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Why are the Bulls force-feeding Markkanen minutes at small forward

I just don’t like it!

Chicago Bulls vs. Phoenix Suns Photo by Michael Gonzales/NBAE via Getty Images

It’s established that Billy Donovan can do no wrong as he is decidedly not Jim Boylen. I, for one, thank the heavens for that every day. But with several new, veteran, high-minute pieces coming in at the trade deadline, Donovan being merely better than a flailing goofus isn’t good enough. He has to make things work, quickly, as the Bulls are in the thick of it (it being a morass of bad, but still).

And playing rotations are the easiest thing to criticize about a coach, so...let’s do that very thing. ‘Easy’ works!

Donovan boffed the first post-deadline game by starting Lauri Markkanen alongside Nikola Vucevic, but quickly relented. However after 5 games in - not the biggest sample, but this is a play-in race folks - and some ill-timed absences, we’ve seen some very odd lineups that have Markkanen out on the wing at small forward.

The data hasn’t been that stark, but let’s take a look:

nba dot com slash stats

It kind of looks worse than it has turned out. As you can see, having Thad Young with the Lauri+Vuc pair versus Patrick Williams, despite the latter being the more natural small forward, has produced much better. It’s mainly on the offensive end, and as you’d expect with a jumbo lineup they are absolutely demolishing the offensive glass, grabbing 50% of their own misses.

The defense always does poorly (middle-of-the-pack teams are around 112 DRTG, Bulls for the season are at 112.6), a byproduct of a league going smaller and quicker at these positions with the Bulls having Young as the most agile option when his best days of guarding the wing were 3 years ago.

The Suns’ Jae Crowder isn’t the most fleet-footed of wing either, but he was able to spring free 3 times pretty easily as the Bulls countered with Vuc/Markkanen/Thad and Vuc/Theis/Markkanen.

This led to a cascading affect where Patrick Williams then had to guard Devin Booker, and he got absolutely cooked.

Donovan has addressed this saying he has this embarrassment of riches in the frontcourt and simply ‘wanted to see’ how it’d work. I understand that the lack of practice time meaning there’s reticence to try out new guys, but I don’t believe that a truer wing like Troy Brown (or to a lesser extent, Al-Farouq Aminu and Javonte Green) can’t pick up the Bulls defensive schemes faster than it’d take Markkanen or Young to be fundamentally better at staying with their man.

There’s also the fundamental desire from Donovan to have more shooting on the floor, which also is understandable. Lauri plays like a shooting guard on offense, after all. And the Bulls are wing-bereft to be sure: it’s a failure of roster management if Garrett Temple is this important.

But I am hoping the motivation isn’t anything besides how the team performs as a unit, i.e. like this is going to ‘motivate’ or ‘salvage’ Lauri Markkanen as a Chicago Bull.

Lauri’s time here is already over. Playing Valentine or another wing over Markkanen isn’t an indictment, it was trading a huge asset package to acquire Vucevic. The two can’t play heavy minutes together, with Thad Young still on the team, playing better than Lauri, and is a better fit.

Lauri Markkanen is in a solid 4-big rotation, and should be getting 18-22 minutes per game. He’ll get his chances to play more with the unrelenting schedule, for example Daniel Theis is out tonight against the Pacers.

Sure, that’s a depression of his value and a disappointing likely end to his Bulls career as he heads into restricted free agency, but that’s not important anymore as it is to have the team play better, immediately, and get more wins.