two slams dunks in the first quarter. He ended up leading the Bulls in scoring with 24 points on seven made baskets. Three of those makes came from deep as he was efficient with his looks despite only attempting four three-pointers.
What was also impressive about Markkanen’s performance was his ability to draw contact and score easy points from the free throw line. Out of Chicago’s 27 attempts from the charity stripe, Markkanen had 11.
Against the Pistons big men, Markkanen was lethal from the perimeter. Again the threat of his three-point shooting made Detroit worry enough to draw their second big out of the paint and to guard him. This led to some favorable offensive matchups for the Bulls. They then ran Markkanen all around the three-point arc, using his catch and shoot ability to punish the Pistons. There hasn’t been many times where Markkanen has made teams pay for giving him too much space but he found his shot against Detroit.
On the above play, Markkanen is matched up against Andre Drummond and there is a clear speed advantage for Chicago here. He’s currently on the opposite side of the play with Wendell Carter Jr. holding the ball and handing it off to Zach LaVine being the main action. Coby White runs in front of Markkanen and both Detroit defenders seem to stay in no mans land when it comes to switching or stay home. They both sort of sag back and don’t guard either Markkanen or White. When LaVine reaches the free throw line, he has two options to pass too. White is the much harder find but Markkanen is right there in front of him. With Drummond and Bruce Brown a couple of steps away, Markkanen has enough time to load up and knock down the shot along with getting fouled.
Making open threes has also been a negative for Markkanen so far and it’s been most painful part of this young season. It’s not like he’s always taking contested jumpers and missing them, there are times where the Bulls will run a good play for him or have a wide open kickout opportunity and he will just miss it. It’s been frustrating to watch but against Detroit he was taking advantage of the open opportunities given to him.
Although the game is already in a blowout, the Bulls starters are still in and just generated a turnover. Tomas Satoransky stepped in front of a pass and Chicago began to run in transition. The ball gets switched over to Shaq Harrison, who then drives into the paint which attracts multiple Detroit defenders. That includes Christian Wood who is supposed to be defending Markkanen. While Wood is crashing into the paint, Markkanen is near the corner and awaiting the kickout pass from Harrison. He gets it and calmly splashes home the three to make it a 22 point game.
The early signs of Markkanen taking a big leap forward haven’t been great but there still is a very sizable chunk of the season left. This was a big win for Chicago to get their way back into the race for the eighth seed and he was a big part of it. Sometimes all a player needs is one good game and it could spark a run of solid play. Here’s to hoping it’s going to happen with Markkanen.