No Bull: Life is better for Lauri Markkanen when Kris Dunn is on the floor

SHARE No Bull: Life is better for Lauri Markkanen when Kris Dunn is on the floor

Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg doesn’t need to see the numbers to know the obvious:

Rookie forward Lauri Markkanen is better when guard Kris Dunn is on the court with him. The eye test says that. Make it screams that.

The numbers support how well Markkanen and Dunn were developing together before Dunn went into the concussion protocol more than three weeks ago.

In the seven games leading up to Dunn’s injury Jan. 17, Markkanen averaged 19.4 points and shot 51 percent from the field. He was getting 13.5 shots per game and converting 6.8 of them.

Not only were Markkanen and Dunn building something significant, but they were doing so late in games, emerging as a one-two punch in crunch time.

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The last seven games in which Markkanen has played without Dunn have a much different look and feel. He has averaged 12.4 shots, but he obviously hasn’t been getting the ball in spots in which he’s most comfortable. He has averaged 13.8 points and has shot 43 percent.

‘‘Kris Dunn has done a great job, especially late in games, of either attacking or, if Lauri’s man helps out, making that on-time, on-target pass,’’ Hoiberg said. ‘‘And he’s done a really good job of that.’’

With Dunn out, guard Zach LaVine has been taking over a lot of the two-man action with Markkanen. And while the two have shown flashes, LaVine’s mentality is more score-first.

That was evident Friday against the Timberwolves. LaVine and former Bulls star Jimmy Butler basically turned the final minutes into an old-fashioned game of one-on-one. Because of LaVine’s ability to create his own shot, Markkanen was more of an afterthought in the Bulls’ victory.

The pick-and-roll and pick-and-pop actions were there, but even when Timberwolves coach Tom Thibodeau didn’t have a defender hugging Markkanen, LaVine wasn’t exactly looking to give up the ball.

‘‘They haven’t played a lot together,’’ Hoiberg said of LaVine and Markkanen. ‘‘[Against the Timberwolves], Zach had one of those stretches where the only thing he was looking at was the rim — and he should have the way he had it going.

‘‘In the two-man action he had with Lauri, a lot of times [Markkanen] was popping open, and Zach will make those plays. We’ll continue to watch those on film and get better at that. But the way Zach had it rolling the other night, he needed to look to be aggressive and did a great job closing that game for us.’’

The good news is that Hoiberg is about to have more options. LaVine’s minutes restriction has loosened since he returned from major surgery on his left knee, and Dunn is closer to getting through the protocol and might even play in a game before the All-Star break at the end of this week.

‘‘As Zach gets more comfortable playing with Lauri and we get Kris back, we’re going to have a lot of options out there to make plays,’’ Hoiberg said. ‘‘A lot of nights it will be, ‘Who has it going?’ [Against the Timberwolves], that was obviously Zach. But, yeah, I’m excited to get Kris back.’’

So is Markkanen.

Follow me on Twitter @suntimes_hoops.


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