This summer Chicago Bulls made a conscientious decision to start their rebuilding process despite the fact that that they knew there would be several bumps and the losses would surely pile up. However, the Bulls also knew that the only way they were going to get out of the mediocre funk that they were in, was to blow up their roster and go with a younger core of players.
And that is exactly what they did.
The Bulls got things rolling by trading away star Jimmy Butler on a draft day deal and released Rajon Rondo along with Isaiah Canaan just prior to the start of free agency. They also allowed Michael Carter-Williams to walk as a free agent and then bought out the remaining year of hometown hero Dwyane Wade’s contract right before the start of training camp.
Of all the transactions the Bulls made, they got the biggest backlash on the trade of Butler. And it wasn’t that he was dealt away. Several “experts” didn’t think that the Bulls got enough in return for the three-time all-star.
I, on the other hand, always liked the deal particularly mainly due to the fact that 20-year-old Lauri Markkanen was involved in the deal. Markkanen, the seventh overall selection in this summer’s draft, was sent to Chicago along with extremely athletic Zach LaVine and much maligned 2016 No. 5 selection Kris Dunn. The Bulls also included Justin Patton, the 16th pick in 2017, in the trade.
Granted, Butler is a fantastic two-way wing player who can flat out score. But Markkanen showed that he was extremely gifted offensively with a lot of upsides in his one season at Arizona, mainly due to the fact the 7-footer can flat out shoot the ball.
Markkanen was going to see significant time this year regardless, although he has seen more playing time than expected and has made the most of it. The Finland native has scored in double-figures each of his first three games and recorded his first career double-double in the second game of the season against San Antonio. He is coming off his best game of the season against Cleveland (119-112 loss) on Tuesday, coming away with a new admirer in LeBron James.
"Very confident," James said of Markkanen. "Watched him a lot at Arizona. Watched him a lot. He wore my shoe a couple times ... he wore my retro Brons a couple times. I like that. I had to stay up very late to watch those Arizona games. A very confident kid, shoot the heck out of the ball. He's going to continue to get better. The best thing about it is he's getting an opportunity. If he makes mistakes, he can learn on the fly, but he's going to play a lot. He's good. It seems like he's learning. He's a good player."
Markkanen tallied 19 points against the Cavs as he made 7-of-12 shots from the floor including 5-of-8 from beyond the arc. With his five triples, he became the first rookie in NBA rookie to make 10 treys in his first three games. He also grabbed eight rebounds.
The thing that has been most impressive about Markkanen is how quickly he releases the ball. The quickness of his release is greatly aided by the fact that he is ready to shoot as soon as he catches the ball. But Markkanen has shown he is more than just a great perimeter shooter. He can get by defenders off the dribble and is a very good finisher around the rim. He possesses above average athleticism for a guy his size and has been outstanding on the defensive boards. Markkanen also has been better than expected on the defensive end overall.
Through three games, Markkanen is averaging 16.3 points along with 9.3 rebounds while shooting 44.7% from the floor and an incredible 45.5% from behind the arc.
Can Markkanen keep up the pace? He definitely has the potential to be a star in the league, as long as he keeps developing his game, though it appears that the Bulls may limit his minutes down the road as a result of him playing in EuroBasket this summer. Plus, power forward Bobby Portis will be coming back from his eight-game suspension shortly. Nikola Mirotic, who was involved in an altercation with Portis, could be out return mid-December.
LaVine can really score and has shown improvement in the other offensive areas throughout his three-year career. The big question of the trade for the Bulls is LaVine’s health and whether Dunn can develop into an all-around point guard as he showed during his four seasons at Providence.
LaVine is currently recovering from knee surgery and is expected to cleared for minor contact in the next two weeks and full contact in the next three weeks. He has been out since tearing his left ACL ( Feb. 3).
Dunn could see his first action this regular season this week, either Thursday or Saturday. Dunn dislocated his left index finger on Oct. 6. Coach Fred Hoiberg said Dunn will backup starting point guard Jerian Grant when he returns.
Chicago went 83-81 the last two seasons, finishing ninth and eighth in the Eastern Conference playoff race, respectively. Prior to missing the playoffs in 2016, the Bulls had reached the postseason seven straight years. They made the conference semifinals twice and conference finals (2011) during that seven-year span.
Cavs change starting lineup
The Cavaliers (4-1) changed its starting lineup against the Bulls, inserting JR Smith and Tristan Thompson for Dwyane Wade and Derrick Rose. The lineup shuffle also meant that LeBron James would be the team’s starting point guard, the first time he has done that since February 13, 2005 and that Kevin Love would go back to his natural power forward position -- Love had started at center the previous three games.
James handled the move to the point quite well, recording a season-high in points (34) and assists (13). The 32-year-old, who made 13-of-20 shots from the field, also came away with three steals and turned the ball over just twice in 37 minutes of action. The game marked the sixth time that James has totaled 20-plus points and 10-plus assists as a point guard in his career and his 154 such game overall.
In the meanwhile, Love came alive in the fourth quarter to help keep the Bulls (0-3) winless. Love scored 10 points and grabbed six boards in the final quarter as the Cavs outscored the Bulls 28-20 over the last 12 minutes. He finished the game with 20 points and 12 rebounds for his third double-double of the season.
Rose has missed the last two games with an ankle injury though he could play sometime this week.
The Cavs victory on Tuesday snapped a five-game losing streak to the Bulls. Cleveland got 46 points from its bench.
Chicago knocked down 17 three-pointers, on 33 attempts (51.1%), against Cleveland which was one short of the franchise’s record. Seven different players made a three-pointer, including center Robin Lopez -- who now has made two trifectas in his career, both this year.
Boston Celtics superb young duo continue to shine
Boston Celtics’ youngsters Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum continued their superb play on Tuesday. The dynamic duo became the first players 21 years or younger in Celtics’ history to score 20 points in the same game. Brown scored 23 points, on 9-of-16 shooting, and Tatum had 22 points, on 9-of-15 shooting, as Boston defeated New York 110-89.
Brown, who turned 21 yesterday, and Tatum, 20, are averaging a combined 33.6 points along with 13.6 rebounds and 2.6 assists as well as 2.5 steals and 1.5 blocks. Brown has topped the 20-point mark twice while Tatum accomplished the feat for the first time.
Aaron Gordon is out to prove something
Four years ago, Gordon came into the NBA known for his athleticism, versatility and defensive ability. The No. 4 pick in the 2014 draft did show some offensive potential and he has improved in that area in each season of his NBA career. Gordon has been decent on the defensive end so far in his career.
Gordon, who posted 20 double-doubles during his first three seasons, exploded for a career-high 41 points in Orlando’s 125-121 victory over Brooklyn on Tuesday. The 22-year-old made 14-of-18 shots from the field, including all five of his three-point attempts, and was 8-of-10 from the charity stripe. He also collected 14 rebounds for his first double-double of the season.
Gordon is off to a good start to the 2017-18 campaign, producing 27.5 points and 11.5 rebounds along with 2.5 assists through two games. He has made 6-of-7 of his three-point attempts this season, which shows marketed improvement in that area over his career average of 0.7 triples a game. Gordon missed two games last week with a sore left ankle.
With the victory, the Magic improved to a surprising 3-1 on the season. Point guard Elfrid Payton (hamstring) missed his second game. Veteran D.J. Augustin once again started in his place, tallying 19 points and six dimes in 29 minutes.
Pacers set field goal percentage record
The Indiana Pacers are fourth in the NBA in scoring, thanks in large part to them having two of the five highest scoring games in the league. The Pacers scored an NBA-high 140 points on opening night and then on Tuesday, they put up 130 points in their win over Minnesota.
The 130 points ties several teams for the fifth-highest scoring output this year. However, the impressive part of the team’s accomplishment is that they shot a franchise record 66.7% from the field. The Pacers also set a season-high with 31 assists.
Victor Oladipo, who led the team with 28 points, and Cory Joseph, who finished with 21 points, combined to make 19-of-27 shot attempts. Oladipo has scored 56 points the last two games and is shooting 47.1% from the field for the season.
Bojan Bogdanovic had his best game of his short stint with the Pacers, scoring 19 points on 9-of-12 shooting. Darren Collison, Domantas Sabonis, and T.J. Leaf also reached double-figures.
Sabonis made all of his field goal attempts (7-of-7) as did Al Jefferson (4-of-4).
Pelicans’ Anthony Davis leaves Blazers game early
The New Orleans Pelicans appear to avoided another big injury blow when star Anthony Davis’ MRI came back negative on Tuesday night. Davis left the game against Portland five minutes into the first quarter after banging knees with Blazers forward Mo Harkless. His status is uncertain for Thursday’s game against Sacramento.
Davis is off to his usual good start to the season. The 24-year-old big man is averaging 24.3 points, 12.0 rebounds and 2.0 assists along with 1.5 blocks as well as 1.5 steals. He is shooting 53.1% from the field and 45.5% from beyond the arc. Davis had two points, one rebound and a block before leaving the game in Portland.
Davis does have quite an injury history. He has missed 75 games in his career and has only played at least 70 games in a season once (last season).
New Orleans dropped to 1-3 on the season following their 103-93 loss. DeMarcus Cousins led the way for the Pelicans with 39 points and 13 caroms for his fourth straight double-double.
Davis is the sixth player on Pelicans’ injury report. Alexis Ajinca had surgery on his knee and is expected to be out for four-to-six weeks. Omer Asik has been out since February dealing with Crohn’s disease. Solomon Hill (hamstring), Frank Jackson (foot) and Rajon Rondo (a hernia) are also out. Rondo is expected to be the first player to return to action, likely in December.
Portland (3-1) won its 17th straight home opener as C.J. McCollum scored 16 of his 23 points in the fourth quarter.