Lauri Markkanen thrilled by Bulls' hiring of Billy Donovan: 'He uses players to their strengths'

"I do feel very confident going into this year," Markkanen says.
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(670 The Score) Since the Bulls officially hired Billy Donovan as their new coach last Tuesday, power forward Lauri Markkanen has had one conversation with him. In a discussion that included plenty of pleasantries and congratulations, a couple questions in particular from Donovan stood out to Markkanen.

“He kind of asked me where do I want the ball and what do I want to do with it,” Markkanen said in a Zoom media session Monday. “So I’m kind of excited to work with him.”

While those queries are about as simple as they come, they were meaningful to the 23-year-old Markkanen because of the circumstances surrounding his disappointing past season. Markkanen regressed in posting career-low marks of 14.7 points, 5.1 rebounds an 42.5% shooting in his third NBA season, one that had been billed ahead of time as a possible breakout campaign.

Soft-spoken in front of the cameras and one who rarely rocks the boat, Markkanen nonetheless expressed frustration on a few occasions about how he was being utilized in former coach Jim Boylen’s offensive system. Markkanen felt he was too often being asked to be a spot-up shooter rather than as someone capable of working in the post, in the pick-and-pop game and with off-ball screens.

Donovan hasn’t much detailed what offensive system he’ll utilize in Chicago after spending five seasons in Oklahoma City, but he emphasized in his introductory media session that he’ll coach to his players’ strengths and make the adjustments needed to do so. That was music to Markkanen’s ears.

“I do think I can be more productive, more versatile than I was last year,” Markkanen said. “Not all times, but there were times I felt like I was just used as spacing the floor, but I think just talking to Billy, I’m really confident this year just by one conversation how he uses players to their strengths. So I’m excited.

“Just getting me into actions, coming off ball screens and he talked about posting up right away. Just being involved.”

Markkanen also placed a fair deal of blame on himself for not living up to expectations as the Bulls went 22-43 and were left out of the NBA’s 22-team restart in Orlando. He admitted his struggles took a toll on him mentally and he didn't respond well enough.

“Of course I’m going to look at myself, and I can always go and play with more energy and I can always rebound better, and I think that’s what gets me going,” he said. “That’s one of the main things, and I think it just pushed me this summer. I’ve been going hard, and I’m really excited about the upcoming year and think I can make the ‘comeback,’ you know.”

In Markkanen’s mind, a comeback means starring for his own team and resetting how opposing players, coaches and executives view him as a player now.

“I kind of had a down year last year,” Markkanen said. “So it was mentally a new experience for me. So I definitely (feel) better now. I can kind of learn from that. I feel more mature. To react to all the things that happen around the league, I know for a fact that people kind of with my down year, they don’t expect that big of things from me going in. Of course, my expectations are even higher than ever now, just going back to my fourth year and performing at a high level. So I do want to prove all the people wrong.”

Markkanen also has much higher hopes for the Bulls whenever the 2020-’21 season may start up.

“I do feel very confident going into this year,” he said. “I think when you look at our team and the players on paper, we should have a really good team. I think the direction we’re going as an organization, I’m really confident going in. The experience that coach Donovan has to bring to the table, I think we’re going to be good.”

Cody Westerlund is a sports editor for 670TheScore.com and covers the Bulls. Follow him on Twitter @CodyWesterlund.