2019-20 Breakout Player Series: Lauri Markkanen
The 2018-19 Chicago Bulls sputtered to a 22-60 record, finished 13th in the Eastern Conference, fired their coach only a quarter of the way into the season, and faced significant locker room tension. The few bright spots came from their young stud Lauri Markkanen and the acquisition of Otto Porter from the Wizards. The addition of Porter proved to have an immediate impact, although he’ll need to stay healthy to have a more substantial presence. Markkanen showed stretches of the dominant player he can potentially become, specifically the month of February where he averaged a double-double of over 25 points.
Over his first two seasons, two things have become crystal clear with Markkanen: he has the potential to be a consistent star in this league AND injuries are the only thing standing in the way of that happening. Last year he improved off of a good rookie campaign, finishing his sophomore season averaging 18.7 points, 9 rebounds, and 1.4 assists. He embodies today’s stretch-big man style of play, specifically when you look at his ability to shoot the three, finishing the year averaging 2.3 per game. With that being said, injuries have hindered him from making a season long impact required to establish himself as a star in this league. An elbow injury cost his over 20 games at the beginning of the season while fatigue and heart concerns sidelined him for the final ten.
As I mentioned above, Markkenan showed improvements across the board in his second season, and every indication points towards him making another jump in his third year. The biggest factor will be his ability to stay healthy. While it’s too early to call him injury-prone, his absence from the court has been the primary thing preventing from immersing himself among the league’s best young scorers. He will need to improve his defence to become a more well rounded player, but a healthy year with his offensive production alone would establish himself as a perennial All-Star.
The addition of Porter and a healthy Zach LaVine should help take some of the pressure off of him and allow the ball to be spread around with more consistency. While the LaVine/Markkanen duo has been a letdown overall thus far, Markkanen believes the healthy offseason the pair have had will carry over into the regular season. In a recent interview with the Chicago Sun Times, he had this to say.
“We’ve [Markkanen and LaVine] come along really well. Now it’s just a matter of taking it across the street [to the United Center]. I think we’ve had good periods of time, but the next step for us is just doing it consistently.”
More of that consistency will come from having one coach manning the ship for a full season. Furthermore, Jim Boylen has already indicated he we will use more structured load management with his young stars, which only increases the likeliness of a breakout year for Markkanen.
With all of the factors discussed above, I believe Markkanen will be able to put together a 70+ game season and become the star nucleus of this young team. Those extra games, along with a consistent lineup and game-plan should also lead to a continued improvement in Markkanen’s offense. If things go right, he could be a walking double-double, and if the rest of the team is able to pull their weight, the Bulls are a dark-horse to make a run at the 8th seed in the East.
When the 2019-20 season wraps up, I predict Markkanen will finish the year averaging 21 points, 10 rebounds, and 1.5 assists. Additionally, I think he will make the All-Star team and cement himself as one of the all around best young players in the game. If he and LaVine learn to coexist better on the court, I wouldn’t be surprised if those numbers were even higher.