/ by K.C. Johnson
Presented By Nationwide Insurance Agent Jeff Vukovich

At first, Lauri Markkanen sounded like his first and only contact with new head coach Billy Donovan centered on introductory, get-to-know-you conversation.

“We haven’t talked too much,” Markkanen said Monday in his typically unassuming fashion.

But later in Markkanen’s Zoom media availability following Bulls’ practice as part of their voluntary group workouts, the Finnish forward revealed more.

“Just getting me into actions, coming off ball screens. He talked about posting up right away and just being involved. He kind of asked me where do I want the ball and what do I want to do with it,” Markkanen said. “I’m excited to work with him. Obviously, I haven’t met him (in person) yet. But I got a good feeling out of our one conversation.”

For all the attention showered upon the fact Zach LaVine is on his sixth coach entering his seventh season, Markkanen is on track to play for his third entering his fourth year in Chicago.

Markkanen unexpectedly started for Fred Hoiberg as a rookie, a promotion that occurred after Bobby Portis broke a bone in Nikola Mirotic’s face with a preseason punch. Markkanen then enjoyed his most dominant stretch as an NBA player under Jim Boylen, averaging 26 points and 12.2 rebounds over 10 games in February 2019.

But Markkanen regressed significantly last season under Boylen, posting career-lows in points-per-game, and field-goal and 3-point percentage in yet another injury-marred season.

Boylen is gone, fired last month. Donovan is here.


Markkanen is excited.

“I think there’s a lot of things we thought would go better last year. Of course, I’m going to look at myself. I can always play with more energy. I can always rebound better. I think that’s what gets me going. Those are the main things,” he said. “I think it just pushed me this summer. I’ve been going hard. I’m really excited about the upcoming year and I think I can make the quote-unquote comeback."

Of the significance of his fourth season, he added: “It’s really important. I gotta show people that I can come back from the down year I had. It didn’t put me down at all.”

Indeed, Markkanen never lost confidence. He looked adrift at times. But it’s not like he isn’t still 7-feet tall with a sweet shooting stroke.

“I kind of had a down year last year, so it was mentally a new experience for me. I can kind of learn from that. I feel more mature,” Markkanen said. “To react to all the things that happen around the league, I know for a fact that people kind of, with my down year, they don’t expect that big of things from me going in. Of course, my expectations are even higher than ever now, just going back to my fourth year and performing at a high level. So I do want to prove all the people wrong.”

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Like LaVine, Markkanen isn’t a rock-the-boat type. He expressed his frustrations privately for the most part. He did let slip publicly an occasional gripe about usage.

Boylen changed the offensive system last season to focus more on 3-point shooting and shots at the rim. Too often, Markkanen seemed to be standing around.

Asked if simply changing his usage will change his fortunes, Markkanen seemed to agree.

“It was a weird day,” Markkanen said of Boylen’s firing. “I was at the practice facility working out when I heard the news. I read the Internet just like everybody else. I knew there were talks about it. Things didn’t go our way this year. That’s on all of us. I have nothing against him. I wish him the best and we move on.

“I do think I can be more productive, more versatile than I was last year. I think, not at all times, but there were times I felt like I was just used as a spacing the floor. Just talking to Billy, I’m really confident going into this year just off one conversation with how he uses players to their strengths. So I’m excited.”