Lauri Markkanen enters the last season of his rookie scale contract, in which after this season he will be eligible for restricted free agency. The Bulls can avoid Lauri Markkanen becoming a restricted free agent, but only if they can agree to an extension before the December 21st deadline. If not, they will risk Markkanen entering a market that has started to dry up before it even began. With some of the top projected free agents signing long term deals, Lauri Markkanen could enter 2021 with high demand if he finds success this season. The Bulls can risk a lot by letting him enter restricted free agency, and in my opinion it is a risk worth taking.
Lauri Markkan has played three seasons in the NBA, this upcoming one will be his 4th. Lauri his rookie year averaged 15.2ppg on 43% shooting, 36% from deep. He started 68 games averaging 7.2rpg in a little less than 30mpg. Lauri showed some potential. A 7 footer who could stretch it from range, and also had athleticism to run the floor and drive on hard close outs. After his rookie season, there were a lot of “what ifs” with Markkanen. What if he develops his handle? What if he gets stronger? Can he be an All-Star? Can he be a building block?
His sophomore season Lauri started the season with an elbow injury that had him out until December 1st. Markkanen through the first 30 games or so was about the same player you saw last season. There was an understanding though as Markkanen missed all of training camp and the first 6 weeks of the season, there would at least be a period of Markkanen getting back into rhythm. Then the infamous February stretched happened. Lauri Markkanen in a 10 game stretched averaged; 26ppg on 49% shooting. He shot 35% from deep, while securing 12.2rpg. Lauri showed a player who wasn’t just relying on pick n pop, or drive n kicks. He ran the floor getting easy baskets, and did not settle for 3 point shots. It was the stretch of Bulls’ fans were waiting for from Markkanen. But it raised expectations for next season. People were expecting an All-Star breakout year from Lauri Markkanen in his third season.
Unfortanetly Markkanen’s third season did not go as planned. He regressed. Markkanen’s averages dropped. 14ppg on 43% shooting. 34% from deep, and only 6.3rpg. But what was most disappointing was the way Markkanen played. Markkanen seemed to settle as just a pick n pop player, more than 50% of his shots came from deep. But even more problematic was that Markkanen’s shot has regressed. He didn’t hit 3s at the same rate in previous seasons. He seemed to lose his confidence in himself and how he was being used. Markkanen’s 3rd season was a huge let down. Even more so because it was going into his extension eligible season. The Bulls were hoping Markkanen would be an obvious extension candidate this year. But now we are asking the question; Is Markkanen worth it?
The 2021 Market
The 2021 market a year ago seemed promising. Players like Paul George, Giannis Antetokounmpo, LeBron James and Anthony Davis were big names teams had thought they were going to have a chance at. But all those players have committed long term to their current teams, leaving the market a little more dry than expected. But for a player like Lauri Markkanen, this could be great. Teams have been gearing up for 2021, leaving themselves plenty of money to spend. But now there are less players to spend it on. So for someone like Lauri Markkanen, having a good season can result in a big payday. It raises the questions if the Bulls should risk letting Markkanen hit the 2021 market. They might end up having to overpay to keep him or maybe even lose him for nothing.
The top free agent power forwards seem to be: Lauri Markkanen(RFA), LaMarcus Aldridge, Serge Ibaka(PO), JaMychal Green(PO), John Collins (RFA), Jonathan Issac(RFA), Nemanja Bjelica, Montrezl Harrell(PO), and PJ Tucker. Maybe you can consider players like Kawhi Leonard, Otto Porter Jr, Doug McDermott, and DeMar DeRozan small ball PFs as well. The talent pool at Lauri Markkanen’s position is not necessarily deep but not too thin either. In my opinion Markkanen’s a good season away from getting paid. Four teams with cap space that could use a PF as of now are; Dallas, Miami, New York, and San Antonio. All four of these teams have the cap space to offer Markkanen close to his max. Not I think that will happen or should, but it important to note the possibility. There is legit competition for Markkanen if he can play better.
The Bulls only have 5 more days to decide on Markkanen’s extension. They unfortunately have to decide before seeing him play this regular season. In 2 preseason games, Markkanen has been inconsistent. In the 1st game he scored 13 points on 5 of 8 shooting, 3 of 5 from deep. In the 2nd game though he scored 3 points on 1 from 10 shooting, 0 from 5 from deep. While he was active in both games, at the end of the day it was good reprensentation of Markkanen’s career. Good and bad games. And personally I haven’t seen much difference from Markkanen this season, besides a leaner thinner Markkanen. I acknowledge though it has only been 2 games, small sample size. Probably don’t want to judge too much, but unfortunately we don’t have much choice. The deadline is this Tuesday, this preseason games are the only thing we can judge him on. But mainly use as projection for the upcoming season. As of now, I can’t imagine getting a much different Lauri Markkanen. He seems to be the same player we have seen the last 3 seasons. And I’m starting to believe that is who he is.
In my opinion the Bulls, should NOT extend Markkanen before his deadline. Unless he is willing to take something around 15 million a season, which I don’t think he would. Markkanen has shown to be too limited. His most valued asset, his jump shot, has slowly regressed each season. His defense and rebounding is not good, especially for someone his size. But mainly offensively he is too limited. The ball handling hasn’t improved, and he doesn’t show good passing vision. At this point in time, he is pick n pop 4 who can run the floor. And while you can argue he can be better, I’m not a big fan of playing players on potential and that is what you are doing with Markkanen. I’m willing to risk him having a good season, and deal with this problem next offseason.