Lauri Markkanen's production is down, and the Bulls must find a fix

K.C. Johnson
NBC Sports Chicago

BOSTON - This was touted as Lauri Markkanen's breakout season. Instead, 41 games in, he's scoring fewer points per game than in his rookie season while barely averaging more playing time.

The lack of production is a combination of factors. Markkanen got off to a slow start, missing open shots and struggling to adjust to the Bulls' new offensive scheme that features reading and reacting and equal opportunity, rather than a true pecking order. He has battled a sore oblique and is currently playing through a sprained left ankle.

The limited playing time can't be overlooked, either.

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"Obviously, I had my bad stretch in the beginning and kind of picked it up after that. Just don't know what to say. I've had my moments. But I obviously expect more from myself," Markkanen said following the Bulls' 113-101 loss to the Celtics. "So I'm disappointed in myself because I think if I played at a normal level, we'd probably have a couple more wins. I think I can do a better job."

Markkanen is a team-first guy who never will rock the boat. Nevertheless, he fielded a follow-up question on whether or not he could be more impactful with more playing time and more shots.

"That's our system now," he said. "It's just trying to figure it out because there are games that I'm really involved and I'm bringing the ball up. I can do a better job. I look in the mirror. I can rebound better and get out and run. I need to look at myself first. Just gotta figure out what it is."

This issue is compounded on nights when Thad Young gets rolling, as he did against the Celtics. Taking advantage of the Celtics' smaller, switching defense, the Bulls finally utilized Young in the post, a place he has made the majority of his living during his 13-year NBA career.

"It wasn't in the game plan. It just happened to be they had a small lineup and we tried to take advantage of it," Young said. "If they came with a double [team], I'd pass out of the double. They weren't coming with a double at first. So I was like, ‘All right. Easy layups.' Just playing basketball."

Coincidentally, Young fielded questions following the morning shootaround about how much the system is calling for him to play on the perimeter. He's currently averaging the second-highest 3-point attempts per game of his career.

Zach LaVine talked about how much he liked seeing Young operate in the post. So is this something the Bulls could employ against other teams, no matter their defense?

"That's up to Coach to look at the film and see if he wants to do something with that. I'm always here whenever you need me to do whatever," Young said. "Whatever they tell me to do, I try to do to the best of my abilities. I think it could be something we try to use when the time is right."

With Wendell Carter Jr. sidelined four to six weeks with a sprained right ankle, Boylen has talked about developing Daniel Gafford and Luke Kornet. He has rarely played Markkanen and Young together, and Markkanen sat for close to 11 minutes of game action on Monday when Young got rolling offensively.

"Our guys understand if somebody has it going, we're going to leave him in there," Boylen said. "We've done that throughout the year."

But at what cost for the franchise's future? Boylen was one of many pointing to the Bulls' offseason moves as clearing the runway for LaVine and Markkanen to ascend towards stardom.

Instead, Markkanen is putting up numbers that resemble his rookie season.

"I feel like you get a little bit cold after that," Markkanen said of his lengthy sitdowns. "But it's nothing you can't get through. 22 years old, you get warm going to the scorers' table."

The Bulls need more out of Markkanen.

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Lauri Markkanen's production is down, and the Bulls must find a fix originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

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