No punches have been thrown through the first week of training camp, but the Bulls still suffered a huge blow Friday night.
After deeming Lauri Markkanen’s right-elbow injury minor earlier in the day, the team announced that an MRI exam showed a high-grade lateral sprain that will sideline the 7-footer six to eight weeks.
After averaging 15.2 points and 7.5 rebounds last season and being named to the NBA All-Rookie first team, Markkanen added 17 pounds of muscle this offseason and was expected to be a focal point of the offense.
“Lauri looks great,’’ guard Zach LaVine said just days before Markkanen suffered the injury in practice Thursday. “He got a little bit stronger; jumper still looks pretty as all get-out. Still the funniest dude in the world. He looks good, man.
“I just want him to build on what he did. He had such a great rookie year with the opportunity he had. The sky’s the limit for him. He’s one of those players that can do a lot of big things. Lauri’s off the charts.’’
For now, he’s off the court.
The good news — if any — is the Bulls have options. Jabari Parker is versatile enough to slide over to the four, leaving Justin Holiday to regain a starting spot at the three. But that was all speculation as of Friday because coach Fred Hoiberg had yet to announce a plan.
Hoiberg also had big expectations for Markkanen when camp started.
“To be around our guys and to be in the weight room, to put on the size and strength that he did will help him overall,’’ Hoiberg said. “From an offensive standpoint, hopefully he’ll be able to punish the switch more consistently on the block. We ran a lot of high-low-type actions last year. He’ll get a smaller guy on him and be able to back him down with his strength.
“And then obviously on the defensive end is where it will help him the most. He’ll be able to compete and be able to play more positions more comfortably on that end because of the added strength.’’
NOTE: The Bulls announced that Denzel Valentine suffered a moderate sprain of his left ankle Tuesday and will be sidelined for one or two weeks, basically eliminating him from a sped-up preseason format and leaving him in doubt for the start of the season.
Valentine had minor surgery on his left knee after last season and had surgery on his left ankle in the 2016-17 offseason.
“Denzel tweaked his ankle a little bit on the first day and tried to go through it the second day, and we just decided the smart thing to do right now is hold him out of practice and re-evaluate him in about a week,’’ coach Fred Hoiberg said.
The bigger question is: How will another week of falling behind affect Valentine?
“Well, Denzel is a very important part of this team,’’ Hoiberg said. “He’s just a guy that makes the right play, and he can make a shot, he’s got a good skill level and he knows where to be. So he’s a big part of what we do.’’