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Life Without Lauri: The other side of the Markkanen deal

Next stop, Rip City.
Image: Getty Images

As part of yesterday’s Lauri Markkanen deal, there were other players routed to different organizations who are also worth discussing.

Markkanen’s trade to the Cleveland Cavaliers grew into a three-team deal, also involving the Chicago Bulls and Portland Trail Blazers. In dealing Markkanen, the Bulls came away with the first-round draft choice they’d been seeking in the form of a lottery-protected first-rounder from the Portland Trail Blazers. The pick will remain protected through 2028, and if the pick fails to convey by then, it will become a second-rounder. The Bulls also get back a 2023 second-rounder from Cleveland via the Denver Nuggets, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.

But as far as players go, the Bulls got back Derrick Jones Jr. We’ll get to him in a second. For Portland, who parted with the aforementioned lottery-protected first, as well as Jones Jr., they get back Larry Nance Jr. from the Cavaliers.

Yesterday, we got into Markkanen’s fit since he’s the biggest moving piece here. Now, let’s see how this could play out in Chicago and Portland, two teams in must-win situations, but are actually closer to the middle of the pack in each of their respective conferences.

The Bulls

In landing the lottery-protected first-rounder, it’s unknown when this will actually convert since there’s a legit chance Portland misses the playoffs this season in a difficult Western Conference with Damian Lillard and or CJ McCollum still potentially being moved. For now, the first is good for the Bulls to have, simply because it’s a first. Good for Chicago to get one in return. It’s also a piece they could move in the future rather than pick at, say, No. 16 overall in the draft, for example.

As it relates to Jones Jr., who is still just 24 years old, the world-class dunker who became a productive forward with the Miami Heat, but had an underwhelming 2020-21 in Portland. Jones Jr. had averaged 7.7 points and 4.0 rebounds in 21.2 minutes per game during 119 regular-season games with the Heat from 2018-2020. Jones shot 51 percent from the field, but only 29 percent from three and 69 percent on free throws. He did showcase an ability to be a versatile defender and a helpful rotation player. However, during the Heat’s NBA Finals run in 2020, Jones Jr. was mostly played out of the rotation, appearing in 15 games, but averaging just 6.5 minutes per contest.

In Portland last year, he averaged 6.8 points and 3.5 rebounds through 58 games, 43 of which were starts, logging 22.7 minutes per appearance. His shooting splits were 48/32/65, and his defensive rating was a career-worst 116, a vast drop-off from his 109 and 107 in Miami the previous two seasons. His defensive box plus-minus also dropped from 1.0 and 1.1 in Miami to -0.3 in Portland. The Blazers, as a team, were 29th in defensive rating, and Jones Jr. was third-best out of everyone who played at least 900 minutes during the season. In 2021-22, Jones will be an expiring $9.7 million contract. With the Bulls, you’re hoping for a rotational swingman who could defend and finish around the rim, especially on alley-oops.

The Blazers

Larry Nance Jr. could provide more of an encouraging outlook for Portland because of how he’d fit next to what they already have in Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum, Gary Trent Jr., and Jusuf Nurkić in a possible starting five. The Blazers still aren’t moving Lillard, and he maintains that he will remain there for now, but Nance Jr. does indisputably make them a better team today than they were previously. How much? Probably not a ton, but he helps.

Robert Covington was Portland’s starting four last year, but is coming off the worst season of his career, not counting his rookie campaign where he logged seven games. Covington, for the first time, averaged less than 10 points per game (8.5) despite logging 32.0 minutes per contest, the second-most of his career. A noted three-and-d forward, Covington tied a personal best 38 percent from three, but only hit 40 percent from the field. His 112 defensive rating was also the worst of his career, though it was second on the team after Nurkić, unless you also count Harry Giles, who played half the year and logged under 10 minutes per game.

Nance Jr. broke his thumb last season and also lost 20 pounds due to an illness. So, in 2020-21, he was limited to 35 games, 27 of which were starts. He averaged 9.3 points, 6.7 rebounds, 3.1 assists, 1.7 steals in 31.2 minutes per contest, a personal-best. He shot 47 / 36 / 61 splits and had a career-best defensive box plus-minus at 1.7. Nance Jr. is a quality Swiss army knife-type of four for Portland to have, whether starting or off the bench, though he probably deserves to start. He’s only making $10.6 million next season, and $9.7 million the year after, so he’s cost-effective, too, making the deal even sweeter for Portland..


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