The Bulls want to see the guy fans once affectionately called “The Finnisher” succeed, but Lauri Markkanen has had a difficult season. He is once again battling injury and one has to question whether he can be relied on to expand his game and move forward.
If, and I emphasize IF. because it won’t be anything new, but IF Lauri Markkanen continues to miss time during these final 27 games, I advocate trying Wendell Carter and Daniel Gafford on the floor together, with Wendell at the power forward position.
I say this for three reasons and bear with me. Open your hearts.
1) When Wendell got to Duke, he came out of high school as a Power Forward. You can check it out yourself. ESPN ranked Carter as the No. 4 overall recruit and the nation’s top power forward in the 2017 high school class.
Did you hear that? He was the Nations Top Power Forward coming out of High School.
He then only moved to center at Duke with the arrival of Marvin Bagley III.
The biggest arguments I hear from Bulls fans is that he is great rebounder, great on defense and can’t stretch the floor, which seems to be a requirement of any power forward in today’s modern NBA.
So, let me address that.
As far as his rebounding, per 36 minutes, Carter averages 11.9 boards a game. 4.2 on offense and 7.7 on defense. On the offensive end he ranks high, but on defense, among NBA centers who have played at least 20 games this season, and this is from NBA stats.com, he ranks 51st in defensive rebounds per game.
When Wendell does get the offensive board, he tends to struggle getting the put back, and often loses the ball. I don’t have stats on this but he just doesn’t seem to have strong hands or maybe he has small hands. It would be interesting to see how many points have been generated off of those offensive rebounds.
Gafford is actually a more efficient scorer under the hoop as reflected in his field goal percentage which is ranked tenth in the league versus Wendell who ranks 49th.
Another important stat is that while it is true that Gafford ranks even lower than Carter in rebounding, Gafford leads the entire NBA in Blocks Per Game per 36 minutes. He leads the league, as a rookie! How can we not be excited about this guy?
Last I checked that kind of leaping ability cannot be taught. Gafford has it. Carter doesn’t.
I agree Gafford still needs to improve his ability to stay in front of guards on pick and rolls and he needs to box out better on the boards. But he is a rookie and will improve his rebounding and defense. That can be taught. However, he must play and certainly there is no reason Cristiano Felicio should be playing ahead of him at his point.
2) I loathe the expression “todays modern NBA”. Today’s modern NBA is already changing as teams look for advantages and learn to combine the old with the new.
Many may be missing what is happening in Utah with Rudy Gobert, who probably will win Defensive Player of the Year. A center that can run the fast break, intimidate in the paint with incredible shot blocking ability and put the ball in the hoop with high-efficiency, is exactly where today’s modern NBA is going, especially if you don’t have a James Harden, Kawhi Leonard or Lebron James.
To sum it up, I imagine that Wendell Carter may already have been our power forward of the future had Lauri Markkenan not been on the team. So, all I am asking is that we go to the place of “We Don’t Know What We Don’t Know”. That is where innovation begins. Let’s give it a try.
Carter absolutely can defend smaller power forwards. We already saw him defend guards effectively when switching on the pick and roll. They’d be a killer tag team on defense and on offense, just surround them with outside threats who can play the inside-out game. Otto Porter, Tomas Satoransky, Zach LaVine and Coby White all fit that bill.
Again, all this applies if both Gafford and Carter are healthy with Lauri still out. Have Luke Kornet and Thad Young as the front court on the second team and let the young guys develop a chemistry. While we are at it, let’s try Coby with the starting line-up and see what he can bring for the rest of the season.
3) Carter and Gafford can become a dynamic defensive duo. Carter also is able to develop a strong mid-range game, one it seemed he had last year, if not a three point game. Gafford will only improve as a dunking machine, and it may open up the possibility of trading Lauri, who can be marketed by new management as a young player misused by his coach.
Besides Zach, who I am not trading, Lauri is probably the player we can still get the best return for. He has untapped potential for sure, but the fact is, Lauri has regressed this year and been a disappointment. We expected him to be in the same all-star conversation as Zach at this point.
One can legitimately argue that Lauri was misused by Boylen and has been playing in a system that doesn’t play to his strengths. No doubt. But having Jim Boylen as his coach didn’t prevent Zach LaVine from taking his game to another level. It actually may have pushed him to prove himself despite his coach.
It didn’t prevent Kris Dunn from becoming an all-NBA caliber defender either.
My personal feeling is that Lauri did not come ready to play this season. There was no growth is his game whatsoever. If confidence is the issue, he needs to go home this off-season and work on his head.
Lauri simply has to come back after the All-star break as a different player. He has the talent to put up 20 and 10 every night (otherwise, Wendell can put up those numbers). Boylen can’t rebound and shoot for him. If his soft play continues, we have to know what Wendell can do, because Thad Young is not the power forward of the future for the Chicago Bulls.
We really don’t have one at this point.
Have a great week and catch you on the rebound!