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Arizona basketball: Lauri Markkanen’s shots not falling as he adjusts to ‘blend’ of scoring opportunities

Markkanen has been scoring more around the basket in recent weeks, but that may be causing his jumper to be off

Arizona State v Arizona Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

It would be an understatement to say Lauri Markkanen’s shot has been off lately.

After shooting over 50 percent from 3 in the first half of the regular season, the 7-footer cooled off considerably down the stretch, shooting 5 for 31 from 3 in the Arizona Wildcats’ last nine games.

On Saturday, Markkanen airballed not once, but twice, as he shot 0-for-5 from beyond the arc as Arizona closed out Pac-12 play with a win over ASU.

Despite the downturn, head coach Sean Miller says there will be no changes to the freshman’s usual shooting regiment.

“It’s off limits, just because I don’t look at him as his shot being flawed,” Miller said Monday at his weekly press conference.

Like Parker Jackson-Cartwright, who was struggling with his shot before a recent hot streak, Miller says Markkanen shoots the ball too well in practice to be concerned about his jumper.

“There’s nothing wrong with Lauri’s shot,” Miller reiterated.

So, why has Markkanen’s shot been off then?

Miller said last week that fatigue may have something to do with it, but this week offered a new idea.

“If there’s one thing that I think he’s going through, it’s he played a style that’s been very face up-oriented,” Miller said. “Very uptempo. He’s comfortable playing that style. That’s a 24-second international FIBA basketball game. There’s a lot of similarities between FIBA and the NBA. College basketball, because the shot clock is not at 24, it’s a more physical game around the basket.”

Miller said Markkanen has done an “incredible job” of learning how to utilize his size to adapt to the increased physicality, but because the freshman has placed so much emphasis on doing so, it may be negatively affecting his perimeter game.

Markkanen has scored in double figures in five straight games, but has only made one 3 in that span.

“He’s offensive rebounding, posting up, scoring closer to the basket, getting fouled more in the last six weeks than he did earlier in the year,” Miller said. “But it’s a blend now of being physical around the basket … and balancing that with taking the open 3-point shot, feeling comfortable with the 3-point shot.

“So if there’s one thing that might be different in describing his game is that I don’t know if he’s ever played this game with as much of a blend as he has going on with what he’s doing on offense.

“It can take you out of your rhythm a little bit, but watching the ASU game I think he had three or four good looks and he’s going to make those.”

Miller also mentioned that Markkanen’s slump may simply be as a result of him regressing to the mean.

Miller pointed out that Markkanen was once shooting over 60 percent from 3, and now, even after his recent slump, he sits at 42 percent.

“If you would say Lauri was going to shoot 42 percent from the 3-point line at the beginning of the year, I think any coach would sign up for that,” he said. “It’s just he was at such a high level shooting that I don’t know if he could have kept it up even if he was red-hot right now.

“Maybe his percentage is more about where it should be than comparing early in the year to late in the year. Because as much as you can focus on him not shooting the basketball well in the last four or five weeks, I can flip it and make an argument about how torrid of a pace he was on for five or six weeks.

“He’s settling in now and as long as he takes good 3s, he’s going to make them.”

You can follow this author on Twitter at @RKelapire