Bulls’ Markkanen to miss preseason games

Lauri Markkanen of the Bulls and three other stellar rookies provided answers to the question, "who is the toughest player to guard in the NBA?"

CHICAGO — Chicago Bulls head coach Fred Hoiberg told reporters Monday that rookie big man Lauri Markkanen will sit out the team’s first two preseason games as he recovers from back spasms.

The Bulls open their exhibition schedule Tuesday on the road against the New Orleans Pelicans and then travel to Dallas to take on the Mavericks on Wednesday.

Markkanen left Friday morning’s practice with back spasms and is considered day-to-day.

The seventh overall pick in the 2017 draft is the focal point of Chicago’s new rebuild project and the Bulls are going to play it safe with him and guard Zach LaVine (ACL) all season long.

“Lauri is feeling a lot better, but he won’t play in these first two exhibition games,” Hoiberg told the Tribune after practice Monday. “He’ll do some stuff on the floor today but he won’t do any contact drills. We feel right now it’s best to take a cautious approach and leave him out for these first two games, and then we’ll re-evaluate him on Thursday to see if he’ll be ready for Friday’s game.”

Markkanen showed glimpses of stardom while playing in the FIBA Eurobasket tournament for Finland, scoring in bunches from the perimeter and post while showcasing his high basketball acumen.

The 7-footer did injure his back while playing overseas as well, but Hoiberg and the Bulls don’t see Markkanen’s back ailment being a long-term issue.

“I’m not concerned about it,” Hoiberg said when asked about the status of Markkanen moving forward. “The fact that he’s getting better and went through this with his national team this summer, where he had some spasms and had three days of inactivity and once he got back on the floor, he played at a high level. So there’s not concern long-term.”

Hoiberg also announced small forward Quincy Pondexter will miss the first two games with a strained hamstring.