Less of Lauri Markkanen this season has been more for the Bulls

The 7-footer remains on a strange career path. Coach Billy Donovan now is experimenting with Markkanen at small forward.

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Bulls forward Lauri Markkanen’s career path has been baffling.

Need more evidence of that? Look at the tape of the Bulls’ loss Friday to the Jazz and try to find him making a positive impact on the game.

The 7-foot Markkanen, who now is getting some work at small forward when coach Billy Donovan goes with his land-of-giants lineup, played 23 minutes, took five shots, grabbed two rebounds, had one assist and finished with five points.

Reminder: This is a guy who averaged 18.7 points and nine rebounds in his second NBA season in 2018-19. He was a guy opposing teams had to game-plan for.

Now he’s just a guy. The NBA has a bunch of those.

That’s why when the season ends, the writing on the wall screams that Markkanen’s time with the Bulls will, too. At this point, it should.

The Bulls have been better this season without Markkanen. In the 20 games he has missed, the Bulls are 11-9. When he plays, they are 8-19.

You even can take it a step further. Markkanen is more effective playing 20 to 29 minutes than he is playing 30 or more. His defensive rating is higher when he plays fewer minutes, and field-goal percentage and three-point percentage also go up. Less of Markkanen is more.

The question for executive vice president of basketball operations Arturas Karnisovas is how he will handle Markkanen’s exit. Is Markkanen a sign-and-trade candidate, or will the Bulls simply let him walk as a restricted free agent for nothing in return?

Maybe a change of scenery will do Markkanen good, but it’s hard to say.

Whether his experience under former coach Jim Boylen simply sucked the passion to play out of him or he’s still stuck on the fact that he and the Bulls couldn’t get in the same ballpark in extension talks in December, Markkanen isn’t the foundation piece the Bulls thought they were getting with the No. 7 pick in 2017.

Think about it: It was only a couple of seasons ago that Markkanen was being talked about as a ‘‘unicorn,’’ a big man who could stretch out opposing defenses the way Kristaps Porzingis and Nikola Jokic do.

So what’s left for Donovan to try to do with Markkanen this season? Find something to ignite him in the minutes he gets coming off the bench. That’s why the experiment at small forward is happening.

‘‘I think Lauri’s been fine,’’ Donovan said of Markkanen’s limited time at small forward. ‘‘I think, with all the cutting and moving that I think Lauri’s very effective at, we’ve tried to put him in some pin-downs, tried to run him off screens and do some of those things. He’s done a nice job with that.

‘‘The difference for him right now is he’s dealing with guys who are much more nimble and quicker on their feet, and they’re more comfortable chasing off screens than maybe it was when he was at [power forward].’’

At least Donovan is trying. It would be nice if Markkanen consistently would try to meet him halfway.

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