I love Dirk Nowitzki. He's one of my five favorite players of all time. Besides the obvious reason, his incredible basketball prowess, Nowitzki grew each and every year to reach his full potential.
I used to be hard on him. Nothing he did was good enough for me. Dirk had 30? Should've had 45. Dirk scored 45? So? They lost cause he went 1-6 in the 4th quarter. Dirk beat Kobe? Do it in the playoffs. Mavs can't get to the Finals? His fault.
I was hard on him because I recognized his potential. I knew he was 7-foot with an uncanny touch from the perimeter. I could see his fadeaway was unguardable. I saw he could not be stopped by anyone in the league. I saw that he was the best player on the floor most nights. The problem was he needed to believe it.
So I continued to not be impressed. I wanted greatness.
Then it happened. Game 5, 2006 vs. The Suns. Series tied at 2. When his team NEEDED it, Dirk dropped 50 on Phoenix. It was cold-blooded and effortless. I almost shed a tear. It was his Leroy from The Last Dragon moment. He had “The Glow”. He reached that upper level. An MVP award followed the next season and a few seasons later he won an NBA title.
It finally clicked. He believed.
That's what I want for Lauri Markkanen.
It's time for the kid gloves to come off, Lauri needs to ball. He needs to step his game up. He has all the tools, height (7-foot), a 3-point shot people wish for, a solid basketball IQ, gorgeous footwork for a man his size, can rebound effectively, create his own shot, draw contact, be a presence on the defensive end, cool nickname, charming smile and the list goes on. He's a walking double-double with the potential to be the aforementioned Maverick great.
The problem is he has to believe it.
Far too often this season he's been passive. He's passed up good shots to give the rock to no one worthy of receiving it, let alone shooting it. Far too often he makes a move, then two more and winds up taking a bad shot or getting it blocked or turning it over. I watched him bring the ball down the court, take Bogdan Bogdanović to the post, a shooting guard mind you, and get bodied out of the post by Bogdan and forced into a turnover. A double dribble no less. It's frustrating to witness.
I watch players like Nikola Vučević put up solid numbers and max out his potential. Lauri is far more talented but the difference is Nikola believes. When he makes his move in the post, he makes it confidently. No pump fakes or bringing the ball down around his waist while trying to make two spins off the pivot. He just balls out.
That's what I'm asking Lauri to do.
Lauri needs to understand this team will go as he goes. He has to put up 25+ points for them to have a shot at winning. His play on both ends makes it easier for everyone else on the team, not him taking nine or 10 shots and having a 15 point, six rebound night. That's not gonna cut it.
Even with the problems I have with his lack of desire to be the man and not asserting himself properly, he's averaging 17.0 points and 7.3 rebounds this season. It's only his second year in the league and he's coming off an injury. Hell, he just got his driver's license.
Does he need time to grow? Sure. Am I being extra hard on Lauri? You bet because he can trip and fall into 17 points and 10 rebounds.
I will continue to be demanding because I want more from the Finnisher.
I want greatness.Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Bulls easily on your device, including my show, Bulls Outsiders.