They don’t celebrate Thanksgiving in Finland, but Lauri Markkanen calls turkey “good” even while acknowledging it’s “a little different.”
And if this seems superfluous, well, it’s better than the third-year player yet again answering questions about his lack of impact in what was billed to be a breakout season.
Too often, Markkanen is relegated to being solely a stationary 3-point shooter. Too often, Markkanen is missing the open shots he does get.
When Markkanen finally posts a potential turn-the-corner game, as he did in scoring 24 points on 7-for-14 shooting on Nov. 20 versus the Pistons, he follows it by averaging 7.3 points over the next three games on unsightly 25 percent shooting.
Through 18 games, Markkanen is averaging 13.6 points — a whopping 5.1 less than last season — on career low 35.6 percent shooting, including 28.3 percent from 3-point range. His rebounding average is a career low. His turnovers average is a career high.
“I’ve had difficult times my first two years as well, so I wouldn’t say it’s my first one,” Markkanen said following Tuesday’s practice. “But you always come through these. I’m staying positive about it, staying confident, keep working and take what the defense gives me. Get to my spots. That’s pretty much what you can do.
“It’s a lot of mental stuff. When I say I keep working, it’s not just on the court. Obviously, you do off the court stuff too. Think the game and get better that way. You can’t put your head down and give up. You just keep working and better times are ahead.”
But are they? The Bulls rarely, if ever, post up Markkanen anymore. During Monday’s home loss to the Trail Blazers, he rolled to the basket once, collected a pass — and kicked it out for a 3-point attempt from someone else.
“You’re really trying to get me to say something?” Markkanen said, smiling, when asked about whether he needs to talk to Jim Boylen about how he’s being used. “Me and Coach talk all the time. We have a good relationship. I feel like I can say whatever I need to say. We’ve had multiple conversations so it’s not about that.”
Truth is, Markkanen isn’t a boat rocker. He’s a team-first, people pleaser. So even if he’s frustrated by how he’s being utilized, he would never say it or show it.
“It’s a different role, kind of playing a different way of basketball right now,” Markkanen said of the Bulls’ five-out, equal-opportunity offense. “So it’s just something we have to get used to and hopefully we can figure it out.”
None of this is meant to fully absolve Markkanen. He has missed multiple completely open looks. The coaching staff has repeatedly reminded him of the need to run the floor hard to get easy baskets — or draw fouls — in transition.
But Markkanen’s usage rate is 21.5, lower than even his rookie season and down a full three plays from last season.
“What I think he needs to do is continue to work and stay positive,” Boylen said. “Continue to take his open looks. Continue to recognize when he’s open, when he can drive it, when he can playmake and when he can create. Rebound the ball at a high level; he’s a heck of a defensive rebounder. And just keep growing in the system.
“We’ve added some things for him. Because we’ve added them doesn’t mean that he’s going to score off of them. He’s going to make decisions out of them. He broke out against Detroit and he’ll break out again and hopefully we can sustain it for him and with him. And he can sustain it for us and with us.”
The Bulls left following practice for a three-game trip that begins Wednesday in San Francisco against the Warriors. Injuries have decimated the five-time defending Western Conference champion Warriors, who are a league-worst 3-15. Their minus-10 point differential is tied with the Hawks for the league’s worst.
“I have not studied the Warriors yet. I’ve been worried about us,” Boylen said. “I’ve seen them on TV on NBA (League) Pass. They play very hard. They’re very physical from what I saw. They’ve got a young team that they’re developing.”
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