Perhaps the pressure will be off first round draft pick Lauri Markkanen Monday after the Bulls 75-55 loss to the Atlanta Hawks in the second game of Bulls Summer League competition.
He won’t have to handle the expectations of being a “can’t miss” prospect.
Because, at least on this day, he missed. A lot. Hey, join the club.
Ten straight three-point misses in 10 attempts, though, suggests it probably was more just one of those inexplicable days for the big man who was one of the premier college shooters last season.
“Every single one I had they felt good,” said Markkanen, who was hardly alone in a brutal four of 35 Bulls three-point shooting game and 21.9 percent overall. “I thought they were going in; that’s why I’m not too worried. Every one felt good.”
Actually, that was the encouraging part for the rookie, who never got down, continued to play hard, rebounded (nine, though plenty of misses to get) and retained his confidence and poise.
Markkanen did get pushed around given his slight build. But he fought back, got to the free throw line six times and attempted to go up strong for dunks. Despite the poor shooting line, Markkanen still looked like the best player for the Bulls.
He finished with eight points. Cameron Payne led the Bulls with 12 points, but he had 11 shots and one assist and again dribbled up quickly and shot. Antonio Blakeney had 11 points off the bench and the team’s highlight dunk on a baseline drive.
It is a “make or miss league,” as we are so often told.
“Lauri missed shots,” agreed General Manager Gar Forman, watching from the stands with coach Fred Hoiberg. “It looked like every one was going down. I was actually encouraged. You can see he can put the ball on the floor, is a good passer and a very skilled player. Good mobility. I like that he’s got some toughness to him. He’s just got to get physically stronger, which is normal for a 19, 20-year old kid. Since we’ve had him in the (Advocate Center) building, we’ve been real encouraged by his work ethic and skill level. He’s mobile. He has physicality to him. He just has to get stronger physically. Like today, he missed shots but you thought every one was going down. He has a nice stroke. I thought he had some really nice passes today. This is all a process.
“I think it’s good (for him, a game like this),’ said Forman. “I thought he played really well the other night. And then when he struggles to make shots, the first month is a learning process. Knowing what kind of kid he is, he’ll take that hard and continue to work and grow. We’ve all seen it in summer league. I remember Derrick Rose’s first summer league game and Mario Chalmers kicked him a new one. He looked awful. Going back to the Ben Gordon days when he struggled in several games and ends up Sixth Man of the Year. The big thing is just getting the process started, being with our coaching staff, learning what’s expected and this being the first step of a long summer. He’ll be in the gym with our athletic performance people getting stronger and coaches working on his skill development. It’s just getting adjusted to this being a full-time job.”
It was a difficult job Monday for the Bulls, now 0-2. Kris Dunn had to leave for personal, family reasons, and Paul Zipser, another starter from Saturday, was out with an ankle sprain. So Nikola Jovanovic and Brady Heslip started, and the Bulls never were much in the game. They were behind just 17-14 after one quarter even as they missed 16 of their first 17 shots. The also rebuilding Hawks then pulled away as Denzel Valentine was zero for eight on threes and he and Markkanen were a combined two of 25 overall.
“It’s crazy. I’ve never shot like that in my life. Brady (Heslip, one of seven), I’ve been watching him forever. I’ve never seen him shoot like that. Lauri is a great shooter. It’d be different if we had average shooters shooting like that, but we’ve got great shooters shooting like that. So it was just one of those games. I thought our effort defensively was solid. We just needed to come up with some boards. I think that’s part of why we were missing. We weren’t getting easy shots because they were getting boards. We had no easy opportunities.”
The Bulls play Washington 5 p.m. (Central) Tuesday. Then the Summer League goes to tournament play. The Bulls won that tournament last year. But with Dunn out the rest of Summer League and Zipser hurt, it seems more likely they’ll have a shorter stay this year.
But as we know from recent summers with Doug McDermott and Bobby Portis, it doesn’t always carry over. Plus, the goal was mostly to expose Markkanen to as much pro level play as possible for the 20-year-old. Despite two of 15 on threes in the two games, Markkanen has shown a formidable stroke and an excellent feel for the game. The coaches say he is a speed reader learner and goes to the basket aggressively with both hands. Now, he just has to retain his confidence, and that doesn’t appear to be an issue.
“Just learn from it,” Markkanen said about the poor shooting. “I can definitely improve. Being more balanced and getting lower on my shot. (I’m) not worried about it. Those kinds of days happen, not often, but sometimes. It’s my second game, so, of course, I have to adjust. I think the second half was better even though I was still missing shots. I’m getting more used to it all the time. I worked on my game so much I don’t have any reason to get down on myself.”
Though he may be getting down on those repetitive questions. He got yet another about being the next Dirk, and showed some exasperation without being rude or unpleasant.
“I’m tired of hearing it,” he said. “Everyone keeps saying that. Of course, it’s an honor to be compared to him, but I already answered that question, asked me that 200 times.”
Media like a simplistic go to. He better get used to it. But it’s not limiting the smooth seven footer’s enthusiasm for the team and the season, no matter how much others may be critical.
“I’m definitely looking forward. We have a young team. I am enjoying our team already, so it is going to be fun. Every game matters. We want to win, we want to get better every time we step on the court, compete. It just motivates you even more when no one is expecting that much from us. That’s why we want to prove people wrong. I’m never going to have that (losing) mindset like the game is not going to matter. I want to win every game. I hate losing. I am looking forward to tomorrow and to bounce back.”