Robin Lopez all for the rebuild, but youngsters have to earn minutes

SHARE Robin Lopez all for the rebuild, but youngsters have to earn minutes

In many ways, Bulls center Robin Lopez is a walking contradiction.

The crazy hair and the framed picture of Britney Spears he keeps in his locker scream outside the box.

Ten years in the NBA, however, have instilled some old-school values that he doesn’t take lightly.


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Lopez understands the Bulls are in a rebuild, and youth will be served on a nightly basis, but there’s a side of him that misses the good ol’ days.

“There’s something to be said for earning minutes,’’ Lopez said of young guys playing right away. “It kind of builds character. It’s just not going to work out perfectly all the time, but I’m a proponent of that.’’

That’s because the NBA raised Lopez that way.

Selected by the Suns with the 15th overall pick in the 2008 draft, he played behind Shaquille O’Neal, earning 10.2 minutes per game his rookie season and learning his craft by watching.

“I understand it’s different for everybody, and players are wired for different experiences,’’ Lopez said. “There are just some guys that from Day 1 are going to play heavy minutes.’’

Meet Lauri Markkanen — that “Day 1’’ rookie putting in those “heavy minutes.’’

Lopez underlined that Markkanen isn’t the norm, so he has no qualms with his 7-foot teammate starting as well as clocking in 33 minutes per game after a 40-minute effort -Saturday.

Markkanen, 20, is mature for his age. More important, he’s humble off the court and confident on it.

“[Markkanen is] a student of the game,’’ coach Fred Hoiberg said. “He’s got a very high basketball IQ. The way he approaches it is he’s such a humble kid, he’s such a likable kid.’’

Case in point, the way he has embraced film study. Markkanen can’t get enough of it and takes what he absorbs into games.

That’s why Lopez can accept Markkanen’s minutes and give him a big thumbs-up, especially with the multitalented big man becoming an early-season candidate for rookie of the year.

It makes it easier for the few veterans on the roster to also see a kid who’s trying to earn his minutes and eventually become a starter.

Kris Dunn’s situation shows that Hoiberg isn’t just handing out jobs to the key rebuilding pieces.

Dunn has flashed much more than starter Jerian Grant, but he’s still getting his work in off the bench. That could change soon if Dunn can get his turnovers down, but for now, he appreciates every second he gets out there.

“I want to play against the best guys in the world,’’ Dunn said. “That’s just me.’’

As a rookie with the Timberwolves, Dunn averaged 17.1 minutes but never felt he was playing the game freely.

There’s a perception that he didn’t like playing under former Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau, which would explain his pedestrian numbers. But he cleared up that misconception, pointing the finger at himself.

“[Thibodeau] is such a smart coach, so he taught me a lot about the game in that one year,’’ Dunn said. “That’s how I think I’ve become a better defender. He preached defense, and I actually listened because I want to be elite at it, so I definitely tried to take everything that he gave me.

“He worked my butt off, and that’s what I’m trying to bring here.’’

Just like Markkanen is doing, but at a different pace.

Lopez can smile about both.

Follow me on Twitter @suntimes_hoops.


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