Rook Roundtable: Lauri Markkanen

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It’s been a while. But with the crazy offseason and equally bizzare start to the season I figured I’d dust off the keyboard and write again.

I haven’t written anything about basketball in like a year and a half so here’s some disclaimers:

I’m not a writer.
I like to think I’m mildly entertaining and funny.
I spend way too much time reading about basketball.
I have a lot of time on my hands after work.

Okay, okay, let me level with you – my only basketball credential is that I’m an arrogant, egotistical, ultra-opinionated basketball super fan.

Right, so with all the disclaimers out of the way, let’s get to it.

Through the early part of this new NBA season, there’s been a lot of talk about Kristaps Porzingis. Who, in his third year in the league, is having a monster season with 30 points a game, 7.5 boards, 1 assist and 2.5 blocks. The Knicks are actually collecting some hope after years and years of disappointment, finally abandoning Phil Jackson, and ditching the Triangle offense.

But did you know there’s another European talent who, due to being on a bad team, isn’t getting the spotlight he may so rightly deserve?

Yup, today I’m gonna be talking about the Chicago Bulls newest recruit – the Finnish sharpshooter, Lauri Markkanen.

At the age of 20, Lauri Markkanen shows NBA readiness, confidence beyond his years, and an innate poise to get to his spots and drain shots despite the Bulls’ very real early season struggles.

A 7-footer with range, Markkanen fits the mold of some of these tall sharp shooters from Europe such as Peja Stojakovic, Dirk Nowitzki, Nikola Mirotic, and Kristaps Porzingis.

Pre-draft and during the college basketball season, the former Arizona Wildcat couldn’t escape the whispers and comparisons made between him and future Hall of Famer, Dirk Nowitzki.

The former Arizona Wildcat continues to shine filling in for injured forward, Nikola Mirotic, who was caught in a scuffle with teammate Bobby Portis, ending with an eight game suspension for Portis and a concussion and facial fractures for Mirotic.

Per K.C Johnson of the Chicago Tribune, Markkanen has already made waves by setting an NBA record for most three’s made by a player in their first three games with 10. And continued that effort draining 17 threes in his first 6 games. He is leading the Bulls with a team high 15.8 points per game to go along with  8.2 rebounds, and 1.2 assists.

Only 9 games into the Bulls’ season and it seems like there’s hope for the rebuilding franchise in their Finnish rookie.

Markkanen was the 7th pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, originally drafted by the Minnesota Timberwolves, who traded their pick and other assets in exchange for All-Star Jimmy Butler. This led the way for the Wolves to maintain being competitive in the West while giving the Bulls fresh legs and a start to their rebuild.

He’s started off the beginning of the season in a very good spot and has seized every single opportunity to shine in light of team discord and the growing pains of a team rebuild, but it wasn’t completely unprecedented.

In his one year with Arizona, Markkanen averaged  15.6 ppg, 7.2 boards and he was named first team all Pac-12 selection, third team all American, and Pac-12 player of the week in the month of January 2016 as well as a bevy of other collegiate awards and honors. During the 2017 Eurobasket, Markkanen averaged 19.5 points and 5.7 rebounds on route to a top 16 finish for the Finnish national team.

Again, all of this at the age of 20.

Per Basketball Reference, Dirk Nowitzki, at age 20, averaged 8.2 ppg, 3.4 boards, and 1 assist, but he also only played 47 games.

So let’s move to age 21 with a full season Dirk – 17.5 points per game, 6.5 boards, and 2.5 assists

He would eventually go on to make the All-Star team at age 22, with a stat line of
21.8 points per game, 9.2 boards, and 2.1 assists to go with 1.2 blocks a game.

Lauri Markkanen is on pace to put up Dirk’s sophomore numbers in his first season, a whole year earlier.

Chicago may still be struggling through a franchise overhaul but they might’ve found a potential star in their Finnish rookie. With the impeding retirement of Nowitzki looming ahead, maybe it’s time to look and see who takes up that European torch for the next generation.

(Note: Porzingis is the obvious “European sensation” torch bearer but he’s an NBA unicorn and doesn’t play quite as similarly to how Dirk does, Markkanen just fits the bill a lot better.)