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Rising Stars Challenge Preview: Markkanen, Dunn do battle on different teams

Plenty of Bulls representation in All-Star weekend this season

NBA: Chicago Bulls at Orlando Magic Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Don’t let Lauri Markkanen and Kris Dunn facing off against each other in the Rising Stars game overshadow the fact that a Bulls legend will play in the Celebrity Game.

Nate Robinson will represent “Team Lakers” in the Celebrity Game tonight, and because he keeps hinting that he wants to play in the NBA again he might actually use the national stage to ball on people and showoff in front of NBA executives instead of just having mostly uncompetitive fun like others do. Or maybe he’s just viewing this as a tuneup for the BIG3 League.

Anyway, Bulls fans who want to hit the nostalgia button have a legitimate appetizer before the main course that is the Rising Stars game which will pin first and second year players from around the world against first and second year players born in the United States. The game is on TNT at 8 p.m.

For the first time ever, Markkanen and Dunn will face each other in a game wearing different uniforms, and they have already started trash talking each other about it.

“Hopefully he doesn’t shoot a three in my face; I’m not having that,” Dunn said with a laugh after Wednesday’s game. “If he guards me I’m telling anybody on my team to get out of my way real quick. I have to get a little isolation in, tell everyone to clear out.”

Says Markkanen...

“He’s going to try to make me look bad,” Markkanen said, smiling.

At the end of the day, the two seem to have a very close relationship and Dunn even endorsed Markkanen for the Rookie of the Year at the press conference ahead of the game tonight.

A few additional thoughts heading into All-Star weekend:

First off, it’s encouraging to see the Bulls actually have players in this Rising Stars game after not having representation last year right after they created the “younger and more athletic” movement that had become a punchline among cynics.

Bleacher Report ran some listicle that ranked each player in the Rising Stars game and divided the players into tiers based on their projected upside. Markkanen landed eighth overall and in tier three (potential All-NBA inclusions), while Dunn found himself 15th overall and in tier six (solid starters). Here’s the reasoning behind Markkanen’s ranking.

Long-term concerns about his defense still exist, preventing him from rising into a different tier (or any higher in this one). But his work on the glass and ability to handle the physicality of the NBA have at least alleviated some of that worry on the less glamorous end.

They’ll be negated further if he gets so damn good at offense that his defense is rendered almost irrelevant.

We don’t need to rely on arguments like “he was the quickest to 100 threes in NBA history,” because they ignore how much more common the three-ball has become. Just watching Markkanen go to work for the Chicago Bulls is enough evidence, since he looks the part of a featured scorer who demands plenty of defensive attention. Once the Windy City places more offensive talent around him and gains him more space for his quick-release treys, his numbers will start trending in the right direction.

In addition to the Rising Stars game, Markkanen will also lace up for the Taco Bell Skills Challenge on Saturday evening. In the 15-year history of the event, the Bulls have had one winner (Derrick Rose in 2009).

The presence of Markkanen, Dunn, and most importantly Robinson should give Bulls fans an incentive to tune into NBA All-Star weekend this year.