Lauri Markkanen wasn’t the most electrifying player in college basketball last season, nor did he necessarily stuff the stat sheet, but he will be hearing his name called in the top ten of Thursday’s NBA Draft.
Markkanen was the cornerstone of an Arizona team that finished 32-5, won the Pac-12, and made a Sweet Sixteen appearance. Markkanen was second on the team in scoring by averaging 15.6 points-per-game, led the team in rebounds with 7.2 per-game, and was always one of the biggest outside threats on the floor. His stellar play on an elite program made him one of the 20 finalists for the Wooden Award.
Markkanen’s style of play has garnered comparisons to other shooting bigs such as the Dallas Mavericks’ Dirk Nowitzki and the New York Knicks’ Kristaps Porzingis. In fact, he’s so similar to Porzingis that it was reported on Tuesday that the Knicks were considering Markkanen as a replacement should they choose to trade Porzingis.
The Knicks currently have the number 8 pick in the draft, and could be wise to choose him whether they trade Porzingis or not. While its becoming increasingly uncommon to play two seven-footers at the same time, it could work with Markkanen and Porzingis.
The NBA has quickly moved from the grit and grind of traditional basketball, instead opting for smaller and faster players who shoot the ball better. Typical big men aren’t fast enough to effectively defend a smaller player who can stretch the floor. This isn’t the case for either Porzingis or Markkanen. The two are both over seven feet tall, but shoot exceptionally well. Markkanen shot 42.3 percent from three in his lone season at Arizona, and finished 10th in the Pac-12 in three pointers made. Markkanen also led the Pac-12 in free throw percentage at 83.5 percent, something that is also rare and becoming more valued in a player of his size. Markkanen is perfect example of a modern NBA big man, and pairing him with Porzingis could help to maximize each of their strengths.
Of course, while Markkanen brings the strengths of a modern big, he brings the weaknesses as well. Stretch fours or fives are typically weaker than other players of their size, and this shows in Markkanen’s 230-pound frame. He also hasn’t been the most effective defender, which is also common in a player with his style. Markkanen will need to put on some muscle and become a better rim protector if he is to tighten up his game and make the jump as a lasting player in the NBA.
With efficiency becoming a more coveted skill than ever before, especially in big men, it’s easy to see why Markkanen will be a top ten pick. He may have similar weaknesses that have plagued other bigs with his skill-set, but that’s not a reason for teams to look past what he brings to the table. He doesn’t have the highest ceiling in the draft, likely will not be a superstar, but he does have starter potential for a team in need of a stretch four or five. Even if he doesn’t work out as a starter, he could still probably have a long NBA career because he plays one of the most valued styles in the league right now. Any team looking to modernize its frontcourt should look no further than Lauri Markkanen