The NBA is now predicated on skill and shooting range, and one has to believe Lauri Markkanen of the Arizona Wildcats has front office personnel licking their chops.
It’s clear that in today’s NBA, pure big men are not the focus; you have to be able to have versatility at both ends of the floor. Markkanen’s skill set epitomizes this guard-centric Association that we have grown accustomed to. As a seven-footer, he has the size to command double teams from opposing defenses routinely, and he still is putting up big numbers as a true freshman in big-time Pac-12 play. This kid is mature beyond his years, and that’s been evident in his first 20 games.
He is averaging 17.1 points per game, but that doesn’t come close to telling the whole story. His range is incredible, as Markkanen is knocking down 50 percent of his three-point shots. This is a seven-foot dude we’re talking about here, not a guard. He has been a stone cold assassin on catch-and-shoot opportunities. With his height and high-arcing delivery, most of his looks are essentially impossible for defenders to contest. SB Nation did a compilation on how deadly this guy is from three-point land.
What’s so impressive about this young man from Finland is his ability to get separation from defenders. His athleticism and skill set is along the lines of Kristaps Porzingis, says Jonathan Wasserman of Bleacher Report. That silky smooth J enables Markkanen to get defenders off balance, and he has some great shake that gets his defenders out of position. He really had it going in a myriad of ways against Arizona State, putting up a career-high 30 points.
Markkanen has been well-schooled overseas in regards to getting shots off in a variety of ways. He just knows how to find open spots in the defense to get off that quick release, and this sets him up for the mid-range game, along with the back to basket game that is a staple for traditional bigs. Markkanen has the full array needed to dominate in the low post with his polished offensive game. He makes you pay if you put him on the foul line with an 83.5 percent clip from the stripe. The face-up game in isolation is also deadly for the freshman.
He knows how to use that deceptively quick first step to get traditional big men on their heels, and he is an excellent finisher at the rim to complete the move. You saw the whole array of Markannen’s game against the UCLA Bruins this past Saturday, as he got some huge buckets down the stretch in a hostile environment on the road. Bruins forward T.J. Leaf could not handle him in big moments.
He’s not as aggressive some would like, but Markkanen is a more than capable defender. Quite often the weakness of European prospects is their inability to move their feet in space, and many of these kinds of players are liabilities in the pick-and-roll game. He is not that way at all.
He slides his feet very well, which enables him to cut off the angle for smaller guards and prevent drives. His length for his height is not particularly great, as evidenced by Markkanen only having 0.5 blocks per game. Markkanen is going to take some time to develop as a shot blocker and rebounder. He’s only 230 pounds; he has room to grow. That said, he’s also only 19-years old, and he will put on weight at the NBA level.
Overall, his offensive firepower gives him a bonafide top ten grade, and he could really fill it up as a center in today’s league with his range that sets him up off the bounce. Questions in regards to his lack of physicality and rim-protection are a bit of a concern, but this guy’s skill is something you can’t teach. It’ll be interesting to see where he ends up for his development long-term.