(670 The Score) While it’s unclear if he realized it, new Bulls coach Billy Donovan threw shade at his predecessor Jim Boylen with a simple, straightforward comment about one of the team’s key young pieces.
Donovan was discussing big man Lauri Markkanen’s poor past season during the Bulls’ virtual media day as training camp officially opened with individual workouts Tuesday. As he did, he identified what he found to be an issue.
“What I do not want him to be from watching film is what I would say would be one-dimensional, just a catch-and-shoot forward,” Donovan said. “I think those guys become too easy to guard.”
The remark was music to the ears of both Markkanen and Bulls fans. It was no secret that by the end of the Bulls’ disappointing 22-43 campaign in 2019-’20, Markkanen was frustrated by his role in Boylen’s offensive system. In Markkanen’s mind, he too often served as a spot-up shooter, which limited his opportunities to utilize his more diverse skill set. Not coincidentally, Markkanen experienced his worst season as a professional, averaging 14.7 points and 6.3 rebounds while shooting 42.5% from the field and 34.4% on 3-pointers, which were all career-low marks.
Donovan envisions getting much more out of the 23-year-old Markkanen, who would like to finalize an extension off his rookie contract before the Dec.
“Everybody knows he can put the ball on the floor and he can shoot it,” Donovan said of Markkanen. “But can we try to create some situations for him where he becomes a little more difficult to guard? I think it’s twofold. I think one, it’s him understanding how to attack size mismatches. The other part of it is the team having recognition in transition of when he’s open to find him, because when you close to him, he has enough skill to go by you. And then I think the other part for him is him getting into the teeth of the defense when he does drive it, have the physicality to finish at the basket, get fouled, get to the free-throw line. I think Lauri has really worked hard this offseason. I think he’s going to continue to evolve and get better.”
On Tuesday, Markkanen put the burden on himself to be more active, explaining he could do more to control that. It will be a theme for the entire team, as Donovan wants more cutting and ball movement in the half-court than what he has seen in reviewing film of the Bulls from last season.
“I do think with this group we’ve got to run, and we’ve got to be really willing to move and to cut and to help each other generate shots,” Donovan said. “I think that’s going to be important for this group. The starting five, for me, just it being so early, it would be hard to say what that would look like at this point in time. But I do think from an identity standpoint, what kind of shots can we create? How good of shots can we create?”
Cody Westerlund is a sports editor for 670TheScore.com and covers the Bulls. Follow him on Twitter @CodyWesterlund.