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Three things we learned about the Chicago Bulls this week

an informative set of back to back games they’ve played against the Knicks

New York Knicks v Chicago Bulls Photo by Jeff Haynes/NBAE via Getty Images

It’s been an up and down week thus far for the Chicago Bulls as they split the two-game series with the Knicks. They rebounded after a gut punching loss to the Portland Trail Blazers at home last weekend to notch a win on Monday, 110-102, mostly thanks to a big scoring night from Lauri Markkanen. He hit six three-pointers and scored 30 points while Zach LaVine pitched in with 21 points of his own. However, things didn’t go as smoothly on Wednesday as despite a late rally, the Bulls were beaten by New York 107-103.

Both of the games with the Knicks revealed some underlying takeaways about the Bulls. Let’s take a look at what we learned:

We, again, see both versions of Lauri Markkanen

Nobody on the Bulls had a more up and down week than Lauri Markkanen. He was the star of Monday’s victory and notched his second straight game of scoring 30 points or more. But on Wednesday he struggled again, scoring only nine points and going zero of four from three. This was a stark contrast to his performance on Monday which saw him shoot over 60 percent from the field and 50 percent from three.

This has been a constant struggle when it comes to evaluating Markkanen’s play. In every season he’s played so far, he will have stretches where he will look great and is on fire from three. But it will then be followed by games where he barely gets any shots up or makes an impact. There hasn’t been much consistency and this season is no different. It’s also not like there has been major jumps in his game. As YFBB points out, he really hasn’t done anything that different in terms of improving the other areas of his offensive game as compared to previous years, the ball is just going in the hoop more.

This is a crucial last couple months of the season for both Markkanen and Chicago. Both sides failed to agree to an extension back in December and he is now set to become an RFA this summer. Now his play has been under a huge microscope and he has again showed flashes of being a solid basketball player. But there are also times where he has been invisible on the court. This week has been the perfect example of Markkanen’s offensive inconsistency.

The interior defense misses Wendell Carter Jr.

With Wendell Carter Jr. out due to injury, the Bulls are now short-handed in the frontcourt. Although they have other forwards who can slide in to play a small-ball five, Daniel Gafford is the only true center to be getting minutes on this team now. Without WCJ anchoring in the middle, Chicago has lost their best interior defender, a player who knows exactly when to rotate over for help defense and how to get vertical to alter shots. Gafford, despite his shotblocking numbers, isn’t the best defender near the rim. Then Chicago’s lack of defensive prowess from their guards doesn’t make the task any easier on their bigs.

New York got 50 points in the paint on Monday despite losing. Then on Wednesday they feasted again in the first half, scoring their first 22 points of the game from inside the paint. Carter Jr.’s presence was also missed on the glass, as New York had a 22-13 advantage in that Wednesday game in offensive rebounds. Not being able to successfully box out and end possessions can lead to problems for any defense and Chicago was no exception.

Without their starting center, Billy Donovan will have to mix and match lineup combinations. But the effects of Carter Jr. not being there are clearly present, especially on the defensive side of the ball.

Thaddeus Young continues to be a spark off the bench

The one continuous bright spot for the Bulls these days has been the play of Thaddeus Young. Playing off the bench in all of the games he’s been in so far, the veterans play has been a huge plus for Chicago. He’s given the reserve lineups a scoring spark and is a major reason why the Bulls have been competitive in my games they have played this season.

Although he’s only fifth highest on the team in terms of points per game (10.3), Young had two tremendous games against New York. On Monday he nearly notched a triple double with 13 points, eight rebounds, and eight assists in 31 minutes of action. Then on Wednesday he helped keep Chicago hovering around in the game by going nine of eleven from the field and scored 19 points, second highest on the team.

The reserve unit of veterans that Donovan runs out have been game savers many times already this season. Garrett Temple has been a great addition, Tomas Satoransky is a capable point guard and Otto Porter Jr. can provide three-point shooting when healthy. But the main cog of that unit up until this point has been Young.

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