Bulls big man Lauri Markkanen confident he can be an NBA superstar someday
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Lauri Markkanen was swimming in uncharted waters.
Few big men, let alone 7-footers, average 26 points and 12.2 rebounds, while shooting just under 49 percent from the field and 34.8 percent from three-point range.
Joel Embiid of the 76ers was at 27.5 points and 13.8 rebounds but shooting only 29 percent from three-point range.
MVP candidate Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Bucks was at 27.5 and 12.7 but shooting under 25 percent from long range.
Then there’s Pelicans standout Anthony Davis, who was averaging 27 points and 12 rebounds and shooting 33.3 percent from three-point land.
So, of course, Markkanen should’ve been feeling pretty good about the company he was keeping.
But there’s a hitch: Markkanen put up those numbers in February. Embiid, Antetokounmpo and Davis have been doing it all season.
That’s the ongoing quest for Markkanen: finding consistency.
One month of such numbers is promise. A season’s worth bestows superstar status.
“Last year, I kind of surprised some teams with the way I could shoot the ball and had a couple of good games,’’ Markkanen said. “I’m not surprising anybody this year, so I kind of had to figure it out, how to get different coverages and stuff like that. You play a lot of games in this league, so it’s tough to be consistent. You’ve got to be mentally tough to do that.’’
And beyond confident.
When Markkanen was asked after the Bulls’ 126-120 overtime victory Wednesday against the Wizards if he could become that “superstar’’ presence that a rebuild requires, there was no hesitation.
“I mean, my confidence is up there, and obviously I have a long way to go,’’ Markkanen said. “I was playing better in February and thinking that I can play like that in the future, too, just [more] consistently. I’ve got a ways to go, but my confidence is definitely way up there to be one of those.’’
That’s good news for the Bulls.
Make that great news.
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If Markkanen’s ceiling truly is superstar status, the Bulls’ rebuild would take on a decidedly different air. With Wendell Carter Jr.’s potential still untapped and another high pick expected in June, who knows if there’s more in-house stardom on the way. That would take the pressure off vice president of basketball operations John Paxson and general manager Gar Forman, who have yet to land an elite free agent during their tenure.
But it all starts with Markkanen.
As good as his play was in February, his March has been just as confounding. He has been more enigma than go-to player, averaging only 17.4 points and 8.8 rebounds. His three-point shooting also dropped to 32 percent.
Markkanen studied film to see if his mechanics were off in some way, but he found little wrong.
“There were a couple of times — and I knew it even before I watched film — that I was fading away, and [the shot] was short,’’ Markkanen said. “So I’m just trying to focus on my follow-through and being balanced, but that’s pretty much all I did.’’
Against the Wizards, he appeared to have fixed the glitch.
Markkanen had 32 points, 13 rebounds and five assists and went 5-for-8 from three-point range.
“February’’ Markkanen was back.
Now it’s about keeping him back.
“It feels good, obviously,’’ Markkanen said. “I didn’t change anything. I just kept working on it every day before practice, after practice, doing whatever I needed to do.’’