Chicago Bulls' Markkanen says his shot feels good, just not going in
With a rebuilding team like the Chicago Bulls, sometimes they seem to turn a corner, only to find someone dumped 100 crates of empty Gatorade jugs in their path.
In other words, there's always another obstacle on the road to improvement.
Such is the case with Lauri Markkanen. The second-year forward seemed to find his stride in late January, once he was fully recovered from a preseason elbow sprain.
During a 14-game span that began Jan. 27 and ended with the triple overtime game in Atlanta on March 1, Markkanen averaged 24.6 points and 13.3 rebounds, while shooting 46.3 percent.
Those type of numbers would put Markkanen in similar territory with Giannis Antetokounmpo, Joel Embiid and Anthony Davis.
The 7-footer from Finland appeared headed for elite territory, and that was while shooting 36.2 percent from 3-point range. It's reasonable to think Markkanen eventually can be a consistent 40-percent shooter from long range.
But then the basketball gods stepped in with a reminder: "It won't be easy." Over the past six games, Markkanen averaged 15.0 points and 7.8 rebounds, shot 34.4 percent overall and just 22.5 percent from 3-point range.
In Tuesday's loss to the Los Angeles Lakers, he went 0-for-8 from behind the arc. After the game, he was asked if he considers himself in a slump.
"No, I've had these before and I'm doing everything the way I do it before," Markkanen said. "It's been a couple games now and I try not to look at it as just a couple games. I try to look at it as a longer period and see if it's actually that bad. I recognize that it's not going in right now, but I'm not putting my head down."
It's not accurate to say Markkanen's shots were a bunch of near misses. His last attempt in the fourth quarter was clearly off to the left as soon as it left his hand. But he does trust his mechanics.
"They all feel great," he said. "I thought every one was going in. They felt good out of my hand and they just didn't fall tonight. Of course, it's not fun when they're not going in, but I know it will turn around when I get back to the gym."
After Tuesday's game, coach Jim Boylen suggested he'd like to see Markkanen grab a defensive rebound and bring the ball up himself more often. The feeling when the hot stretch began was the Bulls could put pressure on opposing defenses by utilizing a variety of ballhandlers.
Wednesday's theme was for Markkanen to get himself going by crashing the boards.
"I think what energized him and motivated him was the rebounding," Boylen said after practice at the Advocate Center. "I met with Lauri this morning. He got here early. The one thing I love about Lauri is nobody takes it harder when he plays poorly than him.
"He had five situations where I thought he could've slid his feet better defensively. And then he obviously didn't shoot the ball like he likes to shoot it. He came in and went to work, which I love. That's what you do. You don't work less when things are bad for you. You work more. And you figure it out. I'm confident he'll be ready to roll."
Boylen said he found some places on Tuesday's video when Markkanen's defensive technique could have been better. He said it was about being too upright in pick-and-roll defense, as opposed to staying in a defensive stance, something Boylen usually demonstrates on the sideline during games.
"I'm trying to focus on the defensive end when the offense is not going for me," Markkanen said. "I think being aggressive is a big part of it. My thing has always been to watch film and see what I'm doing wrong. Normally on my jump shot, if I'm balanced and everything looks the same (then it will get back to normal)."
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