Bulls rookie Lauri Markkanen earns high praise from LeBron James

CLEVELAND, OH - OCTOBER 24: Lauri Markkanen #24 of the Chicago Bulls handles the ball against the Cleveland Cavaliers on October 24, 2017 at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2017 NBAE (Photo by David Liam Kyle/NBAE via Getty Images)

CLEVELAND  – Look first at the home bench on Tuesday at Quicken Loans Arena and then pan over towards to guest bench, and you a major difference in positions on the NBA hierarchy.

On one side is the three-time Eastern Conference Champion, one-year removed as league champion Cleveland Cavaliers. Sitting on the other, the rebuilding and somewhat lost Chicago Bulls, void of two veteran players due to a fist fight during practice a week earlier.

They are two teams on different ends of the spectrum, to the point where the Bulls’ ability to lead after three quarters was a somewhat significant step despite an eventual nine-point loss to the Cavaliers. It drops to Bulls to 0-3 on the season in a brutal opening schedule where four of their first five games are against legitimate conference or NBA title contenders.

But one thing linked these two very different teams on this night: Lauri Markkanen.

His stock with the Bulls organization continues to grow as he takes a spot in the starting lineup thanks to the Bobby Portis-Nikola Mirotic scuffle leaving both out of the lineup for an extended period of time.

Markkanen’s 19 points along with a team-high eight rebounds earned expected praise from coach Fred Hoiberg and teammates, but also from Cavaliers superstar LeBron James.

“Very confident,” said James of Markkanen. “Very confident.”

Tuesday wasn’t the first time James saw the forward on the floor. He told reporters after the game that he watched Markkanen during his one season at Arizona last winter, noticing first the shoes he was wearing and then eventually his game.

“He wore my shoes a couple of times. He actually did, he wore my retros – my retro bronzea couple of times, and I liked that. I stayed up very late to watch those Arizona games,” said James. “Very confident kid, can shoot the heck out of the ball and he’s going to continue to get better. The best thing about it is he’s getting an opportunity. So he can make mistakes, he can learn on-the-fly, but he’s going to play a lot because he’s good.

“He seems like he’s learning. So he’s a good player.”

Plus it’s a reason for Bulls fans to feel good during a rough opening to the season. After all, earning “King James” respect isn’t usually a bad thing.