The Bulls have already hit on lucky No. 7, but Lauri Markkanen needs some help
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Bulls vice president of basketball operations John Paxson didn’t feel derailed Tuesday night.
And he certainly didn’t sound derailed.
Paxson was just minutes removed from watching the Kings jump from their expected No. 7 spot to No. 2, pushing the Bulls back from six to seven.
A severe blow to the rebuild?
“Nah, not at all,’’ Paxson said with a laugh during a phone interview.
After all, the seventh selection turned out well for the Bulls in 2017. The pick belonged to the Timberwolves, and they selected Lauri Markkanen for the Bulls as part of the Jimmy Butler trade.
After taking almost three weeks off since the regular season ended, Markkanen recently returned to the Advocate Center to work out and expand his game.
One member of the organization described Markkanen’s workout display as ‘‘lights-out.’’
But it goes much further than a 7-footer showing up in shorts and a T-shirt to put on a shooting clinic in May without a defender in his face to make life uncomfortable. It was a reminder that this rebuild was not strictly about this June’s draft as much as the pieces the Bulls already have acquired.
Paxson doesn’t want to become a frequent guest at the draft lottery.
“I think the answer to [the Bulls competing for the postseason quickly] is mostly in the development of the key guys that we have on our roster this year, specifically Lauri, Kris Dunn and Zach [LaVine],’’ Paxson said. “We need them to take steps forward for that to happen.
“If it doesn’t, then that means we’re still a little ways away, but that falls under the patience category. We believe in these young kids. You try to do everything you can to accelerate their growth, but sometimes that doesn’t play out as fast as you want. We’re hopeful that will be the key in us taking another step forward.’’
Markkanen might be the biggest key.
Coach Fred Hoiberg admitted during the last month of the season that Markkanen was rapidly becoming the focal point of his offensive sets, and his prominence was only going to increase during the offseason. Hoiberg’s offense stresses ball movement and multiple players handling the ball, but the goal is to have the ball finish in Markkanen’s capable hands.
Paxson and Co. would love to land another impact player with this year’s seventh pick, and maybe one will fall to them June 21, but the emphasis will be on developing Dunn, LaVine and, especially, Markkanen.
Markkanen’s last five games provided a glimpse of his bright future with Dunn and LaVine on the bench nursing injuries. He averaged 19.4 points in 24 minutes.
It was another reminder of what a mismatch he can be for opposing defenses.
LaVine’s athleticism is elite, and Dunn showed an ability to close games, but, as Hoiberg pointed out in January, Markkanen was the object of opposing coaches’ game plans.
The draft lottery didn’t work out like the Bulls had hoped, but the pressure is still on the front office to hit on next month’s draft if this rebuild is to run with pace.
After all, it’s a star league, and Markkanen is going to need some help in that department.