While Lonzo Ball and Markelle Fultz have received the majority of the 2017 NBA Draft buzz, Arizona big man Lauri Markkanen has as much potential as any prospect. Markkanen has not declared for the draft yet, but he is predicted to be a top 10 selection if he does declare.
Markkanen is originally from Finland and speaks three different languages. According to SB Nation, he speaks Finnish, English and Swedish. Given Markkanen has experience playing in both the United States and Europe, he possess a unique skill set. While capable of doing other things, Markkanen is a remarkable shooter for someone 7’0″ and 230 pounds.
During the 2016-17 season, he averaged 15.8 points and 7.2 rebounds while shooting over 43 percent from behind the three-point line.
Learn more about the Finnish player who is likely to hear his name called early by the NBA in June.
1. Markkanen’s Father Played Basketball at Kansas & His Mother Played Professionally
Athleticism runs in the Markkanen family. According to The Daily Wildcat, his father, Pekka, played college basketball at the University of Kansas. His mother, Riikka, played professional basketball. While his father was unable to play professionally, all signs point to Markkanen having an NBA career.
He will not be the only person in the family to have a career in sports. His older brothers are both professional athletes. His oldest brother, Eero, plays pro soccer in Sweden. The middle child, Miikka, played pro basketball in Finland.
“We had a lot of futbols and basketballs around our backyard. I was just all the time with basketball. I think that was part of my family. My mother played basketball and my brother plays basketball,” Markkanen told The Daily Wildcat.
2. He Is Predicted to be a Top 10 Pick in the 2017 NBA Draft
Markkanen is one of the best shooting big men we have seen from an NBA prospect in recent years. While he has not officially declared for the draft, draft analysts expect him to be a top 10 pick if he does head to the NBA. GM’s have images of Kristaps Porzingis’ shooting and offensive flexibility in their minds as they watch Markkanen play.
His shot-preparation, body control and range are almost unheard of for a player his size, and the fact that he is a threat in spot-up situations, pick and pops, and dribble hand-offs helps keep the floor spaced perfectly for Arizona and gives his guards plenty of room to operate in the half-court. With the added spacing of the more distant NBA 3-point line, it’s not a stretch to wonder how much more room Markkanen will have to get clean looks.
Markkanen will need to continue to get stronger and prove he is a capable defender as he makes the jump to the NBA.
3. Markkanen Is Originally From Finland
Markkanen has a unique skill set for someone his size. He is from Finland and has the European game to thank for his development. Markkanen has the ability to handle the basketball since he played a lot of guard growing up.
“If [a coach] tried to put Lauri under the basket, we changed the team. If you play under the basket your whole career when you handle the ball, it’s going to be extremely difficult,” Pekka Markkanen told Bleacher Report.
Prior to coming to Arizona, he played on the Finnish national team under FIBA rules. While it has been an adjustment learning the different rules in college basketball, his time playing under FIBA rules will ultimately help him in the NBA where things like the shot lock are similar.
4. He Played in Finland’s Pro B Division Rather Than High School Basketball
When Markkanen reaches the NBA, it will not be the first time he has played professionally. Rather than playing high school basketball, Markkanen opted to play in Finland’s Pro B Division. He made the all-tournament team in the FIBA U20 2016 European Championships.
Markkanen offers a unique blend of European experience with the benefit of already adjusting to the American culture during his time at Arizona. His time with the Wildcats has also helped familiarize him with the American game.
5. Markkanen Does Not Embrace the Dirk Nowitzki Comparison
Markkanen’s game has drawn comparison to NBA-great Dirk Nowitzki. Both players have the ability to shoot and hail from Europe, but it is a comparison that does not fully fit. An NBA scout explained to Bleacher Report why the comparison is frequently mentioned.
“There’s kind of an instinct there—overseas shooting bigs—to compare him to Dirk. That’s a comparison you should never make. But he’s in that lineage of skilled, face-up, big 4 men,” the scout told Bleacher Report.
Markkanen prefers to be seen as a unique player. He spoke with SB Nation about the comparison.
“Some people talk about it, but I don’t think we’re that similar. There are some similarities obviously, like shooting the ball, but he’s 7-3…There wasn’t like one certain player [he patterns his game after]. I just try to take small moves from different players but when I grew up I really liked Kobe Bryant and Dwyane Wade, but obviously they’re not players in my position, but mostly when I grew up I played the 2 and the 3,” Markkanen told SB Nation.