Bulls' Markkanen Growing More Frustrated By Slump

Lauri Markkanen is shooting 36.2 percent overall and 26.8 percent on 3-pointers.

Cody Westerlund
November 18, 2019 - 10:59 pm
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CHICAGO (670 The Score) -- As he quickly scanned his mind back across his basketball career, Bulls big man Lauri Markkanen arrived at a sad conclusion.

“It’s frustrating,” Markkanen said. “I’ve never had – how games is this? I don’t know – with this kind of stretch, of not hitting threes but missing layups.”

Markkanen is stuck in a shooting slump that, when including his ugly preseason, has now lasted more than a month-and-a-half. He’s shooting 36.2 percent overall and 26.8 percent on 3-pointers in 14 games, and the last five contests have been especially ugly.

In a stretch in which the Bulls have gone 1-4, Markkanen has shot 29.4 percent overall and 19.2 percent on 3-pointers. That included Markkanen’s nine-point outing in the Bulls’ 115-101 loss to the Bucks on Monday night at the United Center, where he shot just 2-of-12 and missed all four of his 3-point attempts.

Considering the Bulls were counting on Markkanen to take a leap in a pivotal third season of his career, it represented one of the worst games of his career. In the aftermath, Markkanen acknowledged his woes are as mental as they are physical.

“I noticed myself kind of thinking too much at the half,” Markkanen said. “I tried to switch it up and just make the plays for the team. After that, you just put the work in. That’s how you get out of your own head.

“It’s really frustrating, but I’ve got to keep my mind up, knowing you work too hard for this to not turn around. Keep working. Do your work.”

On Monday, Markkanen made more of a point to attack the basket. It resulted in six free-throw attempts but otherwise proved unfruitful. On several occasions, Markkanen wildly forced shots while teetering on the edge of being out of control. In another instance that could serve as a microcosm of his season, he missed a pair of dunk attempts in traffic in a matter of seconds. He entered Monday shooting just 52.8 percent on field-goal attempts within three feet of the rim, a jarring number considering his skill set, his size and that the league average is 65.3 percent, according to Basketball Reference.

Markkanen believes staying aggressive is one of the biggest keys for him, a sentiment that was echoed by those around him.

“I thought he tried to work his way out of it,” coach Jim Boylen said. “He got a couple rebounds. He made a couple plays where he aggressively tried to drive the ball, get fouled, get to the line. I thought I saw him grit his teeth a little bit, especially in that third quarter. Hey, he’s trying. He cares.”

Complicating matters for the Bulls against the Bucks was that leading scorer Zach LaVine also struggled, scoring 11 points on 4-of-16 shooting. On a night his second unit played well, Boylen reinserted LaVine and Markkanen as the Bulls trailed 102-99 with 5:04 left. The ensuing free throw on the dead ball gave the Bucks a 103-99 lead, and Milwaukee then finished the game on a 12-2 run with LaVine and Markkanen back on the floor.

“It’s going to be tough when your leading players – me and Lauri – don’t perform at our level,” LaVine said. “You can understand that – you’re missing a lot of points, you’re missing a lot of plays. We understand that. We have to pick it up.”

Boylen acknowledged he thought about closing with a group of primarily second-stringers, but he also wanted to keep the big picture in mind.

“I’m still developing two young guys,” Boylen said. “Zach missed a year-and-a-half. Lauri was hurt last year. He’s basically played two years. I’m going to try to keep developing them to come in and win games, learn how to win. I believe in both of them. I believe they’re important to what we’re doing.”

Like the rest of the Bulls, Markkanen could only shake his head. He knows busting out of his slump would go a long way toward fixing the team’s woes.

“It’s definitely going to turn around,” Markkanen said. “It’s not going be like this forever. I don’t know what else to say.”

Cody Westerlund is a sports editor for 670TheScore.com and covers the Bulls. Follow him on Twitter @CodyWesterlund.