PHILADELPHIA—One measure of the Bulls’ evaluation of young players was validated Wednesday evening, as Lauri Markkanen and Kris Dunn were selected to the 2018 Kickstart Rising Stars game at All-Star Weekend in Los Angeles next month.
Markkanen has been one of the league’s most impressive rookies while Dunn has undergone a dramatic transformation of sorts after a rocky rookie season. Considering both were acquired in the Jimmy Butler deal on draft night, the Bulls front office likely takes a measure of pride in the selections. Dunn is still out with a concussion he suffered a week ago against Golden State and will likely be out for Friday’s game against the Lakers.
Markkanen will play for the World Team, with the likes of international-born Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid, both from the Philadelphia 76ers. Dunn will play for the U.S. Team in this new format that pits first and second year international players against players born in the United States.
Dunn joins the likes of Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma, Dennis Smith Jr. and Donovan Mitchell in the showcase game, as the two teammates will be on opposite ends for the first time.
It’ll be the first time the Bulls have two players in the showcase since 2010, when Derrick Rose and Taj Gibson were first and second year players.
Although Markkanen would be drafted higher than 7th if it were re-done today, he didn’t believe his 15.5 points and 7.7 rebounds were good enough to make the All-Star Weekend showcase.
Either he’s display humility or being a bit delusional about where he ranked coming in.
“It's a big honor,” Markkanen said. “I didn't even think it was possible. Like two weeks ago, I thought maybe I can be part of my first All-Star Weekend. It means a lot. Maybe I can guard Kris.”
Dunn’s selection was far more surprising considering his rookie year in Minnesota that had many writing him off. Since becoming a starter, Dunn is averaging 14.6 points and 7.0 assists, cementing himself at point guard and as a viable piece moving forward to the Bulls’ rebuild.
“After being a guy that was coming off the bench, getting himself back into the starting lineup and really evolving into a closer of this team, so it’s great for both,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “I’m really excited for both of those guys. It will be a great weekend.”
In the spirit of All-Star Weekend, Markkanen isn’t taking his selection lightly, saying “we’re going for the win.” Considering how the Bulls have been off the national radar this season, it’ll be a chance for him to introduce himself to the big stage.
“I think with Lauri the true fan has a true appreciation for everything he does on the basketball floor,” Hoiberg said. “I think he’s one of the more versatile players, especially as a 7-footer. A guy that can score from all over the floor. You look at that game that he had in the Garden – in the world’s most famous arena he just goes out and has eight threes, an absolute highlight reel dunk.”