PHILADELPHIA — Above all else, Lauri Markkanen is a team-first player.
The Bulls need Lauri Markkanen to produce more.
Markkanen doesn’t like to force shots.
The Bulls need the third-year forward to shoot more.
Therein lies the at times contradictory dynamic that is helping sink the Bulls’ season. That’s not overdramatizing matters either, which is why this issue has been written about often this season—and again Friday night after the Bulls dropped to 1-17 against winning teams following their 100-89 loss to the 76ers.
At halftime, all seemed well. The Bulls took advantage of a 76ers team playing without Joel Embiid to lead by one with Markkanen scoring 12 points on seven shots.
In the second half, the 76ers ran away and hid with Furkan Korkmaz scoring a career-high 24 points, double Markkanen’s output.
Yes, the player the Bulls anointed as one ready for a breakout season failed to score in the second half. Worse, he took just two shots. Luke Kornet attempted more shots than Markkanen in the game.
“I know I can probably attack the rim a little bit more often and be more aggressive and obviously try to get to my spots. But I didn’t feel that I had the opportunities where I could really attack the closeout. So I just tried to play the system and find the open man,” Markkanen said. “I probably have to be [more selfish]. Obviously, I have to get the ball and get to those spots I can take those shots. I’m a team-first guy. So I’m going to do whatever we need to do. But obviously a big part of it is me playing at my own level.
“I got a couple looks in the second half that I could’ve probably launched. But they were deep 3s. And without touching the ball for 5 minutes, I didn’t feel like shooting at that point. It was pretty contested. So I just moved the ball.”
There’s so much to parse from this quote that it may take 10 minutes, 38 seconds to break it all down.
That’s the amount of time Markkanen sat from exiting with 5:29 left in the first quarter—after throwing down two dunks—until returning in the second. He promptly added another dunk and a 3-pointer.
“Obviously the first time you touch the basketball feels a little different after that period of [rest] time,” Markkanen said. “But other than that, I don’t think it affects me. I’m still young. I’m pretty warm even after that kind of stretch. I don’t really feel it.”
When Markkanen averaged 26 points and 12.2 points in 11 February games last season, he averaged 36.3 minutes and took 18.1 shots. He's averaging 30 minutes this season on 12 shots per game.
He attempted 12.7 shots per game his rookie season. To clarify: Kornet taking more shots than Markkanen in a game and Markkanen attempting fewer shots than his rookie season are not good developments.
“We do have to get him going more. Some of it is on him. Some of it is on me,” coach Jim Boylen said. “I just want him to be aggressive. He handles the ball in transition. He rebounds the ball. Offensive rebounds, he had a couple opportunities there. He slashed to the basket in the first half and got a couple great dunks and plays. Gotta keep your energy up and we have to get him involved.
“I just think it’s a learning and growing thing. There have been times he has been very aggressive and he has got himself involved. There are times where I have to get him involved.”
Part of that, obviously, would be playing Markkanen more. He logged 28:48 against the 76ers.
“That’s what it’s been my whole career, right?” Markkanen asked reporters.
Told that he averaged 32.2 minutes last season, including that even busier February stretch, Markkanen alluded to the need to get Thad Young playing time.
“Thad is a key player for us,” Markkanen said.
But this was sold as Markkanen’s breakout season. When the Bulls signed Young in free agency, management and Boylen publicly painted the move as a complementary one to benefit Markkanen.
Instead, the same storyline keeps repeating itself.
It’s not Markkanen’s rolled left ankle. He was able to joke about getting dunked on by Ben Simmons when asked about it.
“I can tell I rolled it a week or so ago. But it’s definitely getting better,” he said. “I still don’t have too much pop on it. But the pain is going away. That’s probably why I got dunked on.”
Markkanen said he feels he has a strong enough relationship with Boylen to ask him to play more if he needed to. But, again, he’s a team-first guy and knows Young is a valuable piece.
“He goes with how the game is going and who is rolling and who is on the floor from there. That’s his decision,” Markkanen said of Boylen determining playing time. “I’m ready whenever my name is called.
“I feel like we have a good relationship. I don’t mind talking to him. We have conversations pretty often. We haven’t talked about [playing time] too much because we know the situation and that’s the way we’re going to run.”
The situation is Markkanen needs to produce more if the Bulls’ rebuild is going to succeed. It’s as simple as that.
“I’ve had my good moments. I think I’m getting my rhythm back on my shots. Obviously, I can be more aggressive,” Markkanen said. “It’s a different system that we’re running and different kind of spots that my shots are coming from. So it’s a little different. But obviously, I can do more.”
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