The Bulls have already said they will be patient with their draft-night acquisition, but that fact was already known with Zach LaVine and his return from an ACL injury.
It sounds like they will use the same caution with their first-round draft pick Lauri Markkanen, who left Friday morning’s practice with back spasms. From the sounds of things, the busy schedule Markkanen has undergone this summer has taken a bit of a toll and the Bulls aren’t going to rush him to get back on the floor.
“He had some tightness in his lower back. He responded very well to the treatments, felt a lot better last night,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “Got another round of treatments today. We just feel the smart thing is to be patient with him.”
Hoiberg was a bit tight-lipped when asked if Markkanen would miss the Bulls’ first two preseason games next Tuesday and Wednesday, instances where he’ll be toying with lineups and combinations.
Playing Markkanen at center, along with trying to find minutes at two positions for five players will be Hoiberg’s biggest coaching challenge this season, as Nikola Mirotic, Bobby Portis, Robin Lopez and Cristiano Felicio will vie for minutes with Markkanen—and make no mistake, Markkanen will play this season.
“Yeah, we’ll play different lineups for sure,” Hoiberg said. “We won’t know for sure until probably the day before, who we’re going to start against New Orleans, and we’ll probably have a completely different lineup against Dallas that second game.”
Markkanen’s Summer League wasn’t terribly impressive but his performance in the EuroBasket Tournament a few weeks ago opened eyes and now an appetite has been developed for the sweet-shooting rookie, who by all accounts, is the best shooter on the team not named LaVine.
The back spasms that have flared up for the second time since being drafted promises to slow things a bit, at least from the standpoint of anticipation. Markkanen hasn’t had the typical summer for a rookie, with his busy schedule leading the Bulls to be careful about his workload.
“He had it one time this summer where it kept him out for two days, where he had a little bit of soreness in his back, but he got over it quickly,” Hoiberg said. “He’s a kid, especially when you’re 20, 21 years old, not a lot of break. He goes from the season to the draft to the Summer League, and he really hasn’t had much of a break, so to give him that time to recover and recuperate and recharge, and now to ramp that activity back up he just had a little bit of soreness. And again, nobody is concerned about this being a long-term issue.”
Dunking Markkanen, dead-legged LaVine, no Dunn and tanking the right way
Dunking Markkanen, dead-legged LaVine, no Dunn and tanking the right way
ATLANTA — Here are the observations from the Bulls’ 113-97 win over the Atlanta Hawks at Philips Arena Saturday afternoon.
Not a shooter, but a scorer: The Atlanta Hawks’ gameplan was clear on Bulls rookie Lauri Markkanen: Do anything but let him shoot.
They succeeded at that objective but in the words of Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer, they “won the battle but lost the war” as Markkanen missed all four of his 3-pointers and didn’t hit a jump shot.
But he scored 19 including six dunks—after coming in with 28 dunks in the first 42 games. The Hawks kept putting smaller players on him after switching pick and rolls and the Bulls smartly and patiently went to Markkanen inside after ball movement.
Shooting over 6-foot-10 guys who aren’t as agile is certainly satisfying for the rookie but as Markkanen said, “dunking is fun.”
“Trying to be a complete player,” Markkanen said. “If that was their game plan, I don’t know. I can do much more than shoot. I missed how many three’s today? But that wasn’t going for me tonight so I went to something else.”
Clearly while Markkanen’s game is growing the easiest thing for opposing teams to do is to see how he’ll perform against smaller players, but as the season has gone on he’s shown more comfort with his back to the basket and being two passes away, ready to step into the lane when defenses collapse.
“I know I can’t just shoot threes, I gotta get to the rim,” Markkanen said. “Eventually it’ll open more space for 3-pointers and stuff like that. Trying to mix it up.”
Dead legs or settling in for Zach LaVine: It was tailor made for Zach LaVine to get his second slam of the season, getting the ball on a breakaway with only Taurean Prince trailing him.
Whether LaVine heard footsteps or knew he didn’t have the full lift to get there, Prince caught up with him to foul from behind as LaVine tripped before liftoff, missing a layup.
It was indicative of his early showing, as the adrenaline from the first two games has worn off and LaVine is having to get used to his body’s limitations in the moment—especially as his minute restriction was raised to 24 minutes for the next three games before he’ll be re-evaluated again.
