Former and current Bulls populate Sports Illustrated Top 100 NBA Players list

Michael Walton
NBC Sports Chicago

Sports Illustrated has started to release their Top 100 NBA Players of 2019 list, and despite the Bulls having quite a bit of intriugue surrounding their roster in the 2018-19 season, they have only had one player named to the list.

Lauri Markannen comes in at No. 84 on the list, one spot ahead of Rockets forward PJ Tucker. 

The shooting prowess of Markannen- who made 145 made 3-pointers last season, the most in NBA history for a 7-foot rookie -is what makes him an obvious candidate to be the primary scoring option on the Bulls, and what also landed him a spot on SI's Top 100 list. But the burgeoning diversity of his game was not ignored:

 

As the season progressed, his signature pick-and-pop game was supplemented by fake-and-drive action that allowed him to use his length to finish in one-on-one scenarios. While not yet much of a playmaker, Markkanen can handle well enough to locate pull-up shots or get going downhill.

-SI's Ben Golliver 

Markannen has likely further sharpened his dribble-drive game, which will help him build on his finishing at the rim. He excelled in that area last season, hitting 67.6 percent of his shots zero-to-three feet from the rim. The Finnish big man should be able to take on an even bigger role this year with Bobby Portis entrenched firmly in his sixth man role, and Nikola Mirotic off the team.

Markannen's usage percentage of 21.9 percent was third among the Bulls top nine rotation players, and even that is too low for a player of his talent level. His poor block rate makes it tough to translate his ceiling on defense, but Golliver agrees with many, in the idea that Markannnen only needs to become a decent defender to if he stays on his current offensive trajectory. Even without increased usage, increased efficiecny in a second or third-option role would take Markannen's game to new heights. 

Former Bulls make noise on SI Top100 NBA Players of 2019

Taj Gibson made the list at No. 83, one spot ahead of Markannen. Gibson's inclusion on the list is no shock after the big role he played on last year's Timberwolves team that ended the NBA's longest playoff drought. His numbers don't jump off the page, but they also don't illustrate how key he is to Minnesota's effectiveness. The Timberwolves were 4.2 points worse on defense when Gibson was not on the floor, and he was the third out of Minnesota's starters in on-court net rating

SI's Rob Mahoney cites Gibson's reliability as the main reason for his inclusion on the list, and after finishing with the highest true shooting percentage (takes into account two-pointers, 3-pointers and free throws) of his career at age 32, he certainly isn't showing many signs of slowing down. 

Nikola Mirotic was the highest ranked of the former Bulls (swingman Jimmy Butler has not been named to the list yet, likely landing him somewhere in the top 10), and his play post-Pelicans trade is why. The Bulls traded Mirotic to the New Orleans Pelicans for a package involving Omer Asik's contract, a few veterans and a first-round draft pick, and though he played a role in the Bulls hot 14-11 stretch once he returned last season, he played a bigger role in the Pelicans playing like an elite team down the stretch.

Per Ben Falk's website Cleaning the Glass:

The Pelicans posted an offensive rating of 113.6 when Davis and Mirotic were in the game together, which would have been third-best in the NBA last season. 

Mirotic's shooting opened up the floor for Pelicans head coach Alvin Gentry, as defenses had to decide between tagging Davis on the pick-and-roll or staying attached with Mirotic at the 3-point line. Yet the biggest success of Mirotic last year was bringing some solid defense with him to New Orleans. Again, per Cleaning the Glass:

And on defense, they were even better, allowing just 103.2 points per 100 possessions when the duo shared the floor, which would have been the best mark in the league.

There is not much room for Mirotic to grow at this stage of his career. But he can grow within the context of the Pelicans play style. His 15.3 percent rebound rate in 30 games with New Orleans would be the highest mark of his career over a full season. If Mirotic can dedicate himself even more to grabbing defensive rebounds, he will help lessen the workload of Anthony Davis, and this will be the Pelicans best chance of grabbing a top-four playoff seed in the stacked Western Conference. 

Notable Snubs 

At 36 years old, Wade not making the list is quite regular, and nothing about his season last year screamed "top 100 player".

He posted the lowest marks of his career in Player Efficiency Rating, free throw rate, and the second-to-last defensive rating of his career. No matter what metric you use, Wade's 2017-18 season shows a man whose career is on its last legs.

He has still not committed to coming back for the 2018-19 NBA season, and whether or not he retires, he is clearly a first-ballot Hall of Famer. But if you are rating Wade in relation to the rest of the current league, he is a nice third or fourth guard to have in you rotation, but definitely not one of the top 100 players. 

The most notable Bulls snubs were Parker and LaVine, the pair of high-volume scorers that the Bulls locked up for a combined $118 million. They have yet to share the court together, which will clearly go a long way towards determining where they rank on future lists. 

Parker career per game averages are skewed by the amount of time he has missed in his career. Per 36 minutes, he has a career scoring average of 17.9 points per game on 49 percent shooting. This, on paper, is the best illustration of what he can bring to the table. In a best-case scenario, Parker can maintain a high usage rate-ideally second or third highest usage of the starters-and a true shooting percentage in the high 50s. LaVine's best-case scenario is almost the exact same, except his usage rate should lead his team if you are taking his contract with the Bulls into account. 

LaVine has talked with our Vincent Goodwill about wanting to be the leader or "alpha dog" on this young Bulls team, but his actions will have to do the talking once the season tips off. Last season he proved that he still had the trademark explosiveness that had come to define his game. But his shooting touch abandoned him in his abbreviated 24-game season. If he can get his 3-point shooting back to pre-injury levels (meaning at or above 38 percent), it will help his efficiency, which is often dragged down by the amount of long 2-point shots he attempts. 

If either of Parker or LaVine show attention to detail on defense, it will improve their standing in the league. Parker's size at least makes him a decent option for a switching defense, which the Bulls are rumored to be trying to execute more. But he lacks the foot speed needed to stay in front of quicker guards or wings. Couple that with LaVine's putrid off-ball defense, and it is easy to see why so many national NBA writers have the lowest of low expectations for this Bulls defense.

Robin Lopez and Carter Jr. will help to cover for many of the defensive lapses of LaVine and Parker by blocking shots at the rim, but the Bulls new wing tandem (Parker, Lavine) will have to show some reasonable improvement on the defensive side of the ball to land on the SI Top 100 list next year. 

 

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