Big man Lauri Markkanen is the Bulls’ most important player this offseason

SHARE Big man Lauri Markkanen is the Bulls’ most important player this offseason

Big man Lauri Markkanen won’t be in for any surprises during his exit interview with Bulls coach Jim Boylen next week.

Markkanen likely will meet with Boylen on Thursday, get a quick review of his season and receive his marching orders on what will be a huge offseason for him.

At the top of the priority list will be getting stronger. Markkanen made a big jump in that department last summer, but an injury to his right elbow suffered in training camp kept him out until December.

Even when he returned, Markkanen privately told people he still was dealing with a lot of pain and probably came back about a month earlier than he should have.

But with the elbow now healed and all the tests on his rapid heart rate coming back negative, it’s not only about getting back the strength he had built up last offseason but pushing that envelope even further.

‘‘I think his overall strength needs to improve,’’ Boylen said. ‘‘His ballhandling needs to improve. And I think he can become an even more consistent shooter from the perimeter. One thing we talk a lot about [with him] is going right. You want to be good going both ways. That expands your game.

‘‘I’m satisfied with his progress, but I think he has a chance to grow.’’


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With the roster as it is right now, Markkanen is the one Bulls player who can become a superstar. That’s not to say he will, but he’s their best chance.

That’s why Markkanen sits atop the Sun-Times’ Bulls power rankings heading into the offseason.

1. Markkanen: The significance of the elbow injury not only altered Markkanen’s second season, but it altered the organization as a whole. Coach Fred Hoiberg lost his job, and the Bulls eventually went back into semi-tank mode.

If Markkanen can improve from the post and increase his strength to play center more often, the 26 points and 12.2 rebounds he averaged in February might be seasonlong averages.

2. Wendell Carter Jr.: The only way Carter’s value will take a hit is if the Bulls land the top overall pick and draft Zion Williamson. Carter likely would be the odd man out of the starting lineup in that scenario.

Carter had a solid rookie season before being injured, but because he’s a bit undersized in the middle, bigger, stronger centers gave him problems. He is the best rim protector the Bulls have, however, and that’s why he’s so valuable.

3. Zach LaVine: Yes, LaVine needs to continue improving, but he also needs to show leadership this summer by gathing his teammates for workouts. He also must show the Bulls his work ethic.

4. Otto Porter Jr.: Boylen must figure out how he wants to continue incorporating Porter and his pick-and-roll game into the offense. Like LaVine, however, this summer is more about Porter showing leadership and continuing to be a voice that carries weight.

5. Denzel Valentine: No Bulls player will have more pressure on him this summer than Valentine. He missed the entire season after having ankle surgery, and it’s sink-or-swim time for him. When healthy, he might be the best three-point shooting threat the Bulls have.

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