Flourishing Markkanen candid about struggles in Chicago originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago
Lauri Markkanen is flourishing in Utah.
Months after being included in the Cleveland Cavaliers' blockbuster trade for Donovan Mitchell, the sixth-year forward is averaging career highs in points (21.9), rebounds (8.8), assists (2.7) and field goal percentage (52.9) for a Jazz team that has shocked the league by sprinting out to a 9-3 start to the season.
With such a start, comes some shine. In a recent sitdown with Stadium's Shams Charania centered on the Jazz, Markkanen was also asked about his tumultuous four-year tenure with the Chicago Bulls, and was candid in his comments.
"I'm the person who always looks in the mirror first and tries to figure it out. So then, when it was hard, I think I just put even more pressure on myself to make the next play. If you don't get as many shots, you better make these shots count," he said. "It was just a vicious circle trying to figure it out. It was a tough year, and I think it got to the point that it wasn't that much fun anymore, the last two years in Chicago.
"It was a big thing for me to be in Cleveland (in 2021-22), such a fun year that we had with that group of guys. Now it's so much easier to go out there and play the game I fell in love with."
Indeed, Markkanen's Bulls years came to an unceremonious end in 2021. The seventh overall pick in the 2017 draft, he at multiple points flashed sky-high potential, particularly in February of his second season, when he averaged 26 points and 12.2 rebounds across 10 games.
However, in his third and fourth seasons — the "last two years in Chicago" he mentioned — Markkanen regressed. Whether that regression was attributable to coaching, his own volition, or some combination of the two may never fully be known, although Markkanen clearly takes some level of accountability for his struggles.
But one way or another, he posted career lows in most every category (except his shooting percentages) in 2020-21, a season in which the Bulls overhauled their front office and coaching staff, and eventually removed him from the starting lineup following the franchise's in-season trade for Nikola Vučević.
The following offseason, Markkanen was off to the Cavaliers in a sign-and-trade, a fresh start opportunity he was thrilled to receive, as he detailed to NBC Sports Chicago at the time.
That Cleveland team, deploying Markkanen at small forward in an unconventional three-big starting lineup, was a surprise contender in the first half of the 2021-22 season before tapering off down the stretch and being eliminated in the play-in tournament. Still, it sounds as if the campaign was a refreshing experience for Markkanen.
Now, he is not only impacting winning basketball in Utah, he is leading the charge. All while rebounding, finishing at the basket, self-creating for himself and others, and defending better than he ever has before — even, impressively, as his 3-point shooting (29.7 percent) lags behind.
But while Bulls fans may rue that such a transformation did not happen in Chicago, it is clear listening to Markkanen speak that the sum of his experiences — good and bad — that have led him to this phase of his basketball career.
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