By Cody Westerlund–
CHICAGO (CBS) — When it was pointed out to Bulls rookie power forward Lauri Markkanen that he wasn’t shy about shooting in his preseason debut Sunday evening, he had a quick explanation.
“I’m not lacking confidence,” Markkanen said.
Markkanen’s first preseason action didn’t feature the desired execution, but he kept an even-keeled tone afterward. After missing the Bulls’ first three preseason games with back spasms, Markkanen came off the bench and scored four points on 1-of-9 shooting, including 0-of-6 on 3-pointers, in Chicago’s 108-95 loss to New Orleans at the United Center.
Markkanen had a quick trigger, firing an errant 3-pointer from the left wing just 12 seconds after entering to start the second quarter. Markkanen shot five times in his first 5 1/2 minutes of action and got to the free-throw line once as well.
“I like to hear it from everyone,” teammate Justin Holiday said of Markkanen’s green-light mindset. “You’re going to be on the floor, you need to have confidence when you’re out here and not be afraid. That’s what he does. That’s a guy we can throw the ball to and make a three. Whatever he’s going to do, he’s going to do it confidently again. A guy that plays hard and plays with confidence is a guy I can play with.”
Of his debut, the 20-year-old Markkanen admitted he was “pretty nervous.” While most of his shots were wayward — Markkanen airballed a 3-pointer — the Bulls liked that he wasn’t hesitant. After all, they selected him at No. 7 overall in the draft in June as part of the Jimmy Butler trade because of his offensive skill set.
“We want him aggressive,” coach Fred Hoiberg said. “When he’s open, we want him shooting the ball. He’s one of the best shooters on this basketball team.”
Markkanen played 15:29 as he was on roughly a 15-minute line after dealing with the back issue. He added three rebounds and an assist.
“Shots weren’t falling today,” Markkanen said. “I just got to go back to the gym, but I’m not worried about that.
“It didn’t go the way we wanted to, but it felt good to be out there.”
Markkanen experienced a couple welcome-to-the-NBA moments after shifting over to center and guarding Pelicans big man DeMarcus Cousins, who has a 43-pound advantage on him. Cousins bullied his way past Markkanen on several occasions and deftly executed a spin move on him in the post as well en route to 22 points.
“He didn’t show any fear, he didn’t back down,” Hoiberg said of Markkanen. “He played against arguably the best center in the league. We wanted to play him at the four and the five, and we did that tonight.”
Cody Westerlund is a sports editor for CBSChicago.com and covers the Bulls. He’s also the co-host of the @LockedOnBulls podcast, which you can subscribe to on iTunes and Stitcher. Follow him on Twitter @CodyWesterlund.