Hey, did you hear? Lauri played.
Lauri Markkanen came off the bench in last nights loss to the Houston Rockets. He was very rusty, playing just over 25 minutes of hesitant basketball. You could tell he was trying to find his fit on the court with the rest of the team. There was a lot of talking with teammates and pointing at spots on the floor, just a lot of general feeling out where he was supposed to be. He missed some ugly shots, but he poured in a couple of beautiful, fluid three pointers, and had a sweet drive to the rim with a lay-up finish. He was rusty, but it was great to see Lauri on the court.
After the game, Markkanen said he felt good with no pain in his elbow. He was also surprised at being in good enough playing shape to last 25 minutes. There were times where he looked a little gassed on the floor, and he didn’t seem to move as quickly on defense as I remember him moving last season, but that should all come back with conditioning (I hope).
Lauri’s return came as a bit of a surprise to me. The last thing I had heard was that his first game would likely be this Tuesday against the Pacers, or next Friday against the Thunder. It was enough of a surprise that I spent most of the game yelling at my wife “Lauri’s back.” The other parts of the game I spent yelling at the screen “Get the ball to Lauri!!!” It was a familiar, and slightly comforting shout, one I had perfected last season after watching missed opportunity after missed opportunity for the Finnisher to get the ball and score.
The most egregious “missing Lauri” moment happened in the second half when Markkanen ran a pick-and-pop with Cameron Payne. Both defenders followed Payne (???!!???) on his drive to the basket leaving Markkanen wide open at the 3 point line, exactly as the play was designed to do. Payne inexplicable ignored Lauri (???!!???), dribbling the ball all the way under the basket, forcing a pass to Jabari Parker for a contested shot at the rim. And there’s me angrily yelling at the screen “Pass it to Lauri!!! That’s what the play was designed for!!!” It’s good to have Markkanen back.
The Bulls went 0-4 in another tough week of basketball. It started hopefully enough with a 1 point loss to the San Antonio Spurs on Monday (107-108). An encouraging 3 point loss to the Milwaukee Bucks followed on Wednesday (113-116), but the week ended in back-to-back blow out losses to the Detroit Pistons on Friday (88-107), and the Houston Rockets on Saturday (105-121).
We’ve reached a point in the season where I’m very tempted to start posting the Tank Standings again, but I’m holding off to see how the team responds to the return of injured players Kris Dunn and Bobby Portis. Both have been practicing with light contact, and are about a week or two away from playing with the team. If the Bulls don’t start posting some wins when the roster is at full health, then I’ll break out the old Tank standings.
MVPs of the Week: Jabari Parker (3) and Zach LaVine (3)
This was a tough week to pick an MVP. An honorable mention goes to Wendell Carter Jr, who had the best game of his short career on Friday night versus the Pistons. The rookie put up 28 points on 11 makes for 18 shot attempts. He had 7 rebounds, 1 assist, and 3 blocks to go along with his offensive explosion. As good as Wendell was against the Pistons, that was his only stand out game of the week. Another honorable mention goes to Justin Holiday who set a franchise record for consecutive regular season games with a made three pointer (32). But it’s LaVine and Parker who have carried the Bulls for the past few weeks (LaVine since week 1). Both have consistently scored over 20 points a game, and both have been putting effort into their defense. Parker and LaVine (and one freak Cam Payne shooting night) are the reason the Bulls have won 5 games this season.
Stat of the Week: Points in the Paint
According to NBA.com, the Bulls are averaging 45.4 points in the paint (PITP) per game and their opponents are scoring 48.4 PITP per game. That’s not a huge difference on the surface, but when you look at PITP in games that the Bulls have won vs lost, the difference is stark.
When the Bulls win they are averaging 52.4 PITP and their opponents only 46 PITP. When they lose, the Bulls only score 43.6 PITP with opponents putting up 49.1 PITP. That’s a difference of about 6 points either way. When you add all the 2nd chance points, points off of turnovers and fast break points the Bulls give up in a game, it’s not hard to understand why they’ve lost as many as they have.
Points in the paint aside, the big takeaway this week should be the simple fact that Lauri Markkanen is back, and playing meaningful minutes in actual games. More help is on the way! Kris Dunn and Bobby Portis are working their way back and should be playing in a week or two! It’s nice to end on a positive note for a change. Thanks for reading and Go Bulls!