NBA champs have rave reviews for Lauri Markkanen, Fred Hoiberg, rebuilding Bulls

Stephen Curry’s words sliced through the cold, gray Chicago morning like a knife through saganaki. Was Lauri Markkanen listening?

“He needs to slow down,” the Warriors All-Star said of the Bulls’ prized 20-year-old, “and stop breaking all those three-point records for rookies. I was pretty proud of a couple, being in that group, so he’s got to slow that down.”

Shots fired! Gauntlet thrown down! Rivalry aflame!

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OK, not really. Curry, the greatest three-point shooter of all time — some would say the greatest shooter, period — didn’t issue a threat to, or even talk any trash about, Markkanen after the Warriors’ shoot-around Wednesday at Roosevelt University. Rather, he lavished the 7-footer with praise.

“He’s an amazing talent that’s brought an extremely unique skill set, I think, at his height and size to be able to put it on the floor and be able to shoot the way he does and score in a lot of different ways,” Curry said. “And he’s only going to continue to get better. . . . He’s going to be a force to reckon with as he goes through his career.”

A question: Is this town fully appreciating what it has in Markkanen, who is both the fastest rookie in NBA history to 100 threes made and the only 7-footer other than Dirk Nowitzki ever to hit eight threes in a game, and is on pace to smash Ben Gordon’s team record for threes in a season (173)?

Because the defending NBA champions are sold on him. They look at the Firin’ Finn and see the kind of guy who’d look mighty fine in blue and gold.

“The one thing that you knew was that, at [a] very minimum, he was going to be a great three-point-shooting big man, which is important to have in the league these days,” said Warriors coach Steve Kerr, who like Markkanen starred at Arizona. “I think the question was, defensively, could he hold his own? Could he do more than just shoot? I think he’s proving all that. He’s been good defensively, and he’s not a one-trick pony on offense. He’s not just standing outside and shooting. He can put it on the floor; he can post up.

“We have a ton of respect for what the Bulls are doing and for Markkanen in particular, in terms of his potential. We think he’s going to be an All-Star.”

Another question, or two of them: Is this town appreciating Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg at all? And has it truly taken note of the vast improvement made by the Bulls, who, since starting the season 3-20, are 14-8 after the 119-112 loss to Golden State on Wednesday night?

Because, again, the Warriors have noticed.

“Completely different team,” Kerr said, referring to the Bulls’ unspeakably hideous 143-94 defeat in Oakland in November. “I don’t even recognize them. The offense is unbelievably spaced, there’s flow, there’s understanding of roles. They’ve really developed and blossomed. They’re really hard to guard.”

Curry spoke in impressive detail about the Bulls’ ball movement, spacing, overall offensive system and even their personnel, which includes several players who aren’t part of any long-term plans. But, hey, at least they can take comfort in knowing Curry, a true virtuoso, spends much of his free time kicking back on the couch and watching — what else? — Bulls games.

Really, it’s just nice to know anyone is noticing at all. Weren’t the 2017-18 Bulls supposed to be invisible?

Instead, they’re demanding attention. That’s what happens when a team averages 89.9 points in October, 97.2 in November, 106.9 in December and 112 in January. Who do they think they are, the Warriors?

Becoming more Warriors-like is the essence of the Bulls’ plan, and of late the plan hasn’t resembled a nuclear disaster. Sure, the Warriors still score more points, shoot better from three, two and the foul line, play stingier defense by every conceivable measure and, you know, win pretty much all the time. Other than that, though, who can tell these teams apart?

As Kerr sees it, there actually isn’t much difference between Hoiberg and himself.

“Is Fred that much better of a coach now than he was a year ago? No, he has different personnel,” he said. “I would be way worse as a coach — I know this is going to come as a surprise — if I didn’t have [Kevin] Durant, Curry and [Klay] Thompson. People would not say, ‘Man, you run a great offense.’ They would say, ‘Why can’t you coach?’ We’re all beholden to our talent.”

The Warriors have their Big Three. The Bulls have Markkanen, maybe Zach LaVine and . . . why are we still talking about this? The Warriors know the Bulls exist. For the moment, that’ll have to be good enough.

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Email: sgreenberg@suntimes.com