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Lauri Markkanen’s big change is the ball is going in the hoop more

do we dare raise hopes for Markkanen again?

New York Knicks v Chicago Bulls Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Lauri Markkanen had his second straight 30+ point game in a row last night, helping the Bulls take down the Knicks with 23 in the first half.

As a result, we are in the regular part of our monthly contract as Bulls fans to wonder ‘is this the new, aggressive, Lauri Markkanen????’. It’s all the rage, see y’all in a few weeks for the next meeting.

Has Markkanen actually changed his game much? Or is he just hitting more shots? The latter is good in and of itself, but it’s less clear if that’s sustainable. But a factor that could make things less flukey is better coaching and teammates.

Let’s get this out of the way first: Lauri Markannen deserves the label of ‘empty calories scorer’ that Zach LaVine is trying to shed. No matter his improvement in shooting, he doesn’t do much else and that hasn’t improved in those areas this year either. His passing is still barely existent, and his defense is still best described as ‘jumping backwards with arms straight up’. Never a great rebounder, though the team is rebounding well with him on the court, so that deserves a closer look.

But, the shooting! It’s not just threes, his inside finishing is also up this year.

This rules. But is Lauri actually being more (say it like Stacey, now) aggressive?

Well, he is still trying his no-hope dunk attempts fairly regularly. And he’s taking slightly more shots, both from two and three-point range.

Looking at his shot profile, it’s not like Lauri is expanding his game to work in the mid-post or anything like that. You may notice in the make percentage table above that there’s a big gap between ten feet and the three-point line. That’s because Lauri hasn’t hit a single shot in that area all season. Has he instead gone full Boylen-ball with that good lookin’ shot profile? Even as Billy Donovan has taken over, if Lauri wasn’t meant to ‘go and stand in the corner’, well...he is doing exactly that. And thriving.

Lauri also doesn’t look to be creating his own offense much more than before. His free throw attempt rate has gone down to its lowest level since he was a rookie. And when looking at his attempt types further, the makes are just as assisted as ever:

And especially in these last two games, these assists are coming from an unlikely source in Thaddeus Young. A big story all year, especially in the wake of Markkanen being out in COVID protocols followed by Wendell Carter’s injury, is the frontcourt pairings.

Young has been a revelation, especially to close out games alongside Markkanen. The team’s offense is incredible with the Young+Lauri pairing:

Young’s individual assist percentage is a whopping 37.5% with Lauri. And as assists are, well, directly tied to makes, Lauri looks to be cashing in tremendously when Young is out there with him:

This is all dynamic, and tough to assign the direct cause percentage to either Young’s shot creation or Lauri’s shot making or ball and player movement overall improved in the offense. But it’s looking like Lauri is playing the same way, he just is getting better looks and making them at an improved percentage. If we’re praising the coaching in being the difference, it is more showing itself as how Thad Young being more aggressive instead of Lauri Markkanen.

But the point of the game is to score, and Lauri is doing that better than ever this season. No matter the reason, it’s good for his career if he has that elite shooter productivity finally after years of it being merely promise.

Whether that shows to be sustainable is a huge and urgent question given his contract status, and as we’ve seen so far it’s typically a matter of time before Lauri disappears or gets hurt. So, will we look at this all again same time next month?