By Dan Bernstein —
670TheScore.com senior columnist
(670 The Score) It’s not the ideal year for Bulls big man Lauri Markkanen to make such an unexpected splash as an NBA rookie, considering the historic group of which he’s just a part.
Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell is already drawing comparisons to Dwyane Wade, Lakers forward Kyle Kuzma is a revelation in Los Angeles, Celtics wing Jayson Tatum and Mavericks guard Dennis Smith are performing as expected or better and the Sixers’ Ben Simmons still has rookie status after missing last year due to injury.
So Markkanen’s averages of 15.4 points and 7.6 rebounds may not have him at the top of his class after the first half of his first season in the league, but he has shown a knack for the big shot at the right time. And Wednesday night, he had a big moment in the right place if you want to be the subject of conversation.
Markkanen rocked the Madison Square Garden rim in the third quarter of the Bulls’ 122-119 double-overtime win over the Knicks, dribbling the length of the court, sliding past the matador effort of Doug McDermott and slamming the ball in the face of Enes Kanter. Even the unflappable Fred Hoiberg told reporters that when he saw it happen that he “damn near passed out.”
The matchups between Markkanen and Kristaps Porzingis are already becoming must-watch affairs, too, with the seven-footers both seeming to relish the individual competition. Markkanen got the best of the ascending superstar this time, finishing with a game-high 33 points and 10 rebounds. Porzingis scored 24, including critical block of a Markkanen layup attempt late in regulation and a game-tying dunk at the buzzer of the first overtime, but it was a night on which the Latvian’s Finnish rival would again not only prevail but open even more eyes in the game’s largest American market.