That is the question being asked around league circles as we approach the one month mark of the regular season. With the All-Star game being played in Chicago in February, the hope was Markkanen would take a big jump in his 3rd NBA season, and represent the home city in the showcase event.
Instead, the 22-year-old Finn is struggling through one of the worst shooting slumps of his young career through the first 14 games. Markkanen opened the season with a bang, scoring 35 points and pulling down 17 rebounds in the opener at Charlotte. But since that night, he’s only shot over 50% from the field in one other game and is sitting at 36.2% for the season, far off his career average of 42.6%. He’s been even worse from 3-point range shooting 26.8%, compared to his career norm of 35.2%.
And, it’s not like the Bulls haven’t been trying to get him going. In Monday’s loss to Milwaukee, Markkanen missed all four of his attempts from beyond the arc, most of them wide open looks.
Markkanen is making just over 25% of his wide open 3-point looks, which is classified by the NBA as a shot attempt with no defender within 6-feet. In case you were wondering, he made 43% of his wide open 3’s last season and 45% as a rookie.
Markkanen insists his confidence hasn’t wavered. “Shooters, all the players go through slumps” Markkanen told reporters in the post-game locker room Monday night. “Everybody’s broken through it at some point. When I’m staying confident, believing every shot’s going in, I know it’s going to turn around.”
But it’s not just the long range misses that have the Bulls concerned. Markkanen’s shooting woes seem to be affecting his all-around game, like this sequence against the Bucks late in the first half on Monday.
Markkanen had to deal with the length of Giannis Antetokounmpo on the first attempt, and in his anxiety to make good on the second try, he misses the dunk, something we’ve seen on a handful of occasions in recent games.
Even though Markkanen insists his shooting slump hasn’t affected his overall game, he’s also been less active on the defensive end, being overpowered inside and slow to help on drives to the basket.
It’s one thing for Giannis to score inside on Markkanen, it’s quite another to see Nets’ rookie Nicolas Claxton go strong to the basket for the and-one.
So, what can Markkanen do to shake the slump? Bulls’ coach Jim Boylen has often mentioned his third year forward seems to get energized by working hard on the defensive glass. Markkanen is more than capable of grabbing a rebound and taking it end to the end as he did on this play against the Nets last Saturday.
Markkanen has well above average ballhandling skills for a 7-footer, which makes him a dangerous weapon in transition. On this next play, he turns defense into offense at the expense of the reigning league MVP.
Watching plays like that, it’s pretty clear Markkanen’s issues aren’t physical. Boylen mentioned last week that Markkanen had been playing through a strained oblique, but Markkanen insisted it wasn’t an issue and felt fine physically.
Assuming Markkanen is healthy, his career numbers will tell you this shooting slump shouldn’t last much longer. Confidence is a funny thing for athletes, but the best thing Markkanen can do right now is stay aggressive on the offensive end and look for opportunities to get to the basket and draw fouls for some easy points.
Markkanen’s teammates have voiced their strong support for the young forward in recent days and you can count on them trying to set up him for more open looks.
After all, even though a remake of the Michael Jordan “Space Jam” movie is due out next year with LeBron James in the starring role, it’s not like the Monstars have stolen Markkanen’s ability to play basketball.
Markkanen summed up the state of his game very simply Monday night. “It’s not going to be like this forever. I don’t know what else to say.”
Everyone associated with the Bulls’ organization is counting on Markkanen to bust out of his slump with a series of big games very soon.
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