Lauri Markkanen may be quiet. But he's not oblivious.
"I know I can play better," he said.
Markkanen's lack of production has dominated headlines for a couple days now. Never mind the Bulls' struggles extend beyond him. But early in a season in which the Bulls pointed to Markkanen as primed to contend for an All-Star berth, he is averaging a career low 14.9 points on career low 38.5 percent shooting, including a career low 27.9 percent from 3-point range.
Coach Jim Boylen introduced a new element following Tuesday's morning shootaround when he said Markkanen has been playing through a sore oblique for close to two weeks. Markkanen briefly left the Nov. 1 home game against the Pistons to have his side examined. But he never has landed on the Bulls' injury report and Monday marked the first time the team disclosed anything about the oblique, saying Markkanen sat out the contact portions of practice.
"I’ll stick up for him a little bit. He’s fighting through an injury," Boylen said. "He hasn’t stopped practicing. He hasn’t stopped working out. He has fought through, which I think is growth for him to fight through some of that. He’s never complained. He’s never whined. He’s never (said), 'I don’t know if I can do this.' It’s, 'Coach, I’m going to do the best I can. I’m going to give you everything I have.' When you have a mentality like that, good things happen for you. When? I don’t have a crystal ball."
Boylen spoke after Markkanen addressed reporters. Asked if he believes the injury is affecting Markkanen's shooting, Boylen said he didn't know.
"He’s a good shooter. He’s always been a good shooter. Shooters go through slumps. Hitters go through slumps. It happens," Boylen said. "It’s just a weird injury. It’s not enough to keep you out. It’s not enough to kind of stop your momentum. But it’s enough to maybe influence maybe how you do things and how you play. And he has fought through it and I’m really proud of him."
Markkanen looked inward.
"First of all, I got to look at myself in the mirror: What can I do better?" Markkanen said. "We got a lot of guys this year that can score the ball, so it might be a different guy every night."
Pressed further, though, Markkanen for the second time in four days talked about the offensive system.
"It’s been kind of varying. Some games I get a lot of touches and be really engaged and sometimes I feel like it’s a lot of … it depends on what we’re running," he said. "Some plays, I am the screener and then I got to do my job and pick guys. That’s part of how we’re playing right now. I’m not worried about that."
Markkanen attempted seven free throws against the Rockets and said that's what he is focused on to get himself engaged.
"We’ve been running stuff coming out of timeout, try to get a layup or get to the foul line and stuff like that, so I feel like that helps," Markkanen said. "I’ve been trying to get to the rim. I know we’re not doing a lot of post-up this year for (the sake of) the perimeter. Just got to drive the ball more and be more aggressive."
Boylen knows how essential getting Markkanen going is to the Bulls' fortunes.
"We need Lauri Markkanen to be Lauri Markkanen," Boylen said. "We need him to be a driver, a handler, a defensive rebounder. He’s an elite defensive rebounder. We need him to be a multifaceted, multidimensional 7-foot guy that we’ve seen him play like, that we know he can play like. We need him to play like that more consistently. He knows it. We know it. He has high character, and it’s just a matter of time to me."
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