When Lauri Markkanen opens training camp with the Bulls on Sept, 25, he will do so just two weeks removed from a sterling run at FIBA’s EuroBasket tournament.
Italy ended Finland’s surprising 4-2 tournament Saturday in Istanbul with a 70-57 victory in the round of 16. Coincidentally, former Bull Marco Belinelli sank his first five 3-pointers and finished with 22 points on just nine shots to help down Markkanen and Finland.
Markkanen couldn’t reproduce the magic he had displayed in leading Finland to a 4-1 mark in group play before adoring hometown fans in Helsinki. He managed just four points on six shots in just more than 20 minutes and didn’t have many plays called for him or matchups exploited.
Previously, Markkanen had drawn notice by averaging 22.6 points on 55 percent shooting, including 50 percent on 3-pointers.
“The most impressive thing is how well he played down the stretch,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said before Saturday’s round of 16 loss. “He has put up great numbers but his best basketball has been played in crunch time. As a 20-year-old kid playing against some of the top European teams and making winning plays, that’s a great sign.”
Indeed, Markkanen, whom the Bulls acquired as the seventh overall pick in the June trade of Jimmy Butler to the Timberwolves, had taken over most of Finland’s victories late. That included him hitting the tying shots to force both overtimes in one victory and scoring 12 of his 23 points in the fourth quarter of another triumph.
“He’s doing a little bit of everything,” Hoiberg said. “He has been labeled as just a shooter. But (with) his ability to put the ball on the floor and some of the finishes he has had at the rim where he has jumped off the wrong foot or tip-dunked, he has shown more. He has blocked shots at key moments. We’re excited to get him.”
The Bulls will have the 7-foot rookie soon enough now.