Bulls forward Lauri Markkanen’s recent play has been incomparable
Subscribe for unlimited digital access.
Try one month for $1!
Subscribe for unlimited digital access. Try one month for $1!
There were some fair comparisons that fit Lauri Markkanen at one time.
Kristaps Porzingis, Ryan Anderson, heck, even Dirk Nowitzki was floated out there early on.
That is until February rolled around.
After his last 10 games, it’s difficult to find a fair comp for a 21-year-old 7-footer in his second season.
“It’s what I’ve been saying a lot, just staying aggressive and doing whatever I need to do to help the team win,’’ Markkanen said. “I’m doing my best to rebound the ball and help finish off possessions.’’
Markkanen then was asked if this 10-game showcase is what can be expected from him from here on out.
“Yeah,’’ Markkanen said. “I don’t see why not.’’
Entering this road trip to Memphis and Atlanta, Markkanen’s scoring has gone from 15.2 per game as a rookie to 19.3 this season, while his rebounding has jumped from 7.5 to 9.1.
He’s shooting 38.3 percent from three-point range on 6.7 attempts per game, but the Bulls have to be excited with his his range: Markkanen is averaging 15.3 feet per field goal.
Since the calendar flipped to February and Markkanen’s injured elbow got closer to 100 percent, he has averaged 26.4 points, 12.4 rebounds and 2.6 assists, with seven double-doubles in that time.
“Lauri, man … wow,’’ guard Zach LaVine said with a laugh when asked about Markkanen’s recent play.
But trying to put Markkanen in a box and figuring out his trajectory is no laughing matter.
After a game against Porzingis last season in which Markkanen scored 33 points in a victory, the “unicorn’’ comparison was made.
A look at the numbers, however, shows Porzingis was more New York hype than anything else in his second season. Like Markkanen, he was 21, and, at 7-3, he obviously had more of a shot-blocking game. But Markkanen outscores him 19.3 to 18.1, outrebounds him 9.1 to 7.2 and is more of a threat from outside (Porzingis shot 35.7 percent from three-point range on only 4.8 attempts).
OK, how about the Anderson comparison? It’s completely off because Anderson didn’t start hitting his stride as a stretch four until he was 25. That season with the Pelicans, he averaged 19.8 points and 6.5 rebounds and shot 40.9 percent from three-point range.
Anderson never has shown the ability to rebound and push the ball like the more athletic Markkanen does, and his game is nonexistent with his back to the basket and in the paint.
What about Nuggets All-Star Nikola Jokic? “Joker’’ is a true center at 250 pounds and has an elite playmaking game — he’s averaging 7.7 assists this season — so he’s a completely different player.
Jokic averaged 16.7 points and 9.8 rebounds at 21 in his second season.
Then there’s Nowitzki. And here’s what the Bulls should be embracing.
Like Markkanen, Nowitzki was 21 in his second season. The future Hall of Famer averaged 17.5 points and 6.5 rebounds and shot 37.9 percent from three-point range. His average field goal was 14.2 feet away from the basket, but spacing wasn’t stressed as much in 1999.
By the time Nowitzki was 27, he was averaging 26.6 points and 9.0 rebounds and shooting 40.6 percent from three-point range. More important, he already had reached superstar status.
If this Bulls rebuild is going to move beyond mediocrity, it will need multiple superstars.
Markkanen’s February is showing that the organization just might have found its first one.
NOTE: Otto Porter Jr. (left leg) and Kris Dunn (migraine) will travel to Memphis but are questionable.