OKLAHOMA CITY — Coach Jim Boylen takes Lauri Markkanen’s development personally.
He has built a special relationship with Markkanen, and the goal is to have him attain superstar status. If Markkanen falls short, Boylen will accept the blame.
“It’s been a blessing for me because I went to Europe the last two years and spent time with his coaches over there and his family, so we have a very strong bond,’’ Boylen said Monday. “He can look at me and I can look at him, and we kind of know exactly what we’re thinking and what needs to be done. That’s a real benefit for me on the seventh game on the job.’’
But Markkanen admitted that he needs to get in shape after missing the first 23 games with a right elbow injury. In his first six games under Boylen, Markkanen was averaging 16 points but shooting only 35 percent from the field.
Both numbers are expected to shoot up as Markkanen gets back in shape, and the nice thing is that Boylen feels like he can push Markkanen.
“Yeah, it’s a big deal,’’ Boylen said. “A great responsibility. He is one of the centerpieces of our franchise going forward. He has the character and the want-to to be a superstar in this league, and it’s just about taking the proper steps.
“If we can keep him healthy, then I think he can be that guy. It’s so exciting when you have a guy like that. He’s a guy that takes coaching, accepts coaching, wants to be coached, wants to be taught, wants to be pushed. It’s a great fit for us and for me.’’
More than Boylen may know.
Several players initially resisted Boylen’s style after he took over from Fred Hoiberg on Dec. 3, but Markkanen was not one of them. That was meaningful because Markkanen also was a big Hoiberg supporter, and he quickly let management know that he was in Boylen’s corner.
“I think the one thing I love about him the most is whatever minutes we give him, whatever assignment he has, he’s thankful for them,’’ Boylen said. “And when he’s not playing or not in, he’s a team guy.
“There’s not a selfish bone in that dude’s body.’’
Latest on LaVine
Zach LaVine’s ankle injury doesn’t appear to be anything more than the original diagnosis of a sprained deltoid ligament.
That’s the good news. But Boylen also said there was swelling and fluid in his left ankle, so a quick return is a bit tricky.
The Bulls still won’t put a timetable on LaVine’s return because everyone bounces back differently from that injury.
“Sometimes guys bounce back really quick, sometimes it takes a little time, but the process is moving forward,’’ Boylen said.
Down a Jabari
Boylen had one fewer worry Monday. He didn’t have to answer questions about Jabari Parker’s benching.
Parker became the 13th member of the Bulls’ traveling party to come down with an illness that has afflicted the team, forcing him to miss the game against the Thunder.