It seems as if almost every year we see a lengthy European forward emerge with tremendous draft stock. Kristaps Porzingis is the most notable of the bunch, as his pre-draft comparisons to Dirk Nowitzki are seemingly accurate through his two-year career with the New York Knicks. Porzingis’ combination of deep range and finishing touch as a 7’3 forward has made him an up-and-coming superstar for a struggling Knicks franchise.
The 2017 NBA Draft class’ version of Porzingis is Finnish big man Lauri Markkanen. Markkanen played his one and only season of collegiate basketball as a University of Arizona Wildcat, where he averaged 15.6 points per game on a 49.2% clip and snagged upwards of seven rebounds a game for Coach Sean Miller. Markkanen was the second leading scorer on the team (behind Allonzo Trier) as his versatility inside the paint and behind the arc gave him a lethal advantage over defenders.
In today’s NBA, the ability to hit three-pointers on a consistent basis is one of the most valuable assets prospects and players alike can have. With power forwards like Kristaps Porzingis, Serge Ibaka, and Kevin Love all incorporating deep range into the play style, teams are becoming more and more attracted to big men with range.
Markkanen has the potential to fit directly into that role. Markkanen shot a very respectable 42.3% from behind the arc in his one season at Arizona, as he was able to consistently get open and drain shots. His high release point makes it extremely difficult for defenders to even alter his shot in the slightest bit. He has also proven that he can pull up off the dribble from three, something that very few forwards taller than 6’10 can do, which gives him an obvious advantage on bigger defenders that cannot guard the perimeter very well.
At 7’0, Markkanen’s game is much more versatile than the average NBA forward. His most notable aspect of his offensive capabilities is his smooth stroke from distance. What most intrigues NBA scouts is his ability to use his three-point shot as a method to create other shots.
Markkanen’s defenders are forced to guard him on the perimeter in order to attempt to contest his jumpshot. His crafty footwork allows him to draw his defenders out to the perimeter, where he then is able to slash towards the rim and beat the closeout. Markkanen shot a 46% clip on jumpshots inside the arc, as he showed flashes of abilities to create shots off the dribble. He also made some eye opening plays around the rim, as his thunderous putbacks caught the eye of scouts and fans alike across the country.
While Markkanen’s speed and agility are definite pluses, there are still some major concerns with his defensive presence. His agility gives him the ability to close out on shooters across the halfcourt and stick with smaller players when he is switched onto them. However, Markkanen’s lack of length gives him an obvious disadvantage in his transition to the NBA game. His lack of length despite his 7’0 stature hinders his ability to be an effective shot blocker. He also isn’t very strong, which will certainly give him trouble defending bigger and stronger big men in the NBA. Despite these concerns, Markkanen has the potential to gain strength and learn to use his frame to become a reliable defender on the block and in the paint.
Where He’ll End Up:
Markkanen’s stock is so high because of his high ceiling and unique offensive set of weapons. Many teams in the NBA are in need of a young player that has the size and polished game that Markkanen showed in his one season at Arizona and in the U20 European Tournament.
The earliest Markkanen could go is the sixth pick to the Orlando Magic, who are in need of versatile tall forward after trading Serge Ibaka to Toronto at the trade deadline. The farthest back he could be taken is at the ninth spot to the Dallas Mavericks.
The Mavericks would be an ideal landing spot for Markkanen, as he would have the opportunity to play behind and learn for NBA legend Dirk Nowitzki, whom many have compared Markkanen to.
Markkanen will most likely be taken at the seventh or eigthth pick by either the Timberwolves (seventh) or the Knicks (eighth). Markkanen’s best landing spot of the two would be the Knicks. He would be able to play behind a rising star player of the same position and same pre-draft comparisons in Kristaps Porzingis. Porzingis also had concerns about his defense prior to his rookie season, but has since blossomed into a reliable defender, so his experience and teaching could be very beneficial for Markkanen in the beginning of his career.