OAKLAND, Calif. — There’s a ceiling in sight for Bulls guard Zach LaVine. While he has shown flashes of All-Star potential, superstar potential may be a stretch.
Enter Lauri Markkanen.
A loss in Portland on Wednesday night and a visit with the Warriors on Friday night — the first two games of a five-game road trip — were fresh reminders for the rebuilding Bulls of just how important it is to have a superstar on the roster.
Markkanen is a 7-footer, is physical in the paint and can shoot like a two-guard from the outside — checking all the boxes of an NBA unicorn. An injury to his right elbow in training camp cost him 10 weeks of the season, but Markkanen admits he has to start becoming a force.
“I’ve got to look in the mirror at myself first and [ask], ‘How can I do better?’ ” he said. “I think it all starts with that.”
There’s also still a glaring problem with the number of touches Markkanen gets per game. Teammates too often seem to forget he’s on the roster. And Markkanen, in his second season, could be asking for the ball more. Entering Friday, he averaged 17.6 shot attempts in the last three Bulls victories, but in four of their last five losses, he averaged 12.2 attempts.
Do teammates need to find him more, or is it on him to be more aggressive and demand the ball?
“I’m sure it’s both,’’ he said. “And if there’s times where guys don’t find me, they will find me once I am more aggressive and stuff. We’re all good friends with each other, so we talk about everything. This is still a new system, so the sample size is not so big. Just try and stay positive and keep an open mind about it.
“There’s games where I get the ball a lot, and there’s games where I don’t. So I just try to control what I can control. Play defense and do my best on that end of the court, and I know the offense will follow. It hasn’t been really consistent yet, but I’m sure that will come.”
It had better. Coach Jim Boylen knows that, having twice said after recent losses that it was his fault Markkanen didn’t touch the ball more.
“It’s not just a him thing — it’s a team thing,” Boylen said. “I’d like him to be a little more greedy. I’d like him to be a little smarter with some of his possessions to get a quality shot. It’s part of the process. He missed games last year. He’s missed games this year. He’s probably just getting to a full first season right now. That’s not an excuse, but it’s the reality of it. I think he’s got to be timely in what he does, but also aggressive.”
Because a good Markkanen makes the Bulls tick. Before Friday’s game against the Warriors, Markkanen averaged 24.8 points in the five victories he has played in; he averaged 14 points in the 13 losses.
The NBA is a superstar-based business, and since the Bulls can’t land one in free agency, they have to grow one.
“I agree — he’s a huge part of where we’re going,” Boylen said. “We need to help him, and he needs to help himself, and we need to play better.”