Lauri Markkanen still learning how to be Bulls’ center of attention
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Bulls big man Lauri Markkanen had quite a four-game stretch last week, averaging 27.8 points — including at least 20 in each game — and 12 rebounds.
Those are numbers coach Jim Boylen appreciates, but it’s not all he’s asking for from Markkanen.
The injury to Wendell Carter Jr. (left thumb) and the trade of Bobby Portis has left the Bulls paper-thin at center. That means Robin Lopez will continue to start, but Markkanen will continue to be counted on to pick up big minutes — and close games — there.
That was the case in the Bulls’ victory Friday against the Nets. Markkanen proved to be a matchup nightmare for the Nets offensively. Now Boylen wants Markkanen to improve his defense at center.
‘‘Your [point guard and center] at the NBA level, the [center] sees everything coming at him, usually,’’ Boylen said. ‘‘The [point guard] has his back to the rest of the team because he’s usually on the ball, so you’ve got to have a lot of communication of what [defense] we’re in, and Carter was great at that. For a 19-year-old guy, his communication, his early talk, his understanding of what was coming at us was huge for 44 games. We lost that.
‘‘[Lopez] gives us everything he has. Cris Felicio is a young, developing guy. And now we’re playing Lauri at [center], and he’s learning kind of how to honor our rules at the [position]. So this is a work in progress. There are moving parts. Those aren’t excuses, those are facts. But our effort and our toughness need to be more consistent at the defensive end.’’
Markkanen didn’t dispute any of that. In fact, he said he likes the idea of taking on the extra responsibility, especially if that means playing center late in games.
‘‘I think it’s a different look for us, a good look for us,’’ Markkanen said of the late-game lineup. ‘‘Yeah, I’m glad I get to finish games at that spot. I’m excited to see what we do there.
‘‘I’m comfortable doing that, but the defensive coverages are a little different. I’ve got to prep for every game plan differently. I have to know multiple positions and what we’re doing. It definitely gives us a different look.’’
With the trade deadline in the rearview mirror and vice president of basketball operations John Paxson insisting the Bulls have no immediate plans to buy out Lopez, Boylen was asked whether there had been meetings to discuss how to handle the last 25 games of the regular season.
Shortly after the All-Star break last season, the Bulls decided to focus on development and limited the playing time of Lopez and since-traded forward Justin Holiday.
‘‘We have not discussed that yet, but I think that day is coming,’’ Boylen said. ‘‘My focus has been to become more consistent defensively. I’ve been disappointed in our defensive consistency.
‘‘Too many paint points [Saturday] against Washington; I didn’t like that. Our challenge is to continue to grow offensively and improve at our consistency on the defensive end. Those are the things I’m focused on. I’m sure we will meet on a plan going forward, but we have not yet.’’