Fantasy, hardwood

Lauri Legend

Three games into his rookie season, Lauri Markkenan has been the Chicago Bulls best player. At just 20-years-old, the Finnish rookie became the first NBA player ever to hit 10 3-pointers through his first three games, knocking down 10-of-22 attempts (45.5 percent) from deep. Markkenan’s 16.3 points per game are second on the team in scoring, behind Justin Holiday’s 18.3 points per contest. The rookie’s 9.3 rebounds per game lead the team.

Last season’s best 3-point shooter on the Chicago Bulls was Rajon Rondo. Yes, you read that correctly. While Rondo has improved his shot tremendously since working with Dirk Nowitzki’s shooting coach during his tumultuous and brief stay with the Dallas Mavericks. Rondo’s 37.6 percent from deep was  not good enough to lead an NBA team in the modern era. While the Bulls became a better season as the year went on, their roster never allowed them to play Fred Hoiberg’s brand of basketball.

The Bulls took only 22.3 3-pointers per game last season, the Timberwolves were the only team to take less. So far the Chicago Bulls have taken the seventh most 3-pointers, taken 31 3-pointers a game. Lauri is taking 7.3 of the Bulls attempts and his efficiency is helping the Bulls evolve into a modern NBA team and the timing couldn’t be any better.

Barely a week ago, the biggest Bulls storyline was Nikola Mirotic having his face broken by Bobby Porits. The legend goes that Nikola continuously charged at Bobby Portis in practice before Portis snapped and cheap shotted him. The two have been fighting for the same minutes at the power forward spot since Portis was drafted in 2015, the offseason that followed Mirotic’s rookie season.  The recent incident resulted in Bobby Portis being suspended for the Bulls first eight games, Nikola Mirotic projected to miss four to six weeks, and generally a black eye for the organization.

From a PR standpoint, Markkanen’s outstanding play has shifted the focus of the media and their fanbase away from Mirotic broken face and Portis’s fists of fury. Markkanenn’s 17 points in his Bulls debut set a franchise record for points in a rookie debut in Toronto on opening night. Derrick Rose scored 11 points and Michael Jordan scored 16 points in their first games.

In the absence of Mirotic and Portis, Markkanen has taken full advantage of his 34 minutes per game and may even be making a case for the starting spot. Last season, Nikola Mirotic and Bobby Portis combined for 17.4 points per game and shot around 34 percent from 3-point range.

niko career 102517
Nikola Mirotic career stats; basketball reference
bobby career102517
Bobby Portis career stats; courtesy of basketball reference.

Despite being the youngest power forward of the three, Lauri’s numbers and 3-point shooting skill argue that he may be the most polished power forward. Lebron James and Dwyane Wade had high praise for the Markksmanen (see what I did there?).

“Very confident,” James said, repeating that twice. “Watched him a lot at Arizona. He wore my shoes a couple of times. He actually did. He wore my retros. I liked that. Had to stay up very late to watch those Arizona games. But can shoot the heck out of the ball. He’s going to continue to get better.

“The best thing about it is he’s getting an opportunity. So you can make mistakes and learn on the fly. He’s going to play a lot because he’s learning. He’s a good player.”

“You can see if a guy knows how to play basketball when you first see him, right away,” Wade said. “In the preseason, we all said he can play. No matter his age he can play. He’s aggressive. He understands they need him to score,” said Wade.

Markkanen finished with a team-high, 18 points against the Cavs. The Chicago Bulls next game is tonight against the Atlanta Hawks at the United Center at 7 PM CT. Markkanen will continue to get heavy minutes as Bobby Portis serves the rest of his suspension and Nikola Mirotic waits for his face to heal.

 

 

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