Two of Our Young Bulls Recognized by NBA as Rising Stars

The Bulls didn’t expect to have any All-Stars this season, and they don’t for the game in Los Angeles Feb. 18. The Bulls hoped to have at least one rising star in this redevelopment transition season. They have two, according to the NBA.

Bulls rookie Lauri Markkanen and second year point guard Kris Dunn, both part of the Jimmy Butler trade, Wednesday were selected among the 20 players to compete in the Rising Stars Challenge, which the NBA calls its “annual showcase of premier young talent.”

“I didn't know what to expect coming in. So it means a lot. 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,” Markkanen said before the Bulls lost in Philadelphia.

Dunn was unavailable for comment since he remains in the league’s concussion analysis after his fall last week against Golden State. He missed his third game, all on the road.

Kris Dunn of the Chicago Bulls dunks the ball

The Rising Stars game is played Friday night of All-Star weekend with the Saturday night shooting and slam dunk contests and the Sunday night All-Star game. Former Bull Jimmy Butler will be a reserve for the Western Conference team. In the Rising Stars game, the teams are divided between U.S. players and international players.

“It's awesome he's on the other team,” said Markkanen. “We can play against each other. Yeah, we're gonna get the win.

Markkanen set an NBA record for fastest to reach 100 threes while Dunn ranks among the NBA league leaders in steals.

The last Bull to play in the game was Nikola Mirotic in 2015 and 2016 since it is for first and second year players. Previous Bulls who have played include Derrick Rose, Taj Gibson, Ben Gordon, Andres Nocioni, Luol Deng, Kirk Hinrich, Jay Williams, Tyson Chandler, Marcus Fizer, Khalid El-Amin, Elton Brand and Toni Kukoc, the latter in the first game in 1994.

“It’s really exciting for both of those guys,” said Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg. “Both have had great years. Both have progressively gotten better. It will be fun to see them compete against each other.

Lauri Markkanen of the Chicago Bulls shoots a three pointer

“Kris,” said Hoiberg, “really evolving into a closer of this team. With Lauri, the true fan has a true appreciation for everything he does on the basketball floor. I think he’s one of the more versatile players, especially as a seven-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. He continues to show every time he steps on the floor more and more things. We all think here he’s going to be a special, special player.’’

It’s a growing consensus around the NBA about a player who was highly regarded as the No. 7 overall selection in last June’s NBA draft. The Bulls obtained that draft pick in the Butler trade along with Dunn and Zach LaVine for Butler and the Bulls’ No. 16 selection. Minnesota used it for Justin Patton of Creighton. He’s been injured this season.

So what if that NBA draft were today? How would it look based on what we’ve seen the first half of the NBA season? It also suggests the conventional wisdom in June is not quite the reality of January.

The 76ers Ben Simmons is almost certain to be the 2018 Rookie of the Year. But he was drafted in 2016 and sat out injured in 2016-17. Thus he qualifies this season as a rookie as does the Clippers’ 30-year-old Milos Teodosic, who has been a professional in Europe.

Chicago Bulls' pick Lauri Markkanen, Miami Heats' pick Edrice “Bam” Adebayo, Utah Jazz's pick Donovan Mitchell and Sacramento King's pick De'Aaron Fox chat with each other during the 2017 NBA Draft on June 22, 2017 at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York.

Here’s one view of how the 2017 NBA draft lottery portion would look like if done today:

1. Donovan Mitchell, Utah Jazz. Selected No. 13 by Denver and traded to Utah. He’s easily the scoring leader among rookies, though he does take a lot of shots. He’s proven a competent three-point shooter while being an exceptional athlete and closer who quickly has become the offensive leader of the team.

2. Lauri Markkanen, Bulls. Selected No 7. The seven footer from Finland has been much more than the expected three-point shooter with an ambitious all around game and physical play at the basket. He’s top five among rookies in scoring, three-point shooting and rebounding. His potential is bringing comparisons to the best ever from Europe.

3. Jayson Tatum, Boston Celtics. Selected No. 3. They got the right guy. The pre-draft consensus was they should have taken Josh Jackson, who went No. 4 to Phoenix. Previously, they traded the rights to the No. 1 pick to the 76ers, who selected Markelle Fultz. He’s been injured all season. Tatum has been the best rookie three-point shooter by far and a good starting fit for the East’s best team.

4. Dennis Smith Jr., Dallas Mavericks. Selected No. 8. He’s had some knee problems, which seem minor, though he had ACL surgery in high school. He’s shown that great athletic ability, better than anticipated passing and a fierce nature to rank in the top five in rookies in scoring and assists.

5. De’Aaron Fox, Sacramento Kings. Selected No. 5. Another player who comes in as expected. He’s been as advertised, a tough competitor with the ability to penetrate. Though not a good shooter. The Kings have been sitting veterans to give him more opportunity as he’s a top 10 rookie in scoring and top five in assists.

6. Kyle Kuzma, Los Angeles Lakers. Selected No. 27. He’s been the steal of this year’s draft, Magic Johnson’s draft coup if not for all the issues and attention with Lonzo Ball. He’s been a scoring machine for the Lakers, top three among rookies with toughness and developing playmaking.

7. John Collins, Atlanta Hawks. Selected No. 19. He’s another who shows the depth of every draft. He’s an inside player, quick around the basket as a rim protector and shot blocker who in limited time still is among the top 10 rookie scorers.

8. Lonzo Ball, Los Angeles Lakers. Selected No. 2. He is pretty good, but his play, obviously, has been overshadowed by his disruptive dad. Some teams were worried about that and didn’t have him as high as the Lakers last June. He does push the ball, but doesn’t penetrate as much as his impressive assist numbers indicate because the Lakers play so fast. He trails only Simmons among rookies in assists.

9. Josh Jackson, Phoenix Suns. Selected No. 4. He was even at the top of some teams’ draft boards. He’s been a bit of a disappointment, though still projects highly with his athletic ability. Hasn’t shot well and plays a bit out of control with too much complaining for a rookie.

10. OG Anunoby, Toronto Raptors. Selected No. 23. He was one of those guys teams were concerned about because of ACL surgery in college. He was regarded as a defensive prospect, but came into the NBA with the ability to shoot and a top five in three-point shooting among rookies while maintaining that defensive intensity.

11. Bam Adebayo, Miami Heat. Selected No. 14. The sort of physical big man the Heat like. There’s not much offensive game, but powerful around the basket.

12. Frank Ntilikina, New York Knicks. Selected No. 8. He’s been brought along slowly, but has demonstrated quickness, ranking among rookie leaders in steals and top 10 in assists. More on potential for now to run a team, though needs to improve his shot.

13. Luke Kennard, Detroit Pistons. Selected No. 12. He’s got a wonderful shooting stroke with his southpaw game, though his playing time has been limited in the often dysfunctional Pistons backcourt. Shooting 44 percent on threes.

14. Jonathan Isaac, Orlando Magic. Selected No. 6. He’s been out much of the season with ankle problems. But the projections still remain good that he could be a top talent.