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Why Lauri Markkanen’s Rise Was Good For The Bulls, Patrick Williams

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Through an unlikely 10-6 start for the Utah Jazz, Lauri Markkanen averaged 21.3 points and 8.4 rebounds on 52.3 percent shooting.

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On Wednesday in New Orleans, Chicago Bulls forward Patrick Williams averaged 9.3 points and 3.7 rebounds in a game against the Pelicans.

Williams is clearly not Markkanen. They play different games and have different roles for their respective teams. They are only bound by the same position and 51 games they played together in the 2020-21 Bulls.

But Markkanen’s breakout season, which features early talk of an All-Star nomination and Most Improved Player, can serve as a reminder about the diversity of player development steps. Which could have repercussions for the bulls and Williams.

Markkanen averaged 18.7 points and nine rebounds in 52 games for the 2018-19 Bulls at the front end of a massive rebuilding project. So it’s not like this season was a complete surprise.

However, Markkanen, who has four calendar years and three times the NBA experience as 21-year-old Williams, is another example of the right role and status for a young player.

Markkanen turned down the Bulls’ rookie contract extension offer before the 2020-21 season and then endured a difficult season that led him to request a change of scenery. After a strong season in Cleveland, Markkanen landed the trade for Donovan Mitchell, a season that seemed to be a profitable one for both the Jazz and the Cavaliers.

Meanwhile, Williams will be eligible for an extension to his rookie contract outside of next season with much less evidence and production than Markkanen has produced. Some of that is out of Williams’ control. He played in just 17 regular season games last season because a flagrant error by Mitchell Robinson forced him to tear wrist ligaments and undergo surgery. He’s also the attacking fourth choice – at best – behind DeMar DeRozan, Zach LaVine and Nikola Vučević.

But Williams also played very passively at times, prompting the coaching staff to remind him again and again how playing hard and influencing matches doesn’t always require scoring.

This is why negotiations outside the next season will be interesting. Although, even if no extension is reached, the Bulls will still be able to match any offer Williams received in 2024 with restricted free agency.

This is where Markkanen’s case produces comp. He inherited Markkanen’s existing administrative system and valued it enough to offer at least an extension, albeit one that Markkanen considered not profitable enough.

The next season upset Markkanen enough that he wanted to be somewhere else, landing in Cleveland in a three-team deal that netted the Bulls a lottery-protected first-round draft pick from Portland plus Derrick Jones Jr.

All indications are that the franchise is doing everything it can to mold Williams into the two-way impact talent that management envisioned when using the fourth overall pick in the 2020 NBA Draft on him. But what price will that translate into next season off? And if no deal is reached, how will Williams and the Bull handle his impending restricted free agency throughout 2023-24?

These are speculative questions for another day. For now, Williams remains an important first player signing for Artūras Karnišovas’ system. Structurally, Karnishovas emphasized player development in his introductory press conference and immediately put together the staff.

There is a lot of investment in Williams. And Markkanen’s current success could be a cautionary tale regarding Williams’ slow start.

This is not to say that Williams is untouchable. (And no, the rumor that the Bulls didn’t land Rudy Gobert because they refused to include Williams in trade talks is not true.) This means that the Bulls need to do everything they can to develop Williams as his physicality and athleticism remain evident.

Players evolve at different speeds.

Click here to catch up on the Bulls Talk Podcast.

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