Bulls

Impressed royalty: LeBron James, Dwyane Wade endorse 'very confident' Lauri Markkanen

Impressed royalty: LeBron James, Dwyane Wade endorse 'very confident' Lauri Markkanen

It’s not fair to lose a starting job due to injury or even being hit in the face by a teammate, but three games in it looks like Lauri Markkanen doesn’t have to be brought along as slowly as people thought before the season.

Markkanen was supposed to be battling incumbents Nikola Mirotic and Bobby Portis for valuable minutes, but when the two power forwards went to battling each other it opened the door for the Bulls’ first-round pick.

And he’s responded against some of the best competition in the NBA, setting an NBA record for 3-pointers by a rookie in his first three games in the Bulls’ 119-112 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers Tuesday at Quicken Loans Arena.

Markkanen scored 17 of his career-high 19 points in the first half, along with eight rebounds in 32 minutes -- the Bulls are being very careful about too many minutes too soon in a 20-year old’s career.

“It was great to see Lauri get off to that start. Our guys did a good job of finding him,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “He’s gonna be a heck of a player, man. To see him battling the way he did against this type of competition, says a lot about him.”

In trying to deftly avoid a question about it being hard to keep him on the bench when Portis comes back, he finally relented with a chucking “yes.”

“He’s been really good, three games in,” Hoiberg said. “We cut his minutes back by design, but he’s got a chance to be special.”

He’s shown an adept ability to find spots on the floor to get his shot in the flow of the offense, and hit five first-half triples to help the Bulls take a 14-point lead before a stunned crowd.

His play impressed Hall of Famers on the other side in LeBron James and Dwyane Wade.

James took note of Markkanen last season at Arizona, in part because Markkanen wore James’ shoes.

“ Very confident. Very confident. Watched him a lot at Arizona, Had to stay up very late to watch those Arizona games,” James said. “But very confident kid. Can shoot the heck out of the ball. He's going to continue to get better.”

Wade took note considering they would’ve been teammates had he not been bought out on the eve of training camp, impressed with Markkanen’s shooting.

“Not surprised. You can see if a guy knows how to play basketball when you first see him, right away,” Wade said. “In the preseason, we all said he can play. No matter his age he can play basketball. He's aggressive. He's looking for his shot. He understands they need him to score the basketball.”

Granted, plenty of this came from Kevin Love’s inability to track Markkanen in transition or in the set offense but his last triple of the half came with LeBron James in his face.

But his high release wasn’t bothered by James’ reach, and his minutes and growth shouldn’t be affected when Portis and Mirotic return to action. What did affect Markkanen was the Cavaliers attention to him in the second half.

The looks that were once open closed quickly.

Whether it was James or Tristan Thompson or even Love, he was clearly an object of the Cavaliers’ affection in the locker room at the half.

His one basket was still, though, a sight of potential as he drove down the line to toss up an off-balance shot, quickly regaining his footing to rebound the miss and flush it with two hands in the third quarter.

James had to carry the Cavaliers early, scoring 23 in the first half in his new “role” as point guard, officially playing the position for the first time since the 2005 season. He nearly matched Markkanen’s 3-point output and had the Cavaliers within three at the half before things went according to script in the third quarter and thereafter.

Behind the back passes, including some of the crosscourt variety, had the Cavaliers matching the Bulls’ firepower as he set up Love and Kyle Korver for fourth-quarter triples.

James finished with a game-high 34 points and 13 assists and Love scored 20 with 12 rebounds. Justin Holiday scored 25, including four triples as the Bulls hit 17 of 33 from long range to help them to a huge lead as well as climb back in the game in the second half when the Cavaliers pulled away.

A corner triple with under 30 seconds left didn’t find the mark and could’ve cut the Cavaliers lead to three, ending whatever slim chances the Bulls had in making the Eastern Conference Champs sweat.

But it was the skinny rookie who opened eyes early and should garner plenty of attention as time goes on.

“He's going to continue to get better,” James said. “The best thing about it he's getting an opportunity. So you can make mistakes and learn on the fly. But he's going to play a lot because he's learning. He's a good player.”

Bulls Talk Podcast: Do Bulls have a realistic chance of landing Paul George?

