It’s easy to say Bulls rookie Lauri Markkanen is enduring a shooting slump after he went 3-for-11 from 3-point range in Tuesday’s loss to Phoenix.
But the numbers in this case can tell a variety of stories.
Bulls game day
Bulls vs. Denver Nuggets at the Pepsi Center, 8 p.m. Thursday
Radio: WLS 890-AM
Outlook: At 11-9, the Nuggets are holding their own in the Western Conference despite losing PF Paul Millsap to wrist surgery. Denver is coming off an ugly 106-77 loss at Utah on Tuesday, however. C Nikola Jokic is the Nuggets’ best player, averaging a team-best 15.9 points, 11.0 rebounds and 4.6 assists. The Nuggets don’t start a true point guard, using Gary Harris (14.3 ppg) and Jamal Murray (13.9 ppg) in the backcourt. SG Will Barton is averaging 14.4 ppg off the bench. Denver has been the Bulls’ worst NBA destination by far. They’ve lost 10 straight in the Mile High City and 16 of 17 since the championship era ended.
Next: Sacramento Kings at the United Center on Friday, 7 p.m.
— Mike McGraw
Markkanen has hit at least 3 baskets from 3-point range in six of the past eight games, so he’s still productive. He leads all NBA rookies in made 3-pointers with 47. Utah’s Donovan Mitchell, with 42, is the only player in the neighborhood.
In overall 3-point percentage, Markkanen is right around the rookie average at 34.3 percent. He has attempted more than twice as many shots as the most accurate rookie 3-point shooter, Boston’s Jayson Tatum at 47.8 percent.
Maybe the best way to illustrate Markkanen’s path is to break up the season. In the first seven games, the 7-footer from Finland averaged 16.6 points and shot 42.6 percent from 3-point range. Since Nov. 4, he has been at 12.9 points and shot 30 percent from long range in 12 games.
“I think his demeanor has been good,” coach Fred Hoiberg said Wednesday. “If I saw a guy that was coming over and hanging his head when his shots weren’t going in, I’d be concerned. But the fact he’s continuing to look for his shot and be aggressive is a good sign. He’s too good of a shooter to stay in this slump.”
Long-range shooting might be Markkanen’s best skill, but he may be too reliant on his jumper. He has attempted 137 3-point shots this season, compared to 100 from inside the arc.
“Last night, the shots that were there were 3-point shots,” Hoiberg said. “With Lauri’s versatility to score, we need to try to get him the ball at different spots.”
Dunn gets aggressive:
Kris Dunn credited coach Fred Hoiberg, in a way, for his career-high 24-point game against the Suns. Dunn said one reason he was so aggressive at the start of the game was because Hoiberg called him out after he went 0-for-6 from the field on Sunday against Miami.
“He knows he didn’t play well (against Miami),” Hoiberg said. “You watch clips with him and try to make improvements. I thought he was terrific (Tuesday), especially early. He had active hands defensively. That’s what got him going. Any time Kris gets himself started on the defensive end, it usually carries over to a good game.”
Nwaba getting closer:
Guard David Nwaba went on the trip to Denver, so it’s possible he could make his return to game action Thursday when the Bulls face the Nuggets. Nwaba hasn’t played since suffering a sprained right ankle on Nov. 4.
Coach Fred Hoiberg said the team would decide after Wednesday’s practice whether or not Nwaba would make the trip. At the time of the injury, the athletic 6-4 guard had started three straight games.