Yesterday I complained about the Bulls beat writers, and specifically highlighted Nick Friedell and his blazer who has been covering this team since, I believe, before the Thibs era. But in the last two days, the beat writers at The Athletic have done just what I want them to do, focus on the now and not on the how we got where we are.
The recent hire at The Athletic, Darnell Mayberry, has been a refreshing read. He comes to Chicago after covering the Thunder and provides a much needed new perspective. His recent article, 10 takeaways from the Bulls' first three games, is everything I pay for from a beat writer. Just a snippet or two to show what I mean:
Two early areas of concern are Markkanen’s passing and his physicality. He has yet to register an assist despite ranking second on the team in minutes at 34 per game, and he’s turned it over eight times. It’s a very tough ask — and feels like nitpicking — for a 20-year-old rookie with three NBA games under his belt. But Markkanen’s improvement as a passer will only help make him a more lethal scorer because it would allow him to keep defenders off balance with his playmaking ability. But there’s a silver lining. It took Kevin Durant six seasons to log more assists than turnovers.
Some of Markkanen’s early playmaking and ball security issues remind me of a young Durant, who, when he wasn’t throwing it to the other team, often fumbled the ball off his foot or got stripped easily on drives to the hoop. Durant’s read-and-react recognition gradually improved, and there’s no reason to think Markkanen won’t also improve in that department as things slow down for him and he gets settled and becomes more comfortable in his feel for the game.
It's not that Mayberry compared Markkanen (I am going to have to remember that there are two K's and just one N. It's tough) to Durant, it's that he spent time thinking up the comparison. I don't think Lauri is going to be Kevin Durant, but I love reading about the parallels.
But Mayberry is not the only one at The Athletic Chicago. All summer I have been reading Stephen Noh, too. He has the history behind him, but once the season has gotten started he has focused on the floor, and I appreciate it. Of course he's also focusing on Markkanen, but there isn't much else given that LaVine and Dunn are hurt and there are only so many shenanigans Robin Lopez can do with mascots. A quick example from some of Noh's work on Lauri:
Coach Fred Hoiberg did some really nice things to get Markkanen going right away. The Bulls ran the same play, a popular NBA set called “Oklahoma,” to set Markkanen up for open 3-pointers twice within the first few minutes of the game.
Robin Lopez is the best screen-setter on the team, and the Bulls should use him a lot to get Markkanen open. The play worked like a charm twice in a row, giving Markkanen plenty of space to get his shot off. Kudos to Hoiberg for thinking of the best ways to get those two big men to play off each other.
Hoiberg also had Markkanen frequently setting screens away from the ball. That's another clever way to get any player open, and a couple of times Markkanen was able to catch the ball with a head start and with the defense off-balance.
So while the traditional beat writers and bloggers still wish we were in the past, I will be staying reading The Athletic and looking to the future. It's the only way to get through the season, but at least we have a direction.