As one of the key players in the Bulls rebuild, Lauri Markkanen's performance remains planted firmly under the microscope.
His production at a young age set a high bar for Markkanen's future. He is one of 14 players in league history to average more than 15 points and seven rebounds as a 20-year-old or younger rookie. Of that group, he had the highest 3-point percentage (36.2).
That 3-point shot has eluded him early this season. Through four games (small sample size alert), he has made just 5 of 27 3-pointers (18.5%).
One criticism of Markkanen's offensive game is that at times he has been limited to a spot-up shooter in the Bulls offense. When he's been at his best, he has shown more than that, which is why him shooting a majority of his shots from 3-point range in the preseason was a bit disconcerting. He made 44.4% of those threes at least.
In the season opener, the 22-year-old Finn had a big game with 35 points and 17 rebounds. That performance showed more versatility. He was an efficient 13-for-25 from the field, but shot only 1-for-7 from 3-point range.
His 3-point shooting hasn't improved much since. Markkanen followed up the 1-for-7 against the Hornets with a 1-for-10 night from deep against the Grizzlies. Markkanen missed 17 of his first 19 to start the season.
The 18.5% mark from 3-point range so far this season is just over half what his career percentage was entering this year (36.2). So what's going on? Is it a slump that is being accentuated by the fact that it's a season-starting slump?
NBC Sports Chicago's Bulls insider K.C. Johnson talked to Markkanen and coach Jim Boylen about it before the Knicks game on Monday. Boylen liked the looks Markkanen was getting from three and Markkanen said he wasn't worried about it yet, but is still trying to find his legs and rhythm.
As for those looks Boylen liked, a deeper dive shows he's right. Markkanen is getting open looks at a similar rate to last year, but is missing them in bunches.
NBA.com's stats page gives information on closest defender for every shot so as to differentiate between wide open shots, open shots and contested shots. Of Markkanen's 27 3-point attempts so far this year, 15 of them have been classified as wide open shots, defined as the closest defender being more than six feet away. Having 15 of his 27 threes be wide open (55.6%) lines up last year's distribution (when 56.7% of his threes were wide open) so shot selection isn't the problem.
Markkanen is 2-for-15 on those wide open threes. Safe to say that's not good. Markkanen has made a killing on wide open threes in his career. He drained 45.2% of wide open threes as a rookie and 43.2% last year.
Markkanen is 2-for-10 on shots defined as open, with the closest defender being 4-to-6 feet away. That's also below his career numbers on those shots, but is less of a dropoff (20% this year vs. 27.8% the last two years combined).
Wide open 3s
There's nothing different in shot location either. Markkanen rarely takes threes from the corners and has attempted just one this year from a corner (he missed). Corner threes are en vogue in the NBA, but the way Markkanen is used in the Bulls' offense doesn't allow for many corner threes. For example, eight of Markkanen's threes this season have come off pick and rolls (he made one of those). In his career, Markkanen shoots at a similar rate from the corners and above the break in the 3-point line.
Whether or not there's any rhyme or reason to Markkanen's struggles, it doesn't appear to be shot selection and he and the Bulls are aware of that. It's just a matter of Markkanen simply making wide open threes.
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The numbers behind Lauri Markkanen's bad start from 3-point range originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago