The first week of Bulls training camp has been a surprisingly quiet one for big man Lauri Markkanen.
No setbacks on the injury front. No talk about when and where he will play some center. Just business as usual.
In Markkanen’s first camp in 2017, Bobby Portis punched Nikola Mirotic in a practice altercation, casting Markkanen into a starting role the Bulls didn’t think he was ready for.
Last September, Markkanen suffered a severe elbow injury that sidelined him until December. The Bulls’ slow start with him out all but sealed coach Fred Hoiberg’s fate.
This camp, a bulked-up Markkanen simply is trying to chase greatness.
‘‘I want him to improve defensively,’’ coach Jim Boylen said when he was about his goals for Markkanen this season. ‘‘And I want him to be a more consistent rebounder. When he rebounded at the defensive end of the floor and brought [the ball up], especially in that month of February [last season], we were really good. We were hard to guard. And it got him going. So what we talk to him about is: ‘Rebound the ball. It energizes you. It puts the ball in your hands. And we’re better.’ So I want to see him be more consistent with that.
‘‘But he’s got to improve defensively. The [power forward] position in our league is basically a wing now, and you’ve got to be able to guard. I challenge him with it every day. Every day he walks out of that training room, I challenge him: ‘Who are you going to guard today?’ And I’m confident he will. I know he’ll work at it.’’
It’s a challenge Markkanen hasn’t been taking lightly. He has shown he can be an elite scorer and rebounder, such as when he averaged 26 points on just under 49 percent shooting and 12.2 rebounds in 11 games in February. But there are levels to joining the NBA elite, and now it’s time for Markkanen to take that step.
‘‘My goal is to play all 82 games and be available every night,’’ Markkanen said. ‘‘That’s a big goal for me. I’m trying to become a two-way player [and] work on my defense because I think the key to success is to have multiple guys who do it on both ends.’’
Still, it’s one thing for him to say he wants to be a better defender. Figuring out how to do it is another matter.
Footwork, physicality and understanding the opponent are essential to playing better defense, but it starts with a willingness to put in the work. Markkanen has that covered.
‘‘I’ve played a whole lot of one-on-one,’’ Markkanen said of how he plans to improve defensively. ‘‘First of all, being physical in the post. And I watched a lot of film on my footwork and tried to improve on that.
‘‘I think it’s a mindset, too, that you want to stop the people who are playing offense. It’s a mental thing, but I watched a lot of film to work on it and tried to get better on the block, as well.’’