[Special thanks to Valtteri, a native of Finland who offered to help translate these Markkanen quotes and provide context beyond what you can do with Google. You can follow him on Twitter at @VoltaireMorttin -yfbb]
It’s midseason, and every Finnish reporter with at least one foot in the United States is asking the Bulls’ power forward Lauri Markkanen if things are going to turn around in Chicago. So far, the record is an abysmal 10–35, and Markkanen still has some minor problems with his arm.
The Finnisher returned from an elbow injury in December and has played in every game since, but the Bulls have other persistent woes. There’s the head coach turmoil and definitely a case of low self-esteem.
I spoke to Markkanen in the beginning of January in Chicago, and he admitted that starting his second season off with an injury – a season many expected would shoot him straight into stardom – was a rather heavy ordeal.
“It was the first time I really had to actively keep myself positive and struggle with something. It took a long time before I could do anything with my arm”
At such an early stage in a player’s career, a serious injury is a critical setback. All the time available should be made use of in developing one’s game – not nurturing broken body parts – and it makes the situation much more alarming than it would for a seasoned veteran. Although Markkanen did point out that he doesn’t really know what the healing process is like for an experienced veteran, since he has never been one.
He emphasized the importance of co-operation and having a positive mindset when asked how the Bulls are going to climb up from rock-bottom. He also said he is trying to be a vocal leader during this tough climb:
“I always try to lead by example. Although it does take a lot for a guy from a strange culture and language to be the one speaking.”
“At times, there are problems with my arm, but nothing so serious that it would have stopped me from playing. Maybe there is more weakness in the strength-side of things. The muscle around the elbow is constricting it. First, I went three months doing nothing, and now I’m trying to do some extra exercise at the gym and get the strength back to my upper body. My legs feel fine, but it will take time.”
(If you’re wondering about the weird choices of words, you should know the translations are more or less literal, and Finnish is a monster of a language. When translating Finnish spoken word to actual written Finnish, one needs to be creative to say the least. Translating written Finnish into English is actually much simpler. So bear with me, even if the quotes seem cuckoo to you.)
Markkanen also stated in Yle’s article that there are factors in play in addition to the injury, but the team is giving it their best shot.
“There have been so many changes in coaching and players. And there haven’t been any wins for us. The season has been challenging. And when, on top of everything else, it started off with an injury, it definitely was a tough spot. Regardless, we’re trying to fight”
The discussion went on from injury to the poor state of the entire team. When asked what’s bothering his game, he went on to say:
“In general, my problem’s the same as the entire team’s: it’s the new system where roles keep changing. It has been difficult, but I’m trying to stay positive and keep an open mind. Instead of blaming others, I look in the mirror and think about what I can do better.”
Markkanen in that Yle article also spoke in a positive note about coach Jim Boylen. The team’s new head coach’s career has been controversial so far, and several statements have emerged saying the players are not content with the current situation.
“Well, we had a relationship of trust already (before Boylen became Head Coach), so I can talk to him about anything. It really helps”
But media isn’t the only institution constantly checking up on the second-year prospect.
Markkanen’s tutor and Finland’s national team’s head coach Henrik Dettmann also visited the Bulls recently, and they discussed transition offense:
“We talked about what I am good at and what I can improve at. He is obviously not the coach of our team, so he really can’t say anything (about my role). We talked about how I can improve and find my spots. One thing we talked about was the transition thing. I know I have the green light when I get the rebound to push it, and I tried to be more aggressive with it tonight.”
It is a little unclear what Markkanen meant by “the transition thing”, but knowing coach Dettmann’s ways, it might be the title of his personal offensive playbook. Not really a bad thing to talk about, since Markkanen has certainly turned games around for team Finland with his “transition thing”.
If you don’t know what I mean, check out 0:30 in this video: