The Bulls Are Making Lauri Markkanen Prove His Value So They Don’t Overpay for a Darko Milicic 2.0

During the summer of 2017, the Chicago Bulls traded Jimmy Butler to the Minnesota Timberwolves for Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn, and the seventh overall pick in the 2017 draft. The Timberwolves used the seventh pick on Lauri Markkanen, who played his college ball at Arizona.

The Bulls were hopeful that Markkanen would turn into the next Dirk Nowitzki. However, after what happened during the 2019-20 season, Chicago may have traded for the next Darko Milicic.

Since the Bulls still don’t know what type of ceiling Lauri Markkanen has, the new front office is forcing the 23-year-old to prove his value to them this upcoming season before making a long-term financial commitment to him.

Lauri Markkanen played very well for the Bulls in Year 1 and 2

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During his rookie season with the Bulls, Lauri Markkanen appeared in 68 games. He averaged 15.2 points, 7.5 rebounds, and 1.2 assists while shooting 43.4% from the field, 36.2% from beyond the arc, and 84.3% from the free-throw line.

Markkanen showed off his shooting skills by hitting 145 3-pointers for the Bulls in 2017-18. He also put the ball on the floor quite a bit and created his own shot off the dribble, something a lot of stretch forwards in the league can’t do. The Bulls were really excited about Markkanen and felt they had a future All-Star on the roster.

In Year 2, Markkanen took his game to the next level. He put up 18.7 points per game and scored at least 30 points for the Bulls eight times. Even though Chicago missed the playoffs again in 2018-19, the club’s future looked bright, with Zach LaVine and Lauri Markkanen leading the way on offense.

Lauri Markkanen regressed in 2019-20

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Lauri Markkanen was projected to make an All-Star team in 2019-20. Instead, he regressed mightily on offense and now there’s talk about him becoming Darko Milicic 2.0.

In 50 games for the Bulls last season before games were suspended in March due to COVID-19, Markkanen averaged a career-low 14.7 points a night. His shooting percentages decreased as well, as the power forward shot only 42.5% from the floor and 34.4% from beyond the 3-point line.

Now, it’s worth mentioning that former Bulls head coach Jim Boylen rarely put Markkanen in positions to be successful last season. Boylen was arguably the worst coach in the NBA and the entire city of Chicago rejoiced when he was fired.

The hope within the Bulls organization is that new head coach Billy Donovan will get the best out of Lauri Markkanen since he’s excellent at player development. Chicago’s new leadership group of Arturas Karnisovas and Marc Eversley, though, is going to wait and see how Markkanen plays under Donovan before opening their checkbooks.

Bulls won’t sign The Finnisher to an extension before the deadline

Lauri Markkanen is likely headed for restricted free agency during the offseason of 2021. According to K.C. Johnson of NBC Sports Chicago, the Bulls and Markkanen are unlikely to agree to a contract extension before Monday evening’s deadline.

During the upcoming season, Markkanen will make $6.7 million. He’ll become a restricted free agent after the 2020-21 season ends once the Bulls offer him his qualifying offer worth $9 million. As a restricted free agent, Markkanen can sign an offer sheet with another team if he wants to, and then the Bulls would have 48 hours to match the deal or let him walk.

Lauri Markkanen struggled to shoot the ball for the Bulls during the 2020-21 preseason. He’s under a lot of pressure to perform well in the regular season. If he doesn’t produce at a high level, Markkanen may not get a lucrative contract during restricted free agency.

Stats courtesy of Basketball Reference.