Neither Chandler Hutchison nor the Bulls have ruled out a return this season, but both parties will take a cautious approach as the rookie works back from a broken toe suffered last month.
Head trainer Jeff Tanaka provided an update prior to Friday’s game against the Pistons and said that Hutchison is making good progress after suffering a broken sesamoid bone in his right big toe in late January. Hutchison will be reevaluated in two weeks, which would put him at the eight-week mark usually associated with this type of injury.
Tanaka said Hutchison is still feeling occasional pain in the toe and while he hasn’t been ruled out for the remainder of the season – the Bulls have 15 games left – they also haven’t ruled out that option. One issue for Hutchison could be his conditioning, as he hasn’t been able to do much given the nature of the injury. The good news is there won't be any lingering effects from the broken toe, so as soon as he's back he'll essentially be back to 100 percent. When exactly that happens is still up for debate.
“There’s really nothing you can do about it when it comes to healing, nothing you can speed up. Just wish that it goes away,” Hutchison said before Friday’s game. “You have to respect your body and what it’s telling you, and that’s what I have been doing. And if I get back I get back, if not (I’ll) start to take the steps toward preparing for next year.”
Hutchison’s injury came at the worst possible time – though there’s never a good time for a rookie on a rebuilding team to miss time. He had entered into a starting role and seeing major minutes following the Justin Holiday trade, and at the time of the diagnosis was averaging 9.4 points and 7.0 rebounds in his last seven outings. He played 41 minutes two days after suffering the broken toe and tallied his first double-double with 12 points and 12 rebounds.
Since then the Bulls have added Otto Porter Jr. and seen their offense take off. Since Feb. 1 the Bulls rank No. 5 in offensive efficiency, a number that will certainly rise after Friday’s performance against the Pistons. Porter has been tabbed as the small forward of the near future, given his complementary skill set to Zach LaVine on the wing and his price tag over the next two-plus seasons.
That means a reserve role for Hutchison, whenever he returns, after he had been plugged in as a starter. But that hasn’t changed the No. 22 pick’s attitude and instead has been using Porter as a veteran mentor at the same position.
“It’s exciting for me to have a guy like Otto in my position to be able to learn from,” he said. “He’s a pro’s pro and that’s what I’ve experienced from his time here, and I think it may help me even more than just being thrown in the fire and being a starter right away.”
Hutchison has joined fellow rookie Wendell Carter Jr. on the bench these last six weeks as the Bulls lick their wounds in what’s been an injury-plagued season from top to bottom. But like Carter, who is out for the season following thumb surgery, Hutchison has taken on the role of a student as he dissects the game from the bench and prepares himself for Year 2.
“Things happen early in your career, and if there’s one thing you can take is to learn how your body responds and maybe doing things to make your body stronger to prevent future injury, he said. “That’s something we’ve tried to do and learn a lot even though we’re not on the court. So we can still take something with us even though we aren’t going to be able to contribute on the court.”