Bulls’ Lauri Markkanen will return to practice Monday

Bulls big man Lauri Markkanen suffered an elbow sprain before this NBA season began, but Fred Hoiberg says he’ll practice Monday.

Bulls big man Lauri Markkanen suffered a sprained elbow before this NBA season began that has kept him sidelined, but Fred Hoiberg says the Finnish youngster is nearing a return.

“Lauri will do the non-contact portion of practice today. We will see how he responds and then see if we can up his activity level,” Hoiberg said Monday, according to the Bulls’ Twitter account.

Markkanen was a pleasant surprise for Chicago throughout his rookie season. The 7-footer was drafted by the Timberwolves with the No. 7 pick in the 2017 NBA Draft, but was traded to the Bulls shortly after as a part of the deal that sent Jimmy Butler to Minnesota. The Timberwolves gave up a few promising prospects to land Butler, including Kris Dunn and Zach Lavine, and their decision has come back to bite them.

It didn’t take long for Markkanen to prove he could score from all three levels. He became a starter early on and averaged 15.2 points, 7.5 rebounds and 1.2 assists in the 2017-18 season. His scoring was fourth among active rookies during that time, trailing only Donovan Mitchell, Ben Simmons and Kyle Kuzma.

Today’s Bulls aren’t playing great basketball, but that’s due in large part to injuries. Bobby Portis and Dunn have suffered injuries with lengthy recovery times, limiting Chicago’s frontcourt and backcourt. Jabari Parker has been great for them since coming over from the Bucks, but the team lacks depth.

Lavine’s emergence has been a huge plus, as he’s averaging career highs in points (25.4) and rebounds (5.4). However, the Bulls are only 4-13.

Markkanen and Dunn are targeting returns in December, while Denzel Valentine and Bobby Portis are out indefinitely. Markkanen led the Bulls in rebounding last season and was second only to Lavine in scoring, so he should give the team a huge boost when he adjusts to game speed.

When all of Chicago’s young pieces are healthy, the franchise will have a better idea about how far it is from being a playoff contender.

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