With only six games left, Lauri Markkanen hopes to finish his rookie season with a flourish.
Markkanen knows he won’t be the rookie of the year even though he admitted this week that he would vote for himself. But it still has been a storybook season for the seventh overall pick of the 2017 draft.
“Markkanen is as versatile a guy as I’ve seen,’’ Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “He’s gotten better as the year has gone on. For a 20-year-old kid who has been in the States for about two years, the poise and composure he plays with shows how special a player he’ll be when it’s all said and done.’’
Hoiberg likes to point to an Oct. 10 preseason game in Cleveland in which Markkanen played 30 minutes and scored 18 points on 7-for-12 shooting, including four three-pointers. He also grabbed five rebounds in the Bulls’ 108-94 victory and captured the attention of Le-Bron James.
“The Cleveland game really stands out to me,’’ Hoiberg said. “He was unbelievable. He was hitting threes, dunking in traffic, flashing a couple of Euro-step finger rolls after not really doing much in training camp because of how intense his offseason was.
“To really show that at that time, and then every practice, he’d show a little more.’’
Hoiberg, however, tends to skim over — and who could blame him — the incident that would really open the door for Markkanen: Bobby Portis’ punch to Nikola Mirotic’s face in a practice altercation Oct. 17.
At the time, Mirotic had won the starting power-forward spot over Markkanen and Portis. Markkanen was likely third on the depth chart, a tweener who also was scheduled to get looks at center behind Robin Lopez.
The punch sidelined Mirotic for months and cost Portis an eight-game suspension. Markkanen was thrust into the starting lineup and has never looked back. The incident turned into a blessing in disguise for Markkanen and his development.
But the next stage of that development is approaching. The most important offseason for an NBA player usually comes after his rookie season.
“I think it’s [the most important] because that first [rookie] summer, there are so many obligations,’’ Hoiberg said. “To now be able to spend a full summer on your craft and in the weight room and to understand a full year of what the NBA is all about, the physicality and all the nuances, the different rules from college or the international game, you understand what you have to work on.’’
The good news for the Bulls is that Markkanen is more than willing to put the work in.
He’s planning to play a few weeks of international ball with Finland early in July but will spend the majority of his summer working with teammates at the Advocate Center.
“The goal is to get better, obviously,’’ Markkanen said.
Preferably with no punches thrown, of course.