The career path of Lauri Markkanen continues to become stranger and stranger.
Need more evidence of that?
Throw on the tape from the loss in Utah on Friday night, and then strain your eyes trying to find him impact the game in a winning fashion.
In just his second game as a bench player, as well as now getting some work at the small forward spot when coach Billy Donovan goes with his land of giants lineup, the 7-footer played 23 minutes, took five shots, grabbed two rebounds, handed out one assist, and finished with five points.
Reminder: This is a guy that averaged almost 19 and nine his second year in the league, and a guy opposing teams had to gameplan for.
Now, he’s just that – a guy. The NBA has a bunch of those.
And a guy that far too often plays more like a hostage than a volunteer.
That’s why when the season comes to an end, the writing on the wall screams so will Markkanen’s time as a Bull. At this point it should.
The Bulls are just better when there’s less of Markkanen on the floor. In the 20 games he’s missed this season, all the Bulls have done in his absence is go 11-9. When he plays they are 8-19.
Take it a step further, Markkanen is more effective in the 20-29 minutes per game range than he is when he’s 30-minutes plus. His defensive rating is higher in less minutes, his usage rate, field goal percentage, and three-point percentage also go up. Less of Markkanen is more.
The only question for executive vice president of basketball operations Arturas Karnisovas is how does the Markkanen exit go down? Is he a sign-and-trade or do the Bulls simply let the market bid for the restricted free agent and he walks out the door for nothing in return?
Maybe a change of scenery will do Markkanen good.
It’s hard to say.
Whether the Jim Boylen experience simply sucked the passion to play out of him or he’s still stuck on the fact that he and the Bulls couldn’t get in the same ballpark for an extension in December, the No. 7 overall pick from the 2017 draft that was expected to be a foundation piece in the Jimmy Butler trade-and-rebuild is long gone.
And with no real explanation.
Think about it: It was only a few seasons ago Markkanen was being talked about in “unicorn status.” A big that could stretch out opposing defenses in the same category of a Kristaps Porzingis and a Nikola Jokic. Now it feels like the former front office simply covered up the stripes of a zebra with paint and glued a horn on its head.
So what’s left for Donovan to try and do with Markkanen this season? Find something to ignite him in the minutes he does get coming off the bench.
That’s why the experiment at the small forward spot is now happening.
“I think Lauri’s been fine,” Donovan said of the small sample size Markkanen has shown at the three. “I think one of the things with all the cutting and moving that I think Lauri’s very effective at, we’ve tried to put him in some pin-downs, we’ve tried to run him off screens and do some of those things. He’s done a nice job with that.
“The difference for him right now is he’s dealing with guys probably who are much more nimble and quicker on their feet and they’re more comfortable chasing off screens than maybe it was when he was at the four spot.”
At least Donovan’s trying.
It would be nice if Markkanen would consistently try and meet his coach halfway.