A fan has to look at only one statistic to understand why the Chicago Bulls lost to the New Jersey Nets on Sunday. They were out rebounded 50-31. I had to triple check that to make sure I was not reading it wrong.
All three players of the season’s original starting front court are again playing significant minutes. They are backed up by veteran Thad Young and rookie Daniel Gafford. But these young Bulls clearly were not ready to box out and compete with the 31-year-old DeAndre Jordan and Taurean Prince, who averages 4.3 rebounds a game over his illustrious NBA career.
Fans once thought the Bulls would be building around the number seven pick of the 2017 NBA draft, Lauri Markkanen and the number seven pick of the 2018 daft Wendell Carter. Clearly it is the seventh pick of the 2019 draft, Coby White who has stolen the limelight this season. Building a team around two big men who seem to be going backwards though does not seem like a plan going forward.
Of course we know these young strong guys are coming back from injury and will have to be on time restrictions. Otherwise, their gentle bodies will break down once again. So, how bad have Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter been since they returned to the lineup with no expectations upon them?
Absolutely horrible. Here are some stats, and even though stats don’t tell the whole story, they also don’t lie.
Since coming back into the starting lineup three games ago, Markkanen has played nearly 70 minutes and has made only 12 shots on 28 field goal attempts. He has scored 32 points.
But, it gets worse. He has grabbed only 11 rebounds and shot only four free throws. The most telling stat of all, that reflects how soft Lauri Markkanen has become, is that he has committed only one foul. He is doing a better job of playing tag than basketball.
I wish that meant he was some kind of incredible defender, but when considering his lack of rebounding and foul attempts, the only conclusion is that either he has completely checked out or he just is not as good as we thought after last February’s surge.
Unfortunately Wendell Carter has not been any better. In over 94 minutes since returning, he has scored only 10 baskets and is averaging 6.8 points a game to go with a measly 6.6 rebounds. He has no blocks in each of the last two games from the center position. What happened to tough and physical Wendell?
Many will point to an offensive system not designed to their games. But that’s the NBA. It is easier to have one system than to design a system that caters to players feelings of entitlement.
Shaquille Harrison is an example of playing in a system, as are veterans Young and Tomas Satoransky. It’s been a difficult season for them. They persevere and bring their best effort each game. Shaq especially plays bigger than his size in the mode of Boylen favorite Ryan Arcidiacono.
Clearly, the two players this team needs to build around right now are the two guards Zach LaVine and White. The team has assets and a high draft pick. The needs are a point guard, a small forward and an NBA caliber center while Gafford further develops.
In the mean time, both Markkanen and Carter may not be needed. Perhaps it would be best to package one of them in a trade that could fill a more pressing need than having a pair of former number seven draft picks that show no signs of growth?
Yes, it is true that Jim Boylen may have played a large part in these players under performing. Certainly, injuries can throw a player’s game off too. Yet Otto Porter, the seasons biggest disappointment, has also just come back from a long layoff. In four games he has scored 51 points in under 80 minutes. In Sundays loss, he led the team in scoring.
Something seems very broken in the development of the Bulls two starting bigs. Any new management team will have to bring in an NBA ready center and decide how best to maximize the value Chicago’s 2017 and 2018 first round picks can still bring.