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.”