Bulls’ rebuild, Markkanen get off to good start

Bulls forward Lauri Markkanen has returned from an elbow injury, and into the starting lineup.

The Chicago Bulls shifted the course of their franchise this summer after trading star small forward Jimmy Butler on draft night and are embarking on a rebuild project.

With the team projected by many to be one of the worst teams in the league, the Bulls lived up to that billing on opening night, as they fell to the Toronto Raptors 117 to 100 on the road.

But as Chicago Tribune reporter K.C. Johnson writes, in rebuild terminology, tonight’s Bulls loss could be considered a win.

Johnson is referring to the fact that the Bulls lost and saw their prized rookie forward, Lauri Markkanen, play well in his NBA debut — two aspects which are high on a list for rebuilding teams.

Markkanen, the seventh overall pick in the 2017 draft, scored 17 points and grabbed eight rebounds against the Raptors on 5-of-12 shooting from the field. He became the 15th rookie in Bulls history to start a season opener.

“You learn a lot every game you play, so I’ve gotten more comfortable every time I’ve stepped on the court,” Markkanen told the Tribune postgame. “There’s a lot to improve. But if I had any nerves, those are behind now. This keeps my confidence up. It felt great to be out there.”

Bulls head coach Fred Hoiberg was pleased with Markkanen’s performance and said the 7-footer doesn’t lack confidence.

“I thought Lauri was really good,” Hoiberg told reporters. “He ran the floor well. He was OK (defensively). We want him hunting shots. What we like most about him is he has no fear out there. He can miss two or three in a row and if he has any daylight, he’s going to shoot with confidence.”

Center Robin Lopez led the Bulls in scoring with 18 points and shooting guard Justin Holiday added 15.

The Bulls take on the San Antonio Spurs Friday at the United Center in Chicago.