When looking for the next transcendent player, one always has to have that unique trait that stands out from the rest. With former Arizona big man Lauri Markkanen, his pure scoring and ability to stretch the floor is something that will be valued highly by many NBA personnel. The 7-footer, per 100 possessions, shot eight three-pointers and converted on 42.3% of them.
Quick reminder, nobody with Markkanen's size came close to matching those numbers last year as only four 7-footers even attempted that amount on the pro level.
Right away, I expect Lauri to come in and be a force in the pick-and-pop game while being able to sit on the perimeter and stretch the floor for guards to drive inside and kick it out to him. His shot form is one of the smoothest in this draft class, and again with his body type that's such a rarity.
In the pick-and-pop, Markkanen would be able to handle the ball as the handler, but his passing traits leave much to be desired compared to a younger prospect like last year's No. 4 overall pick Dragan Bender. With Lauri, though, if the defender stays lax on him he's more than capable of abandoning that situation and rising right up for a quick jumper. If he's able to improve his passing skills, he could really be a much more valuable weapon than he was even in Tucson.(That's one thing people need to remember with Bender, by the way. He still would be one of the youngest in the 2017 class, too!)
Another aspect of his offensive game that will translate smoothly to the next level is when going one-on-one in face-up situations. With Markkanen's length and reach on his shooting stroke, it's nearly impossible to bother his shot routine. When scouting him compared to other stretch bigs in this class, he was by far the least affected by quick closeouts after one or two dribbles to set up his shot from mid-range or beyond the arc.
His agility will let him be able to even move off of screens on the perimeter. He has excellent footwork that will allow him to be able to create for himself in a multitude of ways once his body is fully matured. That's the part of Markkanen's game that makes you think he oozes potential as a three level scorer, which for a big man hasn't been around in years.
However, if you're looking for much more to Markkanen's game this is where the buck really stops. Outside of being a lethal shooter from 15-feet and beyond, everything else about his game is raw or littered with a lot of red flags. For example, his defense and rebounding I'd imagine would be scrutinized heavily in front offices.
Even though he stands at 7-feet, he doesn't look like he has much more length to him in terms of wingspan and reaching ability. Hence why Markkanen was such a target this year by opposing offenses to isolate him one-on-one. This was really put into effect by Xavier in the NCAA tournament, and Markkanen was exposed pretty badly throughout that one by non-NBA talent.
Markkanen lacks the upper body strength to keep thicker or more explosive creators from getting in position for easy baskets. And when defending outside the paint, he tends to reach way too much and his assignment is able to blow by him on the first few steps. Even defending the pick-and-roll, the Finnish sniper was unable to really do much of anything to stop it. Many times he would follow the guard and leave the roll man pretty open or he would not be able to stay in from of said roller.
The rebounding for more is where the red flags begin to get even darker. In the games I went back and focused only on Markkanen, many times pesky guards were able to push him out of the way or simply out will him for the ball off the glass. That's something that really worries me, especially on the pro level where elite length will always be surrounding him.
He reminds me all too much of a more fluid and athletic Ryan Anderson-type who you will have to hide on defense, but that shooting ability I believe will wow a front office somewhere in that top-10 come draft night. Nowadays, having a big who can stretch the floor and create spacing for attacking guards, it's all too valuable.
Fit in Phoenix
Don't get me wrong, having a prospect like Markkanen who would be able to float around the perimeter and allow for more driving lanes for Eric Bledsoe and Devin Booker could make sense, but after last year's haul of Marquese Chriss and Bender this selection would not make any sense.
For starters, Bender is still younger than Markkanen and offers more upside as a distributor in many sets. Also, Bender's defensive ceiling easily trumps what I believe Markkanen will be able to do on the next level.
It would just be very counterintuitive for Phoenix to take another tweener 4/5 prospect.
Markkanen, in the Suns' system at least, would fit much better at the 5 spot. However, would he be able to handle defending more post-up types? That's where the red flags for me really start to outweigh the positives in Markkanen's game in terms of a fit in the Valley.
Pairing Chriss with him would really eliminate the defensive versatility McