Chicago Bulls: Jim Boylen must demand greatness from Lauri Markkanen

If the Chicago Bulls are going to become a playoff team, individual players will need to take their game to the next level. Lauri Markkanen has looked a little soft so far in preseason. What is needed for him to reach his potential and have a breakout year?

Last season will always be remembered as the year the Chicago Bulls formed a Leadership Committee. That was in response to what was quickly becoming a chaotic situation.

Jim Boylen had just been made head coach and unleashed his mission of “shock and awe”. He strongly emphasized the basic requirements of the Chicago Bulls; pride, hustle and teamwork. The players reactions to suddenly being held accountable for professional basketball basics almost led to a mutiny.

But after the committee was formed, players started holding each other accountable. Soon the team was playing its best ball of the season. The official Jim Boylen era had begun.

The original group consisted of Zach LaVine, Robin Lopez, Justin Holiday, Bobby Portis and Lauri Markkanen, a nice mix of veterans and youth. Today only LaVine and Markkanen remain on the team.

Here we are now in October with the NBA season about to kick off. Yet, no leadership committee is in sight. It begs the question, do the Chicago Bulls still need designated leaders?

It is not a common practice for an NBA team to have a designated captain or alternates like in other sports. However, over the last couple decades many of the most successful teams have had captains, including Paul Pierce with the Celtics and Kobe Bryant with the Lakers.

If the Bulls were to adopt the somewhat old-fashioned practice of electing a captain, who would it be?

The answer should come before the season begins. Since last years committee worked out so well, and with so many new faces added to the roster, it would seem the earlier that roles are defined, the better.

The initial inclination would be to go with the savvy veteran Thad Young who came to Chicago because the team needed more leadership.  On second thought, though Young will serve as a mentor, he is also most likely not going to be in the starting lineup. Perhaps he could best lead in a supporting role as opposed to carrying a team on his shoulders when needed.

I thought of the Chicago Blackhawks championship teams. They were starting a dynasty (well at least in Chicago we like to think of it that way) with a young core of Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane.

Toews was only 20 when the Blackhawks made him captain during the 2008-09 season. In 2010 he lead the Hawks to the Stanley Cup.

By making Toews captain, the 2nd youngest in league history, the Blackhawks demanded greatness from him and he delivered. Who can be the Bulls version of Jonathan Toews?

A lot is expected from the Bulls young core of Zach LaVine and Lauri Markkanen. Many feel anything less than an all-star bid for each player would be a disappointment.

Still, with as much talent as Zach LaVine has, there are those in the media who concur that Markkanen has the higher ceiling. The Bulls have talked up Markkanen’s potential from the moment they traded Jimmy Butler in order to draft him.

He was the main prize at that time, not Zach LaVine or Kris Dunn who were also part of the deal.

So far this pre-season though, whispers are getting louder that maybe Laurie is too soft. He isn’t posting enough. He isn’t strong enough on the defensive end.

If Laurie Markkanen is going to expand his game, Jim Boylen has to demand greatness from him. The message has to be sent that he is the captain.

Not Zach. Not Otto. No, You Laurie. You need to finish (finnish?) the job when no-one else can.

Zach and Otto Porter may be perfect alternate captains, but the buck has to stop with the player that is being held to the highest of expectations.

At the age of 22 and entering his third year in the league, it’s now or never for Markkanen. This will be the year that defines his future with the Bulls. His year will also define the Bulls year.

What are his qualifications as a leader besides his physical skills and experience as  part of last years leadership committee?

It is easy to forget that Markkanen comes from a family of professional athletes. Both his parents played professional basketball and his brother is a professional soccer player. He also knows what it’s like to be responsible for other people, having recently become a father.

Even though he has only played two years in the NBA, his professional experience includes the 2015 FIBA Europe Under-18 Championship, the FIBA Europe Under-18 Championship in the summer of 2015 and the 2016 FIBA Europe Under-20 Championship tournament where he average of 24.9 points per game and was named to the All-Tournament Team. Markkanen also played with the Finland senior team at EuroBasket 2017.

He is not new to the big stage or to carrying a team. Laurie Markenan needs to feel the responsibility of the Chicago Bulls season on his shoulders. If he cannot handle that, he is not who we thought he was.

Let’s put the big C on his chest, make it clear who the leader of this team is, and see what he’s made of.