Bulls brass hope Lauri Markkanen can help the evolution of rebuild

SHARE Bulls brass hope Lauri Markkanen can help the evolution of rebuild
SHARE Bulls brass hope Lauri Markkanen can help the evolution of rebuild

Rebuild, evolve, extended job security … pick a phrase to describe what the Bulls’ front office is attempting to pull off these days.

Either way, they’re knee-deep in it now, just a week removed from trading the franchise player in three-time All-Star Jimmy Butler.

And if it is truly evolution, what better way to build the foundation than with a 7-footer who can shoot threes?

“Lauri Markkanen is a very good basketball player,’’ vice president of basketball operations John Paxson said about the team’s top pick (seventh overall). “We’re really excited about his potential — as good a big-man shooter, maybe as good a shooter that was in the draft this year. And the way our game is going, those big mobile guys who can space the floor, give your guards opportunity to create and find gaps, it’s an important piece. So again, it’s all about building the type of team that you want.’’

More importantly, maybe for the first time since they hired coach Fred Hoiberg, the Bulls might be the type of team Hoiberg wants.

“Getting to watch Lauri these last couple days on film with his ability to stretch the floor and play both frontline positions is where this league is going,’’ Hoiberg said. “His ability to shoot, play-make and put the ball on the ground, he’s a sneaky athlete.’’

Those were strengths he showed last season at Arizona, where averaged 15.6 points and 7.2 rebounds in 37 games, shooting 42 percent from beyond the three-point line.

What wasn’t a good look for the 20-year-old? The games he seemed to disappear in. Bad games are fine, but a 7-footer should make an impact one way or the other.

In Arizona’s loss to Xavier in the NCAA tournament, Markkanen played 40 minutes, scored just nine points on 3-for-9 shooting, grabbed eight rebounds and no blocked shots.

No wonder he defended the idea that Euro bigs aren’t as soft as people like to think they are.

“I know that stereotype is there, but I don’t include myself in that,’’ Markkanen said during his Tuesday introductory news conference. “I’m not soft. I play hard. I see why everybody thinks, [but it’s going away] slowly from players just coming from overseas and changing that.’’

What the rookie also said was that he can play the stretch-four position at the NBA level or the five. The Bulls hope that’s the case, because his development at both will be a key in eventually being a potential matchup problem.

“Yeah, I’m really comfortable doing both things,’’ Markkanen said. “I’ve played all five positions during my whole life. I started as a guard, and last season [with Arizona] played as a five. So I’m really comfortable doing both, defensively and offensively.’’

He might be counted on to do both quickly.

With free agency starting in less than a week, Nikola Mirotic’s future with the team will be up in the air. Paxson reiterated that they would like to bring the restricted free agent back, but only if it is a price that they are comfortable with.

The problem is that like last summer, it’s a great time to be a free agent because of the high payroll teams have to meet.

Either way, Markkanen seems confident that he’ll be ready to contribute.

“I know there’s work to do, like always,’’ Markkanen said. “I’m the type of person who’s going to be in the gym. I know I’m going to get better when I put the work in. I’m pretty confident that it’s going to happen.’’

Follow me on Twitter @suntimes_hoops.

Email: jcowley@suntimes.com

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