By Cody Westerlund

By Cody Westerlund–

CHICAGO (CBS) — For the first time in his young NBA career, Bulls rookie big man Lauri Markkanen has hit a prolonged rough patch.

Markkanen has followed up a career-best 26-point performance on Nov. 19 with a five-game stretch in which he’s shot 17-of-67 (25.4 percent) and failed to find any rhythm. That included his latest showing, a 12-point performance on 4-of-15 shooting in a 104-99 loss to the Suns at the United Center on Tuesday night.

“It’s just trying to keep confident, stay confident,” Markkanen said. “That’s what matters, I feel like. It’s mostly your shot, mostly confidence. Because I know I can shoot.”

Asked how he’s handled this rut, Markkanen pointed to a stretch last February as a freshman at Arizona in which he shot 4-of-25 across four games. His elixir then was to put up more shots in the gym, as many sharpshooters are wont to do amid struggles, and he followed with an efficient stretch of basketball.

The problem certainly isn’t the quality of looks Markkanen has been getting, as most of them Tuesday were “wide open,” as he put it. The trouble also isn’t mechanical, Markkanen insisted.

It’s just about time and mindset.

“Just put the work in and stay confident,” Markkanen said. “You see the ball go through the net in practice, it feels good and that’s how it comes.”

Markkanen’s struggles have come as coach Fred Hoiberg and the Bulls (3-16) have instituted more sets with him as the primary option. A fair number of those have resulted in 3-point looks, as 11 of the 15 shots Markkanen took Tuesday were from beyond the arc. In this five-game slump, Markkanen has gotten to the free-throw line just 11 times, where he’s a 79.2 percent shooter.

Markkanen did acknowledge he needed to work inside more, though Hoiberg didn’t have any worry about that, his aggressiveness or approach.

“If he’s got open shots, we expect him to take those,” Hoiberg said.

Markkanen is averaging 14.3 points on 39.2 percent shooting and 34.3 percent 3-point shooting for the season.

“Lauri had great looks tonight,” Hoiberg said. “I thought he had high-quality shots. They didn’t go down for him, but they will. He’s too good of a shooter to stay in a slump.”

Cody Westerlund is a sports editor for CBSChicago.com and covers the Bulls. Follow him on Twitter @CodyWesterlund.

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