There was a familiar face on the opposing bench when the Chicago Bulls stepped onto the court at Vivint Arena to face the Utah Jazz on Monday night. Namely, that of their pick at No. 7 overall in the 2017 NBA Draft, Finnish sharpshooter Lauri Markkanen.
After four years with Chicago and a cup of coffee with the Cleveland Cavaliers, Markkanen found his way to Salt Lake City in the Donovan Mitchell deal. And all he’s done since making the westward move is be exactly the player Bulls brass hoped he would become when the decision was made to draft him.
In 38 minutes of action against his old team, Markkanen scored 32 points on 12-of-18 shooting and added nine boards. Alas, his “revenge” game didn’t quite live up to its billing where the result was concerned; the Bulls were able to hold on for a 114-107 win despite Lauri Legend’s exploits.
And really, revenge was never on the baller’s mind. On the contrary, he had a lot of positive things to say about his Bulls beginnings before the contest.
Markkanen Looks Back on His Bulls Days
As relayed by NBC Sports Chicago, Markkanen revealed during a recent phone conversation that he looked back upon his Bulls days with a fondness that’s sure to give his old fans soft, fuzzy feelings.
“I have very good memories from Chicago playing-wise and off the court — my kids being born there, growing as a family in the city of Chicago and playing with one of the most historic franchises,” Markkanen said.
There were a lot of things didn’t go his way, to be sure. Like the team failing to even sniff the postseason for the duration of his tenure, seeing his touches and scoring numbers drop significantly over his last two years, not getting a contract extension with the team and, finally, losing his starting spot in ’20-21.
As Markkanen sees it, though, those hurdles were a necessary part of his hardwood evolution.
“I think now it’s just easy to say I needed that kind of experience to fight through that kind of stuff and get here where I am today.”
So, what’s the biggest difference between who he was in the Windy City and the player he’s becoming with the Jazz?
“I think I’ve definitely got better from those years, just mentality-wise and physically being in a better place… I’m smarter and better now.”
Markkanen the All-Star?
Their recent five-game losing streak notwithstanding, the Jazz have been one of the bigger surprises around the Association this season. While conventional wisdom dictated that the club would look to accrue assets and ping pong balls after parting with Mitchell and Rudy Gobert over the summer, Utah has instead sought to build a winning culture with its unique blend of vets and up-and-comers.
As a result, the team finds itself sitting at 12-11 and hopeful that it can get back into the thick of the playoff race once Mike Conley returns from injury. And, perhaps more than any other player on the roster, Markkanen has been responsible for the surprisingly strong start.
Over 23 appearances, the 25-year-old has averaged 22.2 points, 8.4 rebounds and 2.2 assists per game. Meanwhile, he has connected on 52.8% of his shot attempts overall and 38.6% of his tries from long range.
With the Jazz winning more than expected, Markkanen lighting it up on the regular and the All-Star Game emanating from Salt Lake City this season, the former Bull may just pick up the nod that his old team was hoping to see.