I’m sorry, Lauri Markkanen can’t come to the phone right now. Please leave a message after the beep, and he’ll get back to you, um, sometime.
Lauri Markkanen is off to the worst statistical start of his NBA career.
Through eight games, Markkanen has recorded only one performance where he scored more than 20 points – and it came in the Bulls’ season opener against the Charlotte Hornets. As a point of comparison, Markkanen had three games in the opening eight-game span where he scored 20+ to start last year.
To put this whole thing into perspective, check out these stats comparing Markkanen’s first eight games in each of his first three seasons:
- Minutes per game: 32.9
- Points per game: 16.3
- FG%: 43.1
- 3PT: 37.9
- Rebounds per game: 9.0
- Assists per game: 1.3
- Minutes per game: 28.2
- Points per game: 15.3
- FG%: 37.2
- 3PT: 34.5
- Rebounds per game: 7.3
- Assists per game: 0.9
- Minutes per game: 29.7
- Points per game: 14.9
- FG%: 37.6
- 3PT: 26.5
- Rebounds per game: 7.9
- Assists per game: 2.0
Look, Markkanen’s first eight games the last few years haven’t been amazing. But they sure made these last eight feel real bad.
The big man’s numbers last year versus this year may not seem all that different, but it’s worth keeping in mind he was coming off an elbow injury and missed the first 23 games of the season. Coming into 2019-20, Markkanen was at full health, and even shared Instagram pictures showing those massive #gains. The two shouldn’t be similar.
Even though Markkanen has been more of a 3-point shooter than a force in the paints, Bulls fans were expecting a more aggressive, versatile player. He has been given the nickname “The Finnisher,” after all. Markkanen has the requisite ball-handling skills to work off the dribble, and the size to give nearly any NBA player problems. And though Markkanen has shot fewer 3-point attempts through his first eight games (6.2 compared to 7.3 the first two seasons), he is still mainly playing along the perimeter. Even more problematic, he isn’t making up those shots anywhere else on the court. Markkanen is averaging 12.6 shots per game this season, which falls well behind the 15.1 attempts he averaged through the first eight games last year.
The strangest thing is Markkanen posted one of the best opening-night stat lines in the NBA with 35 points and 17 rebounds. It should have been the first building block toward better things. Even after a defeat, Markkanen was saying all the right things about the evolution of his game.
“The main thing was to be aggressive and attack (against the Hornets),” Markkanen told Bulls dot com’s Sam Smith. “Not just shoot jump shots; get to the rim. That was the main goal. There are a lot of things I can do better. I missed a lot of easy shots, too. Definitely, I can improve. That’s been my thing (threes), but I am trying to expand my game a little bit. It makes me and the team harder to guard, keeps the defenses honest.”
Since then, Bulls fans haven’t seen the same aggressive Markkanen … on either side of the ball.
When a player goes into a scoring slump, it is often fair if someone like Markkanen has shifted focus elsewhere with eyes on helping the team win in other ways. But if he is, it isn’t working. Because not only are his scoring numbers down, his rebounding has taken a hit, too. The Bulls have been one of the worst rebounding teams in the league so far this season, and Markkanen’s 7.9 rebounds per game isn’t getting the job done. And to think, that rebounding average is greatly helped by two double-digit performances to start the season. If you don’t include those games, then Markkanen is only averaging 5.8 boards. Not great.
Markkanen has been so bad, his head coach has taken him out of games when they matter most (whether you agree with that is a whole other story). The sheer lack of effort on the offensive end and the complete confusion on the defensive end has made for one problematic start.
Anyway, I guess all the Bulls can do is keep calling his name.
Lauri, are you there? Is it something I said? I’m sorry. Please, come back.