An injured Wendell Carter Jr. watched from the bench last February as Lauri Markkanen authored his audition for multiple future All-Star appearances.
You remember. Thats the month Markkanen averaged 26 points and 12.2 rebounds on 48.6 percent shooting, including 34.8 percent from 3-point range.
Thats why, following another underwhelming performance from Markkanen, Carter offered an impassioned defense and support for the player the Bulls are still waiting on to take the next step.
He just has to take his shots, Carter said. I tell him every time were in the game, Take your shots. Dont worry about it being in the offense. Dont worry about making sure you do everything perfect. Take your shots. When you take your shots, miss or make, you get your swagger going.
Were not necessarily saying we need him to put up a lot of points. But from my perspective, I just need him to play how he was playing last year. Get his shots. Shoot them. Miss or make. That gets him going, no matter what. And with him being such a great athlete, hes going to make more than hell miss. Im going to stay in his ear because I believe in him. Ive seen what hes capable of. I have high expectations.
So, of course, does Markkanen and the Bulls. And yet, following Markkanens 3-for-10 shooting night against the Rockets that featured him missing all five of his 3-point attempts, the expectations arent getting met.
Markkanen never will rock the boat. But its clear hes struggling in the Bulls equal opportunity system in which no true pecking order has been established. Zach LaVine taking seven more shots than Markkanens 10 is fine. Coby White taking six more and Tomas Satoransky taking one more may not be.
Some of this falls on Markkanen, of course, who has struggled to assert himself following his dominant 35-point, 17-rebound effort in the opener at Charlotte. Following Saturdays loss, hes now averaging 14.9 points on 38.5 percent shooting, including 27.9 percent from 3-point range.
We do have a different offense, and were trying to figure out where the offense is coming from, where your spots are, Markkanen said. Im not running that much in the post right now. Im more on the perimeter as part of our offense. But were trying to figure it out and get to our spots.
Im confident in our offense. Weve just got to get better every day.
Markkanen did get to the line seven times, making all attempts. Thats a good sign.
That means Im trying to be aggressive and drive the ball, he said. Thats one thing Im trying to focus on. Im trying to get there even more.
Since that dominant opening performance, Markkanen is only averaging 12.7 points on 35.1 percent shooting.
You know, I think sometimes when its a tough shooting night and maybe the ball isnt going down for you, maybe you gotta start putting that baby on the floor and creating and going by people, coach Jim Boylen said. Lauri isnt the only reason we got our butt kicked.
In theory, Markkanen is too good a shooter for such struggles to continue. But his lack of assertiveness has stood out. Whether thats a reflection of him struggling to fit into Boylens system, his nature or some combination of those factors and possibly others, nobody knows.
I just try to make the right basketball play, Markkanen said. I know I can be more aggressive at times. But I wouldnt call it too unselfish.
Carter said hell stay in Markkanens ear. Thats what a good teammate does.
Its also what a teammate who knows someone can accomplish more does.
I feel hes trying to play the right way. You cant be mad about that, Carter said. At the same time, he knows we need his scoring to be a good team. Its just a conversation we had and Im more than certain hes going to turn things around.
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