McGraw: Do the Bulls need another year to evaluate Markkanen?

                                                                                                                                                                                                   
  • Lauri Markkanen, the Bulls' 7-foot power forward from Finland, remains a mystery, even as his third NBA season winds down.

    Lauri Markkanen, the Bulls' 7-foot power forward from Finland, remains a mystery, even as his third NBA season winds down. Associated Press

 
 
Updated 4/1/2020 7:04 PM

• With an extended break in the NBA action, this is a good time for a deep dive into the Bulls roster and what the future might hold. First in a series.

When the Bulls did nothing at the trade deadline, vice president of basketball operations John Paxson talked about how the team needed to see what it had.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Impending changes to the front office might have been another reason to stand pat at the deadline, but Paxson did have a valid point. The Bulls still have players that are long-term question marks and no one fits the bill better than Lauri Markkanen.

The 7-foot power forward from Finland remains a mystery, even as his third NBA season winds down.

There are a few observations that might stick. The 14-game stretch in 2018-19 when he averaged 22 points and 13 rebounds? That's probably not who Markkanen will be over the long haul. If he did average 22 and 13 over a full season, he'd be in an elite group with guys like Giannis Antetokounmpo, Anthony Davis and Joel Embiid.

At the same time, Markkanen's numbers this season might be disappointing, but 14.7 points and 6.3 rebounds isn't terrible. If Markkanen turns out to be more like Oklahoma City's Danilo Gallinari than Dallas legend Dirk Nowitzki, that's OK. He's still a good player.

It did seem obvious Markkanen wasn't himself this season. He's been nursing injuries, from an oblique strain to an ankle sprain, followed by six weeks off with a stress reaction in his pelvis.

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There are several theories about why Markkanen's numbers dropped this year: He was playing hurt, he wasn't comfortable with the Bulls' no-mid-range-jumpers offense, and opponents likely adjusted to his game. The truth is likely a mix of the three.

Markkanen's success was very matchup-driven. His two best games of the season came when he was guarded by Charlotte's 6-foot-7 rookie P.J. Washington (35 points, 17 rebounds on opening night) and Washington's 3-point specialist Davis Bertans (31 points on Dec. 18). Markkanen certainly didn't thrive against physical defenders this season. Maybe that's just who he is, maybe it's a function of not being 100% healthy.

When it comes to advanced stats, Markkanen didn't fare especially well. He ranks ninth on the Bulls in net rating, 11th in defensive rating, 10th in effective field-goal percentage, 11th in plus-minus.

The combination of Markkanen and top scorer Zach LaVine hasn't been great this season -- a minus-2.1 net rating -- but it's an improvement from last year (minus-4.9).

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

The Bulls can sign Markkanen to an extension this fall. He also might be the guy who gets traded if the Bulls want to retool the roster, since he probably has decent value around the league. This summer would be a good time for the Bulls to figure out if Markkanen wants to be in Chicago long-term.

There's no hurry to get an extension done. With no extension, Markkanen would be a restricted free agent in 2021 and the Bulls could match any offer.

Waiting another season to see what they have is a valid path forward with Markkanen.

Twitter: @McGrawDHBulls

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