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Basketball

Predictions for the future Chicago Bulls lineup

By DRAKE LOHSE

SNAPSHOT

Whenever the word ‘rebuild’ is mentioned, there’s a stale silence that follows it. But what so many basketball fans forget to mention is that there’s a lot of fun in watching a team at the tail end of a rebuild.

Call it something nostalgic. No one embodies this concept better than the Chicago Bulls. The Bulls have truly embraced their woeful ways. They’re set to make a splash this summer, be it by draft or free agency or both.

Most teams in the Bull’s position would limp and whine to the 82 game finish line, but Chicago’s playing with the care-free attitude of an 8th grade B team. Jim Boylen’s toying with lineups. Otto Porter’s making pee jokes to the press. If the Bulls have done anything all year, they’ve earned the right to take their time and figure themselves out.

It’s almost a guarantee that there’s a few players on today’s Chicago roster that won’t be there next season. Don’t let a 21-56 record roll your eyes for you, there’s more than a few talented names on this roster.

WHO STAYS? WHO GOES?

It’s easy to get lost in the big names. The Zach LaVine’s and the Lauri Markannen’s and the Otto Porter’s. But Chicago has more one tool box player on the bench who can become that much needed spark plug for low dollar value.

With a roster half-depleted by injury, Saturday’s showing against the Raptors turned into an underdog exhibit. Bull’s bench players battled all night for an ‘untouchable’ title. Who earned it?

Shaquille Harrison has been a United Center crowd-favorite all year. Harrison’s game is unique for today’s basketball universe. The 6’4 point guard is a primarily defensive presence, and reportedly spends much of his personal training time devoted to defensive drills. He’s an absolute mosquito on defense, in the same vein as Pat Beverley of the Clippers. Harrison averages 6.3 points-per-game, but has scored 15 or more in the past three games. Chicago’s front office will look to make much needed improvements to a hooey-defense this offseason, and they may not have to look far.

Walter Lemon Jr. has been a G-League standout since it was still called the D-League. The former Bradley standout was signed by the Bulls on Friday, and suited up immediately on Saturday. The 26 year-old made the most of his debut. The point guard netted an impressive 19 points, grabbed four boards, dished six assists and nabbed 4 steals in 31 minutes. One game isn’t enough to judge a player’s overall worth, but any player who performs as well as Lemon did in his first start shows he’s willing to learn what he doesn’t know. The Bulls should benefit from Lemon’s tough-as-nails attitude.

Chicago’s 2020 season doesn’t depend on any of these underdog names. But the Bulls would be wise to play a little moneyball, hold on to at least one of the two over the off-season.

LAURI MARKANNEN—CORNERSTONE OR TRADE CHIP?

Markannen’s missed the last two games with a heart issue. All signs and talk point to precautionary measures only, nothing serious, but it’s worth keeping an ear on.

But all season long, Markannen’s name has been propped up alongside Zach LaVine’s in trade scenarios. Lauri’s game is unique to today’s NBA. Like Dallas’ Porzingis, Markannen niches his own style somewhere in the middle of the Anthony Davis-to-Kevin Durant spectrum. His long frame allows him access down low, and his toe-tapping footwork make him an equal threat in transition or from the perimeter. He’s beloved by the Chicago fanbase, and he seems committed to sticking around and developing himself into a leader the Bull’s need.

But we’ve seen such a relationship sour before, and quickly. And with Markannen’s length, he should be as formidable on the defensive end as he is the offensive.

The second-year Finland native averages less than one steal and block per contest. He’s failed to create the wall his length should create. And in a copycat NBA, we’ve already seen how a player with Markannen’s skill set is just as expendable as the rest, when the Knicks dealt Kristaps earlier this year.

If the Bulls do make an offer for an Anthony Davis-level player this summer, Markannen’s name likely will come up. At 16.7 points-per-game, is he worth losing?

QUESTIONS WE STILL DON’T HAVE ANSWERS TOO

Markannen’s not the only considerable trade piece the Bulls have to offer. Between Otto Porter, Lauri, and Zach LaVine, someone’s likely to be shipped off. But if Gar Forman does decide that Markannen is truly priceless, and he’s left with the choice between Porter and LaVine, what direction will he go?

All these questions are assuming that the Bulls are planning on ending their rebuild with a swift sweep of moves this summer. I could be totally wrong in every direction. The Otto Porter trade might have just been some sort of elaborate smoke-screen. Could there be a prospect in the 2020 draft that has already caught the Bull’s eye?

Grandma Marlene’s Gamebreak

That eye operation was a doozy. I could hardly see anything this last week, let alone my Bull’s play. My vision cleared just enough in time for Saturday’s game against the Raptors, which wasn’t much. Toronto walked all over my boys at home. The Raptors won 124 to 101. We were just dreadful from the three, only 30.0 percent! We need to either find someone this summer who does nothing but shoot the three, or find someone who shoots it well on the bench and keep them in the game. To be fair, though, the Bulls started only bench players against the Raptors, and they still came away with 101 points.

Speaking of bench players, me and the ladies down at church are all really excited about this Lemon character. He’s relatively young, and from what I gather, doesn’t have much NBA experience, but he gets down low with this toughness that you only see in veterans. He’s very confident in his drives and has an eye for his teammates. My boys lost, just like they did on Wednesday against the Blazers, but they do seem like they’re having a lot of fun. And that’s really what all this basketball stuff is all about, as long as you’re having fun and making friends. Coach Boylen said in the post-game that that Lemon would be starting next game, and I think that’s good, I think he earned it.

We out-rebounded the Raptors 53 to 47, even without most of our starting lineup, and I think that’s something we ought to double-down on as we get ready for next season. It’s almost easier knowing this season is lost, we can just settle in and experiment and have a lot more fun. Only five games left! We play the Knicks Monday, the Wizards Wednesday, and the 76ers Saturday this week.

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