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Bulls big man Lauri Markkanen realizes it’s time to look in the mirror

Maybe his performance in Atlanta sparked something; maybe the 7-footer’s inconsistency will continue. Markkanen is concerned either way, but at least he’s willing to do some soul-searching.

Chicago Bulls forward Lauri Markkanen goes up for a shot as Atlanta Hawks guard Kevin Huerter defends Wednesday, Nov. 6, 2019, in Atlanta.
“I will say he’s trying to play the right way, but he still has to be aggressive,” Tomas Satoransky said of Bulls teammate Lauri Markkanen. “I think [against the Hawks] he made a lot of good passes, and that’s what the coaching staff wants from him, that’s what we want from him.”
John Bazemore/AP

Bulls big man Lauri Markkanen is a hard guy to read.

Looking at his face after a game, it’s difficult to distinguish whether the Bulls had a big victory or a bad loss or whether he scored 35 points or seven.

‘‘That’s why people from Finland are such good goalies,’’ Markkanen once joked about his unwavering demeanor.

If he were an NHL player, that would be fine. But the NBA embraces emotion from its athletes. That’s why the Bulls have been all but begging Markkanen to show some more fire this season.

Get angry at teammates if they miss you on an open backside three-pointer. Flex back at Bobby Portis. Demand the ball. Something, anything.

Because the Bulls (3-6) know their rebuild will go only as far as the versatile Markkanen takes them. Yes, shooting guard Zach LaVine is the other leading man, but they must be a duo.

‘‘Heartbeat of the team . . . that’s a good point,’’ point guard Tomas Satoransky said of Markkanen after the Bulls’ victory Wednesday in Atlanta. ‘‘I will say he’s trying to play the right way, but he still has to be aggressive. I think [against the Hawks] he made a lot of good passes, and that’s what the coaching staff wants from him; that’s what we want from him.

‘‘We’re trying to still get used to each other. I think he’s fighting a little bit with the way we’re sharing the ball; he stops being aggressive. We need him to be [aggressive] because that will fit with Lauri’s biggest strength.’’

When Markkanen is passive, it doesn’t just affect his offense. He also becomes lethargic on defense and in his rebounding. There’s a reason coach Jim Boylen benched him in the fourth quarter of back-to-back games last week.

When Markkanen is aggressive and active, it lifts his entire game. The game Wednesday against the Hawks was a good example. In addition to his 17 points and six rebounds, Markkanen had four assists and three blocks.

The switch was flipped, and the Bulls are hoping it stays on.

In the Bulls’ first nine games, Markkanen has failed to score in double figures three times and has scored more than 20 points only once (35 in the season opener against the Hornets). He’s shooting only 26.5 percent from three-point range and averaging 7.9 rebounds.

Remember, this is a player who averaged 26 points and 12.2 rebounds and shot 34.8 percent from three-point range in an 11-game stint last February. He also scored in single digits only four times all of last season.

So seven points on 2-for-8 shooting Tuesday against the Lakers was inexcusable.

‘‘Nah,’’ Markkanen said when he was asked Wednesday whether he’s concerned about his lack of scoring. ‘‘We’re still figuring out what our roles are, where our points are going to come from, so I’m not worried. You play enough basketball, so you know we’ll keep working on it. We’ll figure it out.’’

Markkanen, however, at least acknowledged it was time for some self-assessment.

‘‘Yeah, I’m looking in the mirror right after games, see what I can do better,’’ Markkanen said. ‘‘[Being aggressive] is definitely one part of that.’’

Then he threw a towel over his shoulder and started walking to the back of the Bulls’ locker room.

‘‘That’s all you’re going to get from me,’’ he said with a laugh.

At least there was a laugh, some emotion.

Baby steps.

NOTE: Looking to get some minutes for swingman Denzel Valentine and big man Daniel Gafford, the Bulls sent them Thursday to the Windy City Bulls of the G League. Not only will they get practice time, but Valentine is expected to see some game action, too.