Lauri Markkanen’s new way of life? Attack, attack, attack, attack …
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It wasn’t the type of shot chart often associated with Lauri Markkanen: a few circles scattered outside of the three-point line and a Rorschach test in the paint.
Coach Fred Hoiberg called it a “breakout game’’ for his 20-year-old rookie. But the reality is that it might be a new way of life for the 7-footer.
In losing to Eastern Conference powerhouse Cleveland on Thursday, Markkanen put up 17 shots — his most in December — but only four came from outside.
The shot selection was not necessarily by choice for Markkanen. Teams have been able to scout the seventh overall pick for a while now, and adjustments have been made. Now it’s Markkanen’s turn to adjust. The 25-point showing against the Cavaliers was a good start.
“Lauri was phenomenal,’’ Hoiberg said. “It was great to see him have a breakout game like this. We were really trying to clear out a side for him and give him the whole side to drive it to the basket, and he was really aggressive getting there. I think his footwork is getting good on the midrange, face-up spot plays, so again, he’s got to find different ways to score other than the three-point line, the way teams are hugging him out there.’’
Through his first 10 games, Markkanen averaged 15.4 points and put up an average of 7.2 three-pointers.
In his last 10 games — he missed three with back stiffness — he has averaged 15.3 points while shooting just 5.5 threes. That includes back-to-back games against Orlando and Cleveland in which he only took four three-pointers in each game.
What do all those numbers mean for the rookie? Life in the paint is starting to open up as opposing defenses keep blitzing him off the long ball.
“Again, that’s one thing with Lauri that he’s been working on, to score the basketball,’’ Hoiberg said. “We posted him up. Did the same thing [Wednesday night against the Magic]. A majority came on just clearing the side out and giving him room to go to work, and he made really good aggressive plays.’’
Such a strategy doesn’t push Markkanen out of his comfort zone.
Markkanen loves stretching the floor. There’s no doubt about that. But the idea that he’s the usual Euro big man who flinches at the idea of contact at the rim isn’t the case. Markkanen often can be seen in practice working on dribbles a big man shouldn’t be allowed to possess, only to finish with a thunderous dunk.
The Cavaliers got a taste of that. Markkanen had at least three dunks that warranted double takes.
“I know they’re playing my [outside] shot, so I was just trying to find other ways to score,’’ Markkanen said. “I’m adjusting, and I’m just trying different ways to attack the defense, attack what they’re giving me, and that’s it.’’
What makes Hoiberg’s job easier is that he doesn’t have to keep reminding Markkanen. The film doesn’t lie, and Markkanen is showing that he is a student of the game, constantly breaking down his work from previous games.
“We still want him to shoot it when he’s got open looks,’’ Hoiberg said. “But the way teams are running at him, he’s got to have the willingness to put it on the floor. Hopefully, he can build off of this one.’’
Follow me on Twitter @suntimes_hoops.