Lauri Markkanen continues showing that he’s not short on confidence

SHARE Lauri Markkanen continues showing that he’s not short on confidence
SHARE Lauri Markkanen continues showing that he’s not short on confidence

Bulls rookie Lauri Markkanen leaned back in his chair and smirked as he scanned the group of reporters around him.

‘‘Like I said last time, I’m not lacking in confidence,’’ Markkanen said Tuesday.

It was the same line he used after his preseason debut Sunday, but the results were different this time.

On Sunday against the Pelicans, the 7-foot Markkanen shot 1-for-9, including 0-for-6 from three-point range. But after that disappointing performance, he faced the media and appeared relatively unfazed.

Two nights later, Markkanen shot 7-for-12 overall and 4-for-7 from three-point range against the Cavaliers. He scored 15 of his 18 points in the fourth quarter and played with a sneaky physicality that had drawn the attention of NBA scouts the last few years.

‘‘He does have a physical presence,’’ coach Fred Hoiberg said. ‘‘He’s got a little nasty streak to him, which we love. He’s not going to back down against anybody.’’

That feistiness was on display against the Cavaliers during a run-in in the second quarter with LeBron James after Markkanen dropped a forearm into his back on a pick-and-roll. It was enough for James to turn around and glare at Markkanen.

Not bad for a 20-year-old from Finland who’s trying to change the perception that European players are soft.

‘‘You can tell that it really bothered him that his debut didn’t go very well, but it was great to see him bounce back,’’ Hoiberg said.

‘‘One thing I’m never going to have to worry about Lauri is his shot. He’s got a beautiful stroke. He’s going to keep shooting. He’s got great confidence in himself, which as a 20-year-old in this league is a great quality to have.

‘‘I loved his aggressiveness in that second half [against the Cavaliers]. He’s got some pop to him and moves his feet. He got caught in a couple of switches with some of the best isolation players in this league, and I thought he moved his feet and competed.’’

In other words, Markkanen continued to show why he was the seventh pick in the draft: his competitiveness.

‘‘I just try to get back to the gym as quickly as possible and work on things,’’ Markkanen said. ‘‘Watch film, what did I do wrong, missed shots and stuff like that.

‘‘I’m ready to move on and play the next game. That’s what I love about this challenge. There’s a next one coming up quick.’’

That next one is the preseason finale Friday against the Raptors. Then it all starts to count.

Markkanen never really had a chance to win a starting job because of back issues early in camp, so he’ll back up Nikola Mirotic and Robin Lopez when the regular season begins next week.

‘‘I just want to show that I belong,’’ Markkanen said.

He certainly isn’t lacking confidence.

Follow me on Twitter @suntimes_hoops.

Email: jcowley@suntimes.com

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