Bulls big man Lauri Markkanen has hit the rookie wall
MINNEAPOLIS — Very little that forward Lauri Markkanen has done in the last year has screamed ‘‘rookie.’’
From dominating for Finland in the European Championship last summer to stepping onto an NBA court and becoming a primary offensive option for the Bulls, it all has looked too easy.
Until it doesn’t.
After the Bulls’ 122-104 loss Saturday to the Timberwolves, Markkanen admitted for the first time that he was feeling the length of the NBA season and that his confidence had taken a hit.
‘‘It’s frustrating, not making shots, but it is what it is,’’ said Markkanen, who was 1-for-8 against the Timberwolves. ‘‘It’s a struggle, and I’ve got to work through it.
‘‘Obviously, it’s been a couple of games now. It’s been a long season, I’m not denying that. But I’m trying to work through it.’’
Markkanen, 20, not only has started 53 of the Bulls’ 59 games, but he became a father for the first time three weeks ago, then participated Feb. 16-17 in All-Star Weekend action.
‘‘He had a lot of really good games in the beginning, and it’s never going to be a 100 percent season,’’ teammate Zach LaVine said. ‘‘There’s so many games, you’re eventually going to run into a slump.
‘‘I just think he needs to get into a little rhythm, and we need to help him with that, too. Help him find easier shots on the floor or get to the free-throw line, something like that.
‘‘But he’s cool. We’re still going to tell him to shoot the ball every time.’’
After shooting 48 percent from the field and 43 percent from three-point range in January, Markkanen is shooting 37 percent from the field (26-for-71) and 15 percent from three-point range (4-for-27) since returning from the birth of his son.
‘‘He’s struggling right now with his confidence, there’s no question about it,’’ coach Fred Hoiberg said. ‘‘As a shooter, you’ve got to keep looking to be aggressive. Take the open ones and take the lid off the basket. It only takes one game to get that confidence back.’’
The other factor Markkanen has been dealing with is the LaVine Effect. While LaVine was rehabbing his injured left knee, Markkanen and Kris Dunn were building a strong chemistry together.
LaVine made his Bulls debut in mid-January but didn’t start playing heavier minutes until February. Dunn is a playmaker first and LaVine a scorer first, so Markkanen has been trying to figure out where he fits in with LaVine, who has averaged 18.3 shots since Feb. 3.
When LaVine and Markkanen are working a two-man game, whether it’s pick-and-roll or pick-and-pop, LaVine not only is more likely to look for his shot first, but he still is working on getting Markkanen the ball where he likes to be on the floor.
‘‘I mean, yeah, it’s different,’’ Markkanen said. ‘‘What did we play, 40 games [without LaVine]? So, yeah, it’s not been too many games yet with all three of us together. Every game we have, every practice we have together, I think we’re going to get better. So I wouldn’t be too worried about that.’’
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