Is Lauri Markkanen able to stay suspended in air?
Markkanen is developing an ability to create contact, then seeming to fade back, hang in the air and then shoot
Hang time began with the legendary Elgin Baylor, the illusion that a human being can remain suspended in air while those around him cannot defy the forces of gravity. It's more strategy and imagination, and it claims an illustrious line from Elgin to Dr. J. to Air Jordan to Lauri Markkanen.
"I used to do that earlier in my career," the Bulls sudden double-double machine was saying after Monday's loss to the Milwaukee Bucks about his hanging/fading jumper. "I kind of got away from it. But I am getting it back, working on it every day. I think it is a good look for me being seven feet and I can shoot over people."
Markkanen, despite the Bulls winding down a disappointing season, is on one of the best runs in franchise history as the Bulls prepare to play in Memphis Wednesday and Atlanta Friday. They return home Sunday for a matinee rematch with the Hawks.
The second-year big man from Finland and the U. of Arizona is averaging 19.3 points and 9.1 rebounds for the season. Markkanen doesn't have enough games to qualify among the league leaders because he was out injured until December. Though he's close to joining just four players in the NBA averaging 20 points and 10 rebounds, the marker for the most elite big men.
Markkanen could join that list before the end of the season the way he is playing, currently on a streak that rivals any in franchise history since before Jordan played.
Markkanen against the Bucks with 26 points and 12 rebounds reached a ninth straight game with at least 20 points and nine rebounds, a Bulls best since 1983, according to Basketball Reference. It was Markkanen's 10th double-double in his last 12 games. He's scored at least 30 points in four of the last one games. He is tied for the league lead in 20-10 games in February. For the month, he is averaging 26.4 points and 12.4 rebounds and shooting 38 percent on threes.
It is Markkanen's uncanny shooting stroke for a seven footer that separates him and generally is considered in his reputation as a scorer. Markkanen at perhaps 235 pounds spread out over a slender frame isn't generally regarded as a post up threat. He usually plays more as a face up scorer and in pick and roll or pick and pop. When he returned from his right elbow injury in December, he was somewhat tentative and still sometimes get caught hesitating between moves on drives.
But when he gets a lane on a drive, he is developing a unique ability to create contact and then seeming to fade back and hang in the air and then shoot. It's a virtually unstoppable shot since at seven feet tall he has created space by taking the hit and then still squared up, he shoots the ball from a high spot behind his head seemingly suspended.
Markkanen, however, was circumspect about his tactic.
"I mean I don't want to do any scouting report on me," he said with a laugh.
Though it's not a movement easy to counter.
A player must have unusual balance and athletic ability to make the kind of play that seems to defy gravity. It became most associated with Jordan to the point it produced documentary reports on the science of a person being able to defy gravity. Of course, that's not possible according to Newton's laws. No, not Bill Newton's, the former ABA player. Newton's first two laws factor that an object will return to the ground at the same rate unless it comes into contact.
The mirage of classic hang time from Baylor to Jordan is of the more sophisticated player being able to hold the ball a fraction longer and shoot on the way down, giving the impression of being suspended. They'll add to that coming into contact with an object which somewhat changes the formula.
Jordan's time was measured at about nine tenths of a second compared with about five tenths of a second for the average person. Extreme athletes add to illusion with the contact, which has produced an edge for Markkanen.
He'll probably be able to refine that next season because of the way the injury impeded his physical development. The skinny 21-year-old was showing off, if not a sculpted figure this summer, at least no longer a long lump of clay. The elbow injury the first week of training camp and then more than two months not playing flattened his ridges. So consider what Markkanen with that size and skill and then the added strength might be able to accomplish.
If the Bulls were not just coming out of a half season of misfortune, disruption and disorder the rest of the NBA might be noticing more. It likely won't until next season.
"The strength will definitely help," says Markkanen. "I'm not a stat guy. I don't know what I have (as far as double-doubles and other arcane statistical amusements). I am just trying to get the rebound and get off and running. We are kind of playing the way whoever gets the ball gets to push and the other guys run and I think that helps the team. Just trying to be aggressive. Even when I am not making shots, (his presence) pulls the defense in and I can make plays to my teammates."
Though more importantly, teammates are now making more plays for Markkanen, which has made the Bulls a more competitive team.
"I used to do that earlier in my career... I kind of got away from it. But I am getting it back, working on it every day." - Markkanen on his hanging jumper
The Bulls have won four of their last seven and 5-5 over the last 10 games back to the end of January. The Bulls were 5-20 through their first 25 games, though Markkanen, Bobby Portis, Kris Dunn and Denzel Valentine were out injured. Dunn with a migraine and Otto Porter Jr. with a leg strain are listed as questionable for Wednesday in Memphis.
Markkanen averaged about 13 shots per game as a rookie and is up to slightly above 15 this season. In the last three games, however, Markkanen has averaged 21 field goal attempts per game and 18.3 for the month with an average of seven free throw attempts per game. He averaged 2.4 free throw attempts per game as a rookie.
Lauri Markkanen is no longer just hanging around. He's taking off.
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