How Bulls coach Billy Donovan plans to get Lauri Markkanen back on track


Worthy of a player still considered a stalwart of the franchise, Lauri Markkanen was the second Bull to speak to reporters on the first day of Media Week – preceded only by Zach LaVine.
He answered questions about purgatory extension talks (he wants one), regression in his third season (after a lot of soul-searching he’s ready to put that behind him) and what he expects from his fourth (a rebound). Artūras Karnišovas later jumped at the opportunity to support Markkanen, saying, “We love Lauri and we would like him to be part of this organization for a long time.

And Billy Donovan – not an officer or agent, but the team’s head coach – stayed rooted in the intrigue as he discussed what lies ahead for Markkanen. Looks like he paid special attention through watching movies and talking to Markkanen himself to get to the bottom of his regression.

« I had a few conversations with Lauri, ”Donovan told reporters. “I think with a young player as gifted offensively as Lauri, it takes time for the league to catch up with a player. I think as people have seen him, and he certainly must have suffered injuries, he, like Wendell (Carter Jr.), has to find his identity offensively.

“Everyone knows he can put the ball on the ground and he can shoot it. But can we try to create him situations where he becomes a little more difficult to keep. I think it’s twofold. I think one, he’s the one who understands how to tackle waist mismatches. The other part of it is that the team is recognized in transition when they are open to finding him because when you get close to him he has enough skills to walk past you.

“And then I think the other part for him is that he gets in the teeth of the defense when he drives it, that he has the physicality to finish in the basket, get fouled, surrender at the free throw line. I think Lauri has been working really hard this offseason. I think he will continue to evolve and improve. What I don’t want it to be while watching a movie is what I would call a one-dimensional avant-garde. I think these guys are getting too easy to keep.

If that’s not music for Bulls fans – and for Markkanen’s ears – I don’t know what it is. During this infamous 2019-20 season where Markkanen posted career lows across the board, he didn’t flaunt his career either. Tops in spot-up frequency (31.4%) and catching attempts at 3 points per game (6.0, which represented more than half of his field goal attempts per game).

These are not bad ways to present Markkanen. He’s a gifted long range shooter for his size and he beats his 3 point jibes with the league trend. But there’s more to his game that wasn’t beefed up last season – he’s a strong defensive rebounder, has potential as a ball manager, especially on the quick hit, and is otherwise exceptionally agile on the offensive side.

“When he even came into the league as a rookie I remember telling our guys in the zone before at OKC his rookie year that this guy could really, really shoot,” Donovan said. “A few times we finished short and it drained a few 3s. The next thing you know is we fly over him and he walks past you.

Too often last year, however, Markkanen felt on the outside watching the Bulls attack – waiting for the games to come to him rather than receiving the ball in rhythm or in motion.

“I just got into the action, got out of the ball screens and he talked about posting right away,” Markkanen said of his early communication with Donovan at the Bulls Volunteer Mini-Camp in September. . “Just be involved. He kind of asked me where do I want the ball and what do I want to do with it.

Forgive a number of snaps from that bite: Markkanen’s 1.8 post-up hits per game in 2018-19 dropped to 0.6 in 2019-20. His 3.1 pick-and-roll roll-man possessions per game dropped to 2.3. Its readers went from 6.0 to 4.1. Although its volume and offscreen efficiency increased slightly, its overall keys dropped from 66.2 per night to 45.3 between its second and third seasons. His use has dropped to a level roughly commensurate with his rookie season. His average shooting attempts fell well below that freshman line.

« WWe worked a lot, just to offend, ”Markkanen on the opening day of Media Week. “I like the movement we had and I feel like the guys are in different places. We played a lot and I feel like everyone is involved so I’m excited.

“The most important thing I’ve been looking for is how to stay more active and be on the move on the pitch,” he added later.

Injuries cannot be ignored in the discussion of Markkanen regression either. At the start of the 2019-2020 campaign, he struggled with an oblique illness that could very well have at least somewhat contributed to his shooting problems. Then, a sprained ankle happened to him in early January. Then, a stress reaction in his pelvis, which cost him 15 games between late January and early March. The season was suspended four games after his return.

« To be fair to him, he suffered numerous injuries. He ran out of time, ”Donovan said. “It’s hard to find your rhythm and your timing when you’re inside and outside. These things can be difficult. I think he’s a very unique player. We must help him. He has to help himself. But I think he’s really open-minded because he can do a lot of different things.

Donovan even listed Markkanen as someone he considers a top ball handler on the team, along with Coby White, Tomáš Satoranský and others.

He also cited Danilo Gallinari, who he coached for a season with the Oklahoma City Thunder, as an example for Markkanen, mainly due to Gallinari’s ability to abuse mismatches and reach the foul line. Markkanen struggled in both areas last season, taking just 4.9 free throw attempts per 100 possessions (Gallinari averaging 7.9).

Gallinari has also been as prolific as anyone in the league working off-screen last season – generating 1.31 points per possession (96th percentile) out of 0.8 of those possessions per game. And he scored in the 77th percentile on spots and the 82nd percentile on post-ups en route for an average of 18.7 points out of 62.1% live fire.

An example for Markkanen to follow? Perhaps. Much of Gallinari’s prolificacy can be at least partly attributed to the playmaking game that was helping him. Depending on White’s development – Markkanen has said he’s been “a lot more vocal” lately – the main playmaker could still be a question mark for the Bulls entering the campaign.

In reality, many question marks surround the Bulls with opening night at three weeks – optimism of media week aside. But it’s obvious that both Markkanen and Donovan are ready to get creative to make sure the Finnish forward won’t be one before the end of the season.


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