Jam
Lauri Markkanen with a ferocious dunk

As a Bulls fan and blogger, I enjoy listening to a number of podcasts centered on the Bulls and the NBA. It’s cathartic to hear other fans riding the same roller-coaster of emotions as me, and it’s therapeutic to hear experts nit-pick and interpret the Bulls season. One of my favorite Bulls podcasts, Bawl! On Bulls, asked a tantalizing question in it’s last episode. It is a question I think all Bulls fans have secretly been asking themselves: What if Lauri Markkanen is the “One”?

At the beginning of the season, the expectations for this Bulls team where a foregone conclusion; They would lose 60-65 games, find themselves with a top 3 draft pick, and select the next NBA super star. None of that appears to be in the immediate future for this team. Maybe we don’t need that top 3 pick anymore.

What if the 7th overall pick in the 2017 NBA draft is the super star Bulls fans have been waiting for? What if the 20 year old, 7 footer from Finland is the catalyst for NBA championship glory?

Only time and Markkanen can answer the question, but, until his passage has been scribbled in the pages of history, let us speculate at an answer…

After half a season, what do we know about the “Finnisher” as a basketball player? First and foremost, he is a versatile offensive weapon. He is a pure scorer, as capable of hitting three pointers as he is of wickedly throwing down dunks. He can play in the post, rebound, and Markkanen has shown surprising skill defensively.

He uses his length wisely on both offense and defense. He is a smart player. Markkanen is confident, he plays within himself. He is not afraid of big games or tough match ups, some of his best performances have come against the strongest opponents the league has to offer. Every game, every new experience has made Markkanen more comfortable in the league. His confidence grows with his experience, and he learns from his mistakes.

Markkanen has an unflappable demeanor. His confidence, even when in a slump, never seems to waver. He has an edge, you can see it when he posterizes an opponent with one of his vicious dunks. You see it in his smirk as he answers reporters questions after games. You feel the edge when he is bashing with opposing bigs under the basket. You need that edginess, that take no prisoners attitude, to achieve greatness, Markkanen has it.

Let’s peek at some numbers…

Markkanen is already a key contributor for the Bulls. He is averaging 15.5 points with 7.7 rebounds a game. Very respectable traditional stats for a rookie big man. Dirk Nowitzki averaged 17.5 points and 6.5 rebounds in his second season in the league. I’m sorry I just ran that comparison, because Lauri Markkanen is NOT Dirk Nowitzki, he is compared to the future hall-of-famer all the time and it’s not necessarily a fair comparison.

With a broad skill base, an expertise in scoring, and a competitive edginess to his unflappable demeanor, Lauri Markkanen has the potential to be a super star in the NBA. He still has a lot of work to do to reach those lofty heights.

He needs to get stronger. While Markkanen is not afraid to bash with other bigs under the basket he rarely wins those battles. As young as he is, he just doesn’t have enough strength to overpower the grown-ass men that protect the rim in the NBA. Strength will come with age for Markkanen, so we must be patient.

Markkanen certainly shows up for big match ups, playing his best basketball against star players and teams. He needs to play with the same focus and grit he shows for Kristaps Porzingis and the Cleveland Cavaliers in every game of the long season. He needs to maintain a high level of competitiveness in every match-up and throughout every game of the entire season.

LauriVKristaps
Markkanen battles his natural foil, Kristaps Porzingis.

In order to ascend from good to great, Markkanen must prove he can be the dominant big man on the court, without the help of Robin Lopez. He must show an ability to take over games. He has to impose his will on the game, his opponents, and the referees. He must bend the game to his desired outcome and live up to the “Finnisher” nickname.

The another question Lauri Markkanen must answer before he is crowned the “One,” can he make his teammates better? Every NBA great has not only been able to carry his team, but has made his teammates tangibly better. Markkanen will have to find ways of bolstering the Bulls. He must inspire his squad and take a leadership role. If he can embrace his own greatness and share his gifts with his teammates, no one will compare Markkanen to Nowitzki ever again, he will simply be Lauri.

In 2010, Derrick Rose asked a simple question of himself: Why can’t I become the MVP of the league? He saw the potential in himself, he believed in the work he put into his game, he knew his competitive nature was second to none. He won the 2010-2011 MVP award.

The question for Bulls fans is simple, and it’s one we’ve secretly been asking ourselves for a while now:

Why not Lauri Markkanen?

We’ve seen the potential. We’ve seen the improvement and competitiveness; All that remains is for Lauri to ask that same question of himself.

The Worst Records in the NBA:

1. Orlando Magic and Sacramento Kings 14-33 .298

3. Atlanta Hawks 14-32 .304

4. Dallas Mavericks 16-31 .340

5. Phoenix Suns 17-30 .362

9. Chicago Bulls 18-29 .383