Markkanen, who was acquired as part of a draft-night swap that sent All-Star swingman Jimmy Butler to the Minnesota Timberwolves, continues to impress players and coaches throughout the league with his play.
“He just shows new things every time he steps on the floor,” Bulls head coach Fred Hoiberg said after the game. “Nobody really knew exactly what we had, because he really didn’t practice before we started the training camp. And everybody else was in town, so we got a head start with a lot of guys. The thing we were able to do, and it got us a little bit of a feel [for his game], was watching him play on a high level in the European championships [for Finland]. But to continue to show different things every time he steps on the floor — I know he’s the number one guy teams talk about on scouting reports. He’s going to be special, there’s no doubt about it.”
Markkanen knocked down eight 3-pointers, tying Dallas Mavericks star Dirk Nowitzki for most in a game by a 7-footer, according to ESPN Stats and Information. The 20-year-old once again seemed to enjoy the head-to-head competition with New York Knicks star Kristaps Porzingis
“It was awesome,” Markkanen said of his first experience of playing inside Madison Square Garden. “Their fans are great. An awesome feeling to play here.”
What left some fans as well as his teammates and coaches in awe was a monster dunk Markkanen had on Knicks big man Enes Kanter toward the end of the third quarter. Hoiberg said he had chills watching Markannen take it down the floor and finish.
“I damn near passed out when he dunked that one,” Hoiberg said. “That was unbelievable. Just to see attack in transition, he’s shown the ability to rebound and push the ball down the floor, to rise up and do that, it was just such an exciting play … to come in on the big stage in the world’s most famous arena, hit eight 3s, and play against arguably as good a power forward as there is in this league in Porzingis, to play 46 minutes and then hit the big free throws late, shows you everything you need to know, tells you everything you need to know about Lauri. He’s just such a competitor and a guy that’s going to come out and play the right way. Just spectacular play after spectacular play tonight.”
Bulls point guard Kris Dunn said he couldn’t believe the play either.
“That’s probably one of the dunks of the year,” Dunn said. “Got to be put a top 10 on that. I didn’t even know how to react to it. I’ve seen him do a lot of dunks, layup lines and all that, but I didn’t, expect him to go raise up like that. So when he did it I kind of did a 360 [turn] to look at everybody and see what was going on, I was in shock mode. That’s the first time I’ve ever seen him react like that too. That’s big time.”
Bulls players and coaches have all made it a point to praise Markkanen for his attitude as he makes his way through his first professional season.
“I think it’s just the confidence,” Dunn said. “Confidence is big in this league and he has it. He has the right attitude, he’s not a selfish player, a great teammate. He’s a hooper. You can play ball, you’ve got your confidence, you’re positive, good things are going to happen for you.”
As usual, Markkanen is just taking all the praise in stride. Not getting too high or too low after wins or losses, even a win as meaningful as this one.
“People say Finnish people are shy,” Markkanen said. “So I guess that’s what it is.”