He was 0-for-4 in the first half before catching a bit of a rhythm in the second half, finishing two-for-nine with eight points in 18 minutes, adding nine rebounds. His explosion isn’t there yet, going to the rim. And his legs on his jumper feels a little flat, too.
“I don’t have all of it (legs),” LaVine said. “A couple possessions down the floor, I get tired. Get fouled and have to walk it off. I have to get the game legs back and I can’t practice it, it comes with playing.”
In two months, one would think he’ll finish that with little issues but he admitted fatigue caught up with him more than anything.
“My first two (games) I was extremely excited, energized,” LaVine said. “I just feel like it’s something I gotta get used to playing NBA games again. I feel it a little bit.”
Especially in watching Cleveland’s Isaiah Thomas go through a similar up-and-down period with his return, nobody should’ve expected LaVine’s performances to just keep rising and rising without dropoff.
This is part of the rehab, and the Bulls feel as if they’re prepared for it. Their reasoning for only marginally increasing LaVine’s workload from 20 to 24 minutes is simple: They want him to have off-days to continue strengthening his surgically-repaired knee, not just having him take the practice days as recovery from playing heavy minutes.
“You can’t anticipate any of it,” LaVine said. “I felt good the first two, I feel good now. No injury, no knick-knacks or anything. Just energy-wise and your legs, making sure you’re getting up and down the floor, making sure you’re getting elevation on your jumper and in the lane, I gotta get better at it.”
As self-aware as anyone considering what he’s been through over the past year, he offered an assurance to any who may be concerned.
“I gotta play through it, find ways around it,” LaVine said. “Regardless I’m not scared or anything. I feel fine.”
Dunn out vs. New Orleans: Kris Dunn will be out against the New Orleans Pelicans and it appears more likely he’ll miss Wednesday’s game in Philadelphia as well as he recovers from the concussion he suffered in a scary fall against Golden State earlier this week.
“He has no change in his symptoms,” Hoiberg said. “We’ll know more tomorrow but his symptoms haven’t changed.”
Initially the Bulls didn’t believe Dunn had a concussion but the symptoms emerged early the next morning.
“From what I understand with concussion symptoms, they can take up to 24 hours to develop. It sounds like the initial tests, he passed,” Hoiberg said. “Then he woke up the morning, had a headache, had some dizziness, was re-checked and that’s when they put him in concussion protocol. There’s been very little change since. He’s still having trouble with sleeping. The biggest thing is making sure he’s getting rest and he stays hydrated.”
The tank: One team successfully executed how to tank, and that was the Atlanta Hawks. Yes, the Bulls forced them into missing 37 of 48 3-point attempts, and the Bulls jumped on them early and never allowed the Hawks to take a lead, much less get too close.
“We opened with a double-digit lead right out the gate,” Hoiberg said. “Overall, really complete performance for our guys.”
“We knew we had to come out the gate with great effort.”
Robin Lopez continued his impressive play with 20 points and Justin Holiday hit a few shots late to score 13, while Bobby Portis scored 14 in 18 minutes.
But pretty, it was not.
The Bulls haven’t completely abandoned their plans for the season, as they’ll field calls for Holiday, Lopez and of course, have Nikola Mirotic’s exit being first on their docket.
But while this team is relatively whole, this is a game they should win handily.
And they did.
Yet and still, though, this applies to the 13-32 Hawks:
Hood will be a restricted free agent this summer and the Bulls would retain the rights to match any offer if they felt like the former Duke Blue Devil was the right piece to join the new core of Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen, and Kris Dunn.
There is one complication in a potential Mirotic for Hood deal; the salaries don’t quite match. Utah would need to send another player like Alec Burks to Chicago in the deal. The Bulls would have to be OK taking on Burks’ $11.5 million salary for the 2018-19 season and his cap hit in free agency. Good news though, the free agent class this summer is very thin at small forward, the main position the Bulls have a need for.
Another road block, the Bulls are set to max out LaVine this July, and they may be wary on tying up a good part of their cap space for the next four years on two players.
Acquiring Hood hurts the ‘tank’ but you’d have a three-month audition of a 25-year old shooter that on paper would seem to work with the current rotation. If the Bulls felt like Hood wasn’t a good fit, let him walk in free agency. They would then keep their cap space intact for the 2019 super free agent class.