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USA TODAY

Bulls Talk Podcast: Do Bulls have a realistic chance of landing Paul George?

On this edition of the Bulls Talk Podcast, Mark Schanowski, Kendall Gill, and Kevin Anderson discuss the chances of the Bulls signing Paul George in free agency this summer.

Plus, would Jimmy Butler really want to finish his career in Chicago? Also, a look around the NBA playoffs including the surprise performance of Derrick Rose, and you don’t want to miss the offer that Kendall makes Vincent Goodwill – it may be too tough for Vinnie to pass up.

Listen to the full Bulls Talk Podcast right here:

NBA Playoffs' youth movement makes clock on long rebuilds tick quicker than ever

NBA Playoffs' youth movement makes clock on long rebuilds tick quicker than ever

New blood has injected life into the opening week of the NBA Playoffs as youthful newcomers have found the bright lights just to their fitting.

For those on the outside looking in, half-decade rebuilding plans appear tougher to sell to fan bases and ownership groups watching players on rookie scale deals outperform their contracts.

Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown weren’t expected to lead the Boston Celtics this season, but they’ve been thrust into leading roles after Gordon Hayward’s season-ending injury on Opening Night and Kyrie Irving’s knee troubles shut him down weeks before the postseason.

But they’ve shown there’s no need to be treated with kid gloves, that redshirting is for the minor leagues. Tatum hasn’t gotten the extra publicity of Utah’s Donovan Mitchell and Philadelphia’s Ben Simmons, but he’s not to be forgotten about in the playoff equation.

Brown had the benefit of being a rookie for the Celtics last season, and was more bystander than active participant.

But he’s still 21 years old, months younger than Mitchell and Simmons.

The two frontrunners for Rookie of the Year are certainly franchise players, and although they have major help on their respective rosters by way of veterans or fellow phenoms, one could argue the Utah Jazz and Philadelphia 76ers would have made the playoffs regardless.

The playoffs used to be a place reserved for the veterans, a higher plane of air that young lungs weren’t yet prepared for.

But Simmons is posting numbers that have statisticians scrambling for box scores from the tape-delay era for reference, while Mitchell is showing the teams who passed him up they should check their scouting and decision making.

And even though we could be in store for more of the same in the Finals if LeBron James’ Cavs meet Stephen Curry’s Warriors in June, the road to get there will be filled with so many new faces sure to be more than potholes in the years to come.

Recent NBA history can’t be written without the San Antonio Spurs, Miami Heat and Oklahoma City Thunder having significant ink. But each is on the verge of going fishing, trailing 3-1 after four games.

Instead, the 76ers are now darlings, the Celtics are chugging along without main cogs and the Jazz aren’t far away from catching the attention of casual fans to become must-see TV.

There’s a shift going on in the NBA, with slow-moving franchises hoping for a traditional clock on a rebuild taking the risk of being passed by those more determined, more opportunistic and unbothered by job security in the pursuit of winning now.

If you have something close to a unicorn, your house better be in order. Of the rising stars who have a level of establishment in the league’s hierarchy, only Kristaps Porzingis’ New York Knicks and Devin Booker’s Phoenix Suns are sitting on the outside of the playoff party. Porzingis is recovering from an ACL injury suffered midseason, otherwise the Knicks would have likely been in contention for a playoff spot.

The Suns, well, they’re a mess.

And it’s no coincidence both franchises are on the hunt for new coaches.

The talent pool in the NBA is so vast, its players seemingly so prepared for the transition to the professional game that the clock on franchises to wait on its players ticks louder than it ever has.

Factoring in booming salaries with young players poised to cash in on restricted free agency, franchises need answers on its young players—and they need them in the form of impact, in the form of wins.

Short of the Philadelphia 76ers’ sham and scam of the league’s rules by tanking for half a decade, it’s tough to envision a team duplicating the strategy with lottery reform on the horizon.

If done right, turnarounds can happen quicker than saving yourself a seat at the draft lottery four or five years in a row.

A correct mix of scouting, coach selection and veteran influence can put teams back in the playoff hunt quicker than before—as opposed to having similarly talented players making big money without having proven much.

For some fan bases, it represents hope.

For some front offices, you wonder if a shudder of fear is seeping into their buildings, knowing their clock is ticking.