Zach LaVine and Lauri Markkanen: To Trade or Not to Trade?

The Chicago Bulls‘ two best players, Zach LaVine and Lauri Markkanen have speculated trade rumors this season. The reason is that the organization has a whole new front office and may want to start fresh.

Should either be traded?

Zach LaVine

Zach LaVine came into the Bulls in the 2016-2017 season, after being included in the Jimmy Butler trade to the Minnesota Timberwolves. His season ended in an ACL tear in his first season with the Bulls. In the 24 games he did play, LaVine averaged 16.7 points, 3.9 rebounds, and three assists per game. LaVine shot a catastrophic 38.3% from the field, 34.1% from three-point range, and 81.3% from the free-throw line.

Now, three seasons later under new head coach Billy Donovan, LaVine is averaging career highs across the board. He is averaging 27 points (6th in NBA), 5.2 rebounds, and 5.3 assists in 35.6 minutes per game. LaVine is shooting 50.2% from the field, 39.7% from behind the arc, and 87.6% from the charity stripe. His efficiency has been off the charts counter to his past seasons, shooting a 59.4% effective field goal percentage and recording a 2.7 box plus/minus this year.

LaVine still has his struggles on defense, having never recorded a positive Defensive Box plus/minus in his career. So far this season, he has recorded a -0.8 DBPM, which is the best of his career. His defense is improving, and it is important to note that Lavine is only 25 years old with seven seasons of NBA experience under him.

Zach LaVine should be an all-star in the Eastern Conference this season. He is one of the best scorers in the NBA and has been improving his game tremendously under Donovan, who has been with the Bulls for a quarter of a season.

LaVine may want a bigger contract this offseason, only making around $20 million in the next two seasons. The top ten scorers in the NBA average a $32.9 million salary per year. LaVine is sixth in points per game in that space.

Lauri Markkanen

Lauri Markkanen is going into the fourth and final year of his rookie deal this season at 23 years of age. It is vital to his rumors that the Bulls failed to agree on an extension with him this past offseason. The hesitancy to bring the young 7-footer back to the team long term is concerning to his future.

In Markkanen’s third season, last year, Markkanen seriously struggled under Jim Boylen — the Chicago Bulls head coach from 2018-2020. Last season, Markkanen averaged 14.7 points, 6.3 rebounds, and 1.5 assists with the Bulls. He shot 42.5% from the field, 34.4% from deep, and 82.4% from the line.

Now, Markkanen is back to averaging 18.5 points, 6.5 rebounds, and one assist per game. He is shooting 48.5% from the field, 37.7% from distance, and 83.8% from the free-throw line.

While Markkanen has improved on offense, he still struggles with assisting the interior defense for the Bulls. In the last two seasons with Jim Boylen, the Bulls have ranked below average in opponent points in the paint, even with the defensive-minded coach. This season, the same has occurred with 46.6 points per game allowed in the paint (15th in the NBA).

Markkanen’s efficiency on the floor is a concern for the Bulls. He has a career -0.2 box plus/minus. This is the first season Markkanen has recorded a positive box plus/minus on the floor. Between the 2018-2019 and 2019-2020 seasons, the Bulls had a positive plus/minus while Markkanen was not on the floor. When he was on the floor, the Bulls had a negative plus/minus.

Trade him? Maybe.

Markkanen is a rare player that can shoot the ball well as a 7-footer. He has shown he can be effective on offense and score in a multitude of ways.

Markkanen still struggles with being aggressive on the offensive attack, being a reliable interior defender, and relying heavily on the right offensive system to give him life.

His contract intentions are a bit concerning too. There’s no specific number that Markkanen wants yet, but it’s definitely high as the second-best player on the team.

Whether or not they will want to take the chance on the young center is up to Arturas Karnisovas (vice president) and Marc Eversley (general manager). Karnisovas has great strength in the draft, being responsible for drafting Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray while he was in Denver.

If the Bulls could find the right offer for Markkanen, it may be worth shopping him around to teams in the middle of their rebuilds. But, Markkanen has tons of potential and is a great fit on the Bulls team, so he and Lavine may be the focus of their continuing rebuild.

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