Opposing teams are now game-planning for Bulls rookie Lauri Markkanen

SHARE Opposing teams are now game-planning for Bulls rookie Lauri Markkanen

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Life on the court has become more difficult for Lauri Markkanen lately.

The 20-year-old rookie freely admitted that Friday, but he didn’t want to hear anything about hitting the mythical rookie wall.

No, this was a much simpler explanation: He’s no longer sneaking up on opponents.


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“When other teams are putting their game plans together, he’s No. 1 as far as how they’re going to guard him, how they’re going to play him,’’ coach Fred Hoiberg said. “He’s demanding a lot of attention. It’s either switching or blitzing almost every time.’’

Markkanen is putting up numbers that merit the extra -attention.

In his first 10 games, Markkanen averaged 15.4 points on 43 percent shooting.

In the nine games before his 24-point performance (8-for-15 shooting) in the Bulls’ 119-111 overtime victory against the Hornets on Friday, Markkanen was averaging 12.3 points but shooting only 31 percent (39-for-125).

“Yeah, I see that,’’ Markkanen said of teams coming up with plans to defend him. “It’s definitely different than it was the first two weeks, but I still think I’m getting good looks. I’ve just got to make them. I don’t feel like I’m missing bad shots. They’re open shots. I just have to get my confidence up and knock them down.’’

The good news for Markkanen and the Bulls is that while his numbers might have dipped, his aggressiveness hasn’t.

He’s still in the business of taking shots from all over and said it’s now up to him to adjust to the extra scrutiny.

“Every time we play, I’m getting more comfortable, and if I make a wrong decision, I learn from it,’’ Markkanen said. “Try and make the right play next time. It’s a process, and that’s what I’m going through right now. You have to work your butt off, but everything is starting to slow down a little bit and that’s a good thing.’’

Hoiberg has no plans to change his game plan with Markkanen, either.

“We’re going to continue to play through him, get him experience in these situations,’’ Hoiberg said. “We have confidence he can close out games just because of his confidence and mentality.’’

Shooters gotta shoot

When Nikola Mirotic works his way up to extended minutes, Hoiberg is excited to see how he pairs with Markkanen.

“More than anything it’s having those two guys together out on the floor,’’ Hoiberg said. “That’s going to put the defense in a tough position because you have five guys that can make a shot, especially with the way Kris Dunn is shooting right now.’’

Extra practice time for LaVine

The primary reason guard Zach LaVine stayed behind as the Bulls embarked on their two-city trip was to get extra practice time with the G League Windy City Bulls.

LaVine, who still is recovering from surgery on his anterior cruciate ligament in February, practiced with the Bulls on Tuesday, but Hoiberg couldn’t schedule another practice until next Tuesday because of games and scheduled days off.

Follow me on Twitter @suntimes_hoops.

Email: jcowley@suntimes.com

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