3 Takeaways: Lauri Markkanen slaps the sophomore slump across the face in road win over Nets

Michael Walton
NBC Sports Chicago

3 Takeaways: Lauri Markkanen slaps the sophomore slump across the face in road win over Nets originally appeared on nbcsportschicago.com

In the first Bulls game with Otto Porter Jr. on the roster, they played like a completely different team in a surprisingly comfortable win over the (likely) playoff bound Nets. 

Ottomatic" Otto Porter Jr. is the ideal small forward for this current Bulls roster

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The Bulls came out hot on offense in this one, clearly playing different on offense with the added offensive gravity of Otto Porter.

The newest member of the Chicago Bulls went 3/3 from the field in the first quarter, including one 3-point make. But even though Porter, didn't attempt many 3s in the first half, he did the little things to help the overall flow of the offense.

Porter set screens, stayed in constant motion on the perimeter and made timely off-ball cuts to the basket that either got him an open shot or drew the attention of opposing help defenders.

As Kendall Gill hinted at in Bulls Postgame Live, Porter played like he had been with the Bulls since training camp, rather than a player who literally took a commercial flight to join up with his new team within the last 48 hours.

OPJ--Stacey King and Jason Benetti's nickname for Porter--finished a team-high +18 from the field. This game was a great showcase for Porter, and Bulls got to see exactly what he will be for this team on a nightly basis: a plus/minus monster.

With Porter on the Bulls roster for the first time, they played perhaps their best game of the season, putting up a season-high 125 points. Chicago also finished with a team assist rate--27 assists on 46 made field goals--that is over 2.5 percent higher than their season average.

The most clear takeaway from this game is that Otto Porter makes the Bulls a better team on both ends of the floor, and he is going to do quite a bit to aid along the development of the young core just by being a functional small forward.

Lauri Markkanen just slapped the sophomore slump in the face

There are plenty of think pieces that tackle whether or not the sophomore slump is a real phenomenon, but whether or not it is always true, it is clear that the transition from Year 1 to Year 2 is tough in the NBA due to the opposition having plenty of (NBA) game tape on your strengths and weaknesses. But in terms, of the upcoming opponents for the Bulls, throw your Markkanen game tape out of the window, because no particular defensive scheming is going to slow down "The Finnisher" right now.

Over his last six games, Markkanen has put 24 PPG, 14 RPG on 47.4 percent shooting from the field and 41.5 percent from the 3-point line.

NBA defenses have tried very diligently to run Markkanen off the 3-point line and force him to make a high-percentage of 2-point shots. Despite taking more shots overall in 2018-19, Markkanen's 3-point percentage has risen while his 2-point percentage has dropped significantly. All of this is to be taken with a grain of salt, as his elbow injury earlier in the year caused him to the first 23 games of the season.

But with a 32 game sample size under his belt, it is clear that Markkanen is on the rise.

He is averaging more minutes, points, rebounds, free throw attempts, steals and blocks per game than he did in his rookie season. Three games into February (30.3 PPG, 12.3 RPG), Markkanen looks like he has a lot more in store for Bulls Nation post All-Star break.

The new look Bulls roster could do wonders for Kris Dunn

Earlier in this very post, I mentioned how Porter's main benefit to this Bulls roster is the fact that he is a functional SF. And by that statement, I meant that the fact Porter's skill set--proficient 3-point shooter, solid defender, low-usage player--lines up so perfectly with what the Bulls lack, making it easier for the core group to focus on improving on their weaknesses.

Kris Dunn has had a very up-and-dow season, that has led to Bulls President of Basketball Ops John Paxson stating that the franchise is "still evaluating" Dunn. But again, the Porter addition--as well as the less heralded additions of Wayne Selden, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot  and Brandon Sampson--specifically helps out Dunn since it appears unlikely that he will ever develop into even a league-average shooter.

Dunn's 3-point attempt rate has actually decreased this season from last year, which effectively nullifies the fact that he has increased his 3-point percentage to a career-high 36.7 percent through 28 games. But with this new look roster, it is actually possible for Bulls head coach Jim Boylen to surround the shooting-deficient Dunn with four 3-point shooters.

Both Dunn (and Boylen for that matter) have somehow received both fair and unfair amounts of scrutiny this season. However, now that Markkanen, Porter, and Selden are all shooting the ball well from deep (at the same time), and the new look roster is performing well (so far), we will likely see the best version of Dunn and Boylen down the stretch.

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