Snow joke: Bulls lose again, but Markkanen has ‘happiest’ day yet
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On the morning of Nov. 10, 2016, Lauri Markkanen looked around and saw paradise. He was with the Arizona Wildcats in Honolulu, preparing to make his college debut the following afternoon against Michigan State.
The prized recruit scored 13 points that day, and his team won on a buzzer beater — pretty sweet. But do you know what was even sweeter? What was even more beautiful and comforting than paradise?
Snow. That’s what Markkanen saw when he looked outside Friday, exactly one year later. For a 20-year-old from Finland, it beat the heck out of Hawaii and the Arizona desert.
“I love it,” he said. “This is actually the happiest I’ve been in a while, to see it snowing. I’ve been looking forward to it for a long time. I hope it sticks.”
Finnish Lakeland, meet Chicago lakefront. It’s a cold mess outside, and Markkanen — the seven-foot marksman who is the key to the Bulls’ future — finally feels at home.
Good chance he’ll stick awhile, too.
Almost as if in homage to the wintry weather, Markkanen had a brutally cold shooting night in the Bulls’ 105-87 loss to the Pacers at the United Center. He was 2-for-9 from the three-point line and is in a mini-slump from long range — 11 makes in 36 attempts (.333) — over five November games.
It’s hardly a concern for the Bulls. Their transition defense was terrible as the Pacers ran away in the third quarter. There were energy issues from the start. Those are legitimate concerns as coach Fred Hoiberg attempts to instill the kind of culture a young team can build upon. But Markkanen? He’s the surest thing the Bulls have going for themselves.
Not counting Bobby Portis, who has played in only two games, Markkanen is leading the Bulls in scoring (15.4 points per game) and rebounding (8.4). He is also the only NBA player ever to make at least two three-pointers in 10 straight games to start his career.
The instant success comes as no surprise to Markkanen’s college coach, Sean Miller.
“He’s an incredibly hard worker and a tremendous person,” Miller said this week. “As a freshman, he approached things here almost as if he was a senior. I’ve said it time and again, but that has a lot to do with [players’] success when they leave here. Because he’s going to be on time, he’s going to be to the gym early, he’s going to listen and learn.
“I’m sure that the Bulls feel really good about him. I know they do.”
Even in Friday’s first quarter, when he missed all three of his shots from long range, Markkanen made his presence felt with a slick baseline steal, a swat of Pacers guard Darren Collison’s shot and three rebounds in heavy traffic. In the third quarter, he flashed eye-opening athleticism with a hanging bank shot over Myles Turner.
They were soon-to-be-forgotten snapshots in a relatively meaningless game early in a massive rebuilding process, but they were signs of a more complete player to come.
“With his work ethic,” Miller said, “he’s only going to add to what he does.”
He’s practically still just a kid. Did we mention what he was doing a year ago?
“It’s crazy to think about how fast it all goes,” Markkanen said.
What moves slower than a Chicago winter? It’s just around the corner. While the rest of us mope and moan, Markkanen will be in his element and delighted.
Follow me on Twitter @SLGreenberg.