Bulls

Wendell Carter Jr. sprains ankle, Daniel Gafford suffers elbow injury in first Bulls practice

wendellcarter.png
USA Today

Wendell Carter Jr. sprains ankle, Daniel Gafford suffers elbow injury in first Bulls practice

Whether or not Wendell Carter Jr'.s sprained left ankle or Daniel Gafford's right elbow hyperextension turns out to be serious isn't fully the point.

What clouded an otherwise sunny day Tuesday at Jim Boylen's first practice of his first training camp as head coach is that the familiar injury theme reared its head for the Bulls.

Boylen said Carter's injury isn't considered serious and likely is day-to-day. Gafford celebrated his 21st birthday by heading for more evaluation on his injury, which Boylen said occurred in the final 20 minutes of the nearly 3-hour practice.

"As of this moment, no swelling, little soreness. We expect him to be day-to-day. He’s a tough kid. I’m sure he’ll bounce back," Boylen said of Carter. "We’ll evaluate (Gafford) further as the day goes on and see how that feels."

The developments stirred memories of Taj Gibson accidentally fracturing Derrick Rose's left orbital bone in the first practice of 2015 and Lauri Markkanen suffering a high-grade lateral elbow sprain in the first week of last season's camp that sidelined him for seven weeks.

For good measure, Chandler Hutchison, already sidelined by a hamstring injury, got sent home with a virus.

"I feel it's a guy that plays really hard and stepped on a foot and sprained an ankle, which can happen to anybody," Boylen said of Carter. "I'm not going to overplay it. He looked at me and acted like, 'Coach I'm going to be just fine.' But it's not the time of the year to make a guy play or ask him to play, so I'm not concerned.

"I worry about the (Gafford) elbow. When you hyperextend an elbow, which is what Lauri did last year and if you've ever done that, that's a really weird kind of thing. You can roll an ankle, but an elbow, if it's at the point where it hurts, it probably means you popped it pretty good. And Daniel plays so hard, such a good kid."

Nevertheless, Boylen tried to put a positive spin on the situation after Tomas Satoransky revealed he spent time in a lineup with Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn, Otto Porter Jr. and Markkanen. That means Markkanen played center.

"We've talked about the versatility of this roster, how we're going to play. You've heard me mention we want to be redundant, where if someone gets hurt, we can still play the same way. We had that opportunity today in midstream," Boylen said. "We flip a guy from black to red, or white to the red team, and we keep playing our same way.

"I do have probable lineups on my board and we've talked about it and (Tuesday) it just kind of happened in real time, which was good. We get to see that. Now we'll watch that film and we'll coach to that. We do different things when Lauri's at 5 than when Wendell's at 5. But it's within the same system."

Thad Young 'gets on' Wendell Carter Jr. for his struggles with foul trouble

thadcarter.jpg
USA TODAY

Thad Young 'gets on' Wendell Carter Jr. for his struggles with foul trouble

In the midst of a season defined by slews of injuries and inconsistent play, Wendell Carter Jr. and Daniel Gafford have been undeniable bright spots for the Bulls.

"Sh*t, they've been doing great!" Thad Young said after Friday morning shootaround, on their progression. "Wendell has been amazing all season long, you know, he's a capable double-double guy each and every night.

"Daniel. He's been huge for us with the time he does get. He comes out and brings a huge spurt of energy with blocking shots and rebounds. But also, on the offensive end, he's better than people think. You know, he can score the basketball around the basket, he has a great feel for the game, he has great touch."

That's high praise coming from Young, one of the preeminent veteran locker room presences in the league. He did have one critique, though, specifically for Carter.

"The only thing we gotta work on is his f*cking hands," Young said, with a chuckle. "Fouling people. He's always fouling people, he's always, you know, I tell him all the time, keep your hands out of there. When guards see that, they want to attack your hands and get to the free throw line. So, if we can keep his hands away from guys and keep 'em going straight up and getting him to alter shots as opposed to just trying to block 'em all the time. And getting guys to maneuver around him, then it puts him in a better position for him to stay in games and help us win games."

Carter's struggles with foul trouble are well-documented. He currently leads the league in personal fouls with 106 (that's 4.1 per game, second only to Jaren Jackson Jr.) and has fouled out of five games already this season. Young isn't going to let him off the hook.

"Yes, all the time," Young said, when asked he if 'gets on' Carter when he starts racking up fouls. "I got on him [in the Raptors game] when he fouled out. I said, 'What I tell you about your hands, man?' I said soon as you stuck your hand in there, they was ready to call a foul."

Still, it's hard to be too critical of the Bulls' second-year big. Carter also has 13 double-doubles this season, is tied for third in the league in offensive rebounds per game and anchors a Bulls defense rated second in the NBA over the past two weeks and change. Young acknowledged that, as well.

"He's been great all season long. He's a physical force for us, one of our better defensive players," Young said. "He does a hell of a job going out there and executing each and every night."

Attention Dish and Sling customers! You have lost your Bulls games on NBC Sports Chicago. To switch providers, visit mysportschicago.com

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Bulls easily on your device.

Lauri Markkanen stays even-keeled as his season starts to trend upward

lauri_dunk.jpg
USA Today

Lauri Markkanen stays even-keeled as his season starts to trend upward

It might've been Lauri Markkanen's most explosive move of the season to this point. In the first half of the Bulls' road victory over the Kings on Dec. 2, the power forward faked a dribble-handoff, took a dribble and explosively dunked with authority.

Markkanen scored 20 points that night and has reached that level in four of six December games. In fact, over the last six games, Markkanen has doubled his 20-point game output from the first 20 games while shooting 52.6 percent overall and 43.5 percent from 3-point range.

"I'm staying confident and trying to finish every shot, not fall out of it," Markkanen said following Friday's morning shootaround at the Advocate Center. "I've tried to be active at both ends. Obviously, I've been getting a lot of good looks from my teammates. I'm trying to attack the rim and make my open shots. If I get to the rim early, it opens up the 3 ball later."

Markkanen is attempting 7.7 3-pointers per game this month, his highest monthly total to date. But his scoring has featured his full arsenal — dunks, drives, one-legged drag steps. Both he and coach Jim Boylen agreed he's been more on the move offensively rather than serving as a stationary shooter.

"I think that's him engaging in the game and playing harder and with more energy," Boylen said. "He's just bringing it.

"He's driven the ball more. He's also had more dunks. His rim finishes are up, percentages and attempts. That's important. It's nice when you get a couple easy ones or ones at the rim. Then, the other ones, the rim looks a little bigger."

Markkanen is as stoic and as even-keeled as they come, but he publicly admitted to frustration a couple times during his slow start. He also got tired of talking about it. He knew what he had to do.

"There are tough times for everybody," Markkanen said. "It was a little tough earlier in the year. But even then, I always said I'd keep working and try to stay positive. I thought things would fall into place."

And now that they have over a six-game stretch, he won't celebrate. He'll continue to put in the work, knowing how much he means to the fortunes of the franchise. Zach LaVine, in particular, voiced strong support for Markkanen throughout his early-season struggles.

"Just knowing that my teammates have my back, that's the most important thing," Markkanen said. "No matter how many shots I missed, I felt my teammates supported me and believed in me. That's really important. You can't lose confidence when that happens."

Attention Dish and Sling customers! You have lost your Bulls games on NBC Sports Chicago. To switch providers, visit mysportschicago.com

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Bulls easily on your device.