Is Lauri Markkanen the Chicago Bulls' Best Player?
Their record is 0-2.
They're being outscored by an average of 13.5 points, third-worst in the NBA.
Their offensive rating is 86.8, dead last in the Association.
Thanks to a lame-o practice fight, they're down two power forwards.
Pressed into starting duty thanks to the aforementioned tussle between the now-suspended Bobby Portis and the now-healing Nikola Mirotic, Markkanen has flashed the skill set that the Bulls front office believed would soften the blow of losing All-Star Jimmy Butler over the summer.
Coming out of Arizona, the scouting reports on the 7'0", 230-pound power forward raved about his efficiency, his court savvy, and his outside shooting. His per-40-minute college numbers and key advanced stats such as player efficiency rating (PER), win shares (WS), box plus/minus (BPM), and true shooting percentage (TS%) more than justify that.
|2016-17 - Arizona||Pts/40 min||Reb/40 min||2pt FG%||3pt FG%||FT%||PER||WS||BPM||TS%|
The Finnish native finished the 2016-17 NCAA season ranked 5th in the country in offensive rating (eight spots ahead of Lonzo Ball), 9th in offensive win shares, 13th in win shares per 40 minutes, and 12th in offensive box plus/minus (four spots ahead of Markelle Fultz).
In spite of the good numbers -- and in spite of the fact that everybody expects 2017-18 to be a down year for the Bulls, and down years are the perfect time to give rookies minutes galore -- Chicago was expected to bring along Markkanen slowly.
Then came the fight. Then came the starts. Then came the realization that Markkanen might be the best the Bulls have to offer.
Markkanen did become the first Bulls rookie since Michael Jordan—always a good start to a sentence—to score at least 30 points combined in his first two NBA games. https://t.co/u68u696wsw
— Tomi Viia (@tviia) October 22, 2017
Right now, four Bulls are averaging 30-plus minutes: Markkanen, center Robin Lopez, shooting guard Justin Holiday, and point guard Jerian Grant. We'll take Grant out of the equation, because as soon as point man Kris Dunn's dislocated finger is deemed ready to go -- which could be by the end of the week -- Grant will be headed back to the bench.
So here are Markkanen's numbers through Chicago's two games as compared to Lopez's and Holiday's.
|2017-18 - Chicago||Pts/36 min||Reb/36 min||2pt FG%||3pt FG%||FT%||PER||WS||BPM||TS%|
The digits give the slight edge to the vastly under-appreciated Lopez. (Lopez's stats are so solid, in fact, that it wouldn't be a surprise to see the Bulls amp up their potential tanking plans and offload him to a contender.)
Yeah, we're talking a mere two-game sample size, but it's only taken two games for Markkanen to demonstrate that there's a teeny, tiny, itty, bitty chance he could become, as some have whispered, the next Dirk Nowitzki. (Then again, it seems like all tall, sweet-shooting Euro-dudes get the Dirk comps.)
If nothing else, there are a few things Markkanen can do that Lopez can't.
Pretty move by Markkanen, taking Pau in isolation. pic.twitter.com/zQAXkthDDQ
— Stephen Noh (@StephNoh) October 22, 2017
Right now, right this second, Lauri Markkanen may not be the best player on the Chicago roster -- but that might not be the case when we revisit this discussion next month. Or, hell, maybe even next week.