Situational Analysis: Lauri Markkanen
"Situational Analysis" is a series of articles that seeks to examine the circumstances that most often influence an NBA prospect's success. Each player will be scored on a scale from 1-10 in four different categories: NBA-specific skill(s), fatal flaw(s), collegiate/overseas/pre-NBA environment, and ideal NBA ecosystem.
Lauri Markkanen is a 19-year-old power forward from Finland who averaged 15.6 points and 7.2 rebounds during his freshman season at the University of Arizona. He officially declared for the draft on March 30, where he is expected to be selected in the mid-to-late lottery. NBADraft.net currently has him positioned to go No. 10.
Markkanen is perhaps the finest shooter available in the 2017 draft, regardless of position. Shooting is a valuable commodity in today's NBA, particularly when it comes attached to a 7-footer. It's rare to see a player at his size with such an advanced understanding of how to operate offensively. It isn't simply that his shooting stroke is pure — which it is — it's that Markkanen finds creative ways to get clean looks. His height is an obvious asset, but Markkanen can already survey a defense, put the ball on the deck, move without the ball, curl off screens, and execute a variety of jab steps and step-backs as if he were a guard.
In his lone year at Arizona, Markkanen knocked down 42 percent of his three pointers on 4.4 attempts a game, including a couple of extended stretches where he hovered in the 50-percent range. His stroke projects to extend beyond the NBA 3-point line, where he could serve as a floor-stretching big man with a refined off-the-dribble game.
Offensively, Markkanen's impact could resemble that of Rashard Lewis, who peaked as a consistent 20-points-per-game scorer for those Dwight Howard-era Orlando Magic teams that made some deep playoff runs.
Markkanen will be best served playing for a pace-and-space franchise that runs a lot of pick and roll. On a scale from 1 (LaVar Ball playing pickup hoops) to 10 (LeBron James somehow leading the 2008-09 Cleveland Cavaliers to 66 wins), Markkanen's NBA-ready skills are a 7.
Markkanen, simply put, plays smaller than 7 feet. His enormous frame is an asset when it comes to shooting 3s over the top of any defender, but when he plays closer to the rim, more physical players (even those who gave up 3-4 inches to Markkanen) often muscled into better position. Markkanen's high center of gravity and lanky frame made it difficult for him to handle an opponent's brute strength.
NBA teams will likely defend Markkanen with rangy small forwards, as he won't be able to punish shorter players on the block and will struggle to hang with quicker players on the perimeter.
Markkanen would dabble in rim protection from time to time for the Wildcats, but he blocked only 19 shots the entire season. Those expecting Markkanen to be a Kristaps Porzingis-like point center who can shoot 3s and handle the ball on one end and anchor the defense on the other will be sorely disappointed.
For all the polish and nuance Markkanen shows on offense, his defensive awareness is a work in progress. He struggles to move his feet laterally to keep up with quicker forwards and can often find himself in no-man's land on the high screen and roll. Markkanen's early NBA career will be defined by how quickly and diligently he learns how to negotiate screens on defense, as it will determine exactly how much playing time a coach is willing to give him.
Midway through Pac-12 play, fatigue got the best of Markkanen, as his shooting temporarily went in the tank. In early February, he posted four consecutive single-digit scoring performances and even admitted that he was getting tired. An NBA schedule is far more demanding than a college one.
In order for him to achieve his considerable potential, Markkanen needs to be drafted by a team that makes strength and conditioning a top priority. Not only will it help with his stamina, but it will make him less of a defensive liability.
On a scale from 1 (Russell Westbrook being impossibly indestructible) to 10 (Greg Oden's body completely giving up on him) Markkanen's fatal flaws rate at a 5.
In the United States, big men often develop Markkanen's impressively well-rounded set of offensive skills a few years later in their development curves, particularly if they play with ball-dominant guards in AAU settings. Markkanen had no such barriers during his time at the Helsinki Basketball Academy. He came to Tucson with a deep bag of offensive tricks already in his arsenal, thanks in large part to his father, Pekka Markkanen, who played one season under Roy Williams at Kansas.
Arizona coach Sean Miller had little choice but to make Markkanen his squad's offensive focal point. Allonzo Trier missed the first 19 games of the 2016-17 season after testing positive for a trace amount of a banned substance. Terrance Ferguson left the program to play professionally in Australia. Ray Smith tore his ACL for the third time during an exhibition game.
During those 19 Trier-less games, Arizona went 17-2, with losses to Butler and eventual NCAA Tournament runner-up Gonzaga. Markkanen had every opportunity to showcase his skills, and on most nights, he did exactly that.
Markkanen's rebounding, defensive awareness, and toughness were liabilities early in the season, but improved as he learned what his team needed from him. He clearly bonded with his teammates and has no problem being coached. His year in Tucson paid major dividends toward his potential NBA success. He had the chance to show fans why so many scouts and executives view him as a lottery-level talent, while gaining a clearer understanding of his limitations.
On a scale from 1 (Emmanuel Mudiay's experiences at SMU/China) to 10 (Gordon Hayward going from a lightly recruited 3-star guard to nearly hitting the greatest shot in college basketball history as a sophomore playing under Brad Stevens), Markkanen's pre-NBA setting is an 8.
Ideal NBA Ecosystem
Markkanen's perfect NBA situation will be one that doesn't require him to contribute at a high level for 30+ minutes per night for 82 games. Ideally, Markkanen will be brought along slowly, while a top-flight strength and conditioning coach works with him to build core strength and stamina.
Pilates could be extremely useful for Markkanen, too, as his lack of lateral quickness could be attributed to stiffness in his hips and a lack of flexibility.
If Markkanen ends up on a team with an old-school coach who thinks all 7-footers should camp no more than 6 feet from the rim, he will end up as a bust. If Markkanen's diet and weight training go unmonitored, he will not succeed. However, if Markkanen goes to a stable franchise with a forward-thinking, innovative coach, he could flourish.
Markkanen's ideal landing spots: Dallas, with a year or two at Dirk Nowitzki University. Minnesota, as the ideal stretch-four alongside Karl-Anthony Towns. Detroit, as a Lewis/Hedo Turkoglu composite for Stan Van Gundy.
Markkanen would likely struggle in Sacramento, not just because it's the most poorly run franchise in the NBA, but because they already have Skal Labissiere and a glut of rangy big men. Orlando and New York would also not be ideal situations for Markannen.
On a scale from 1 (Kwame Brown getting screamed at by Michael Jordan for his entire rookie year) to 10 (Kawhi Leonard ending up on the Spurs and transforming into an MVP candidate), Markkanen's situational dependency is a 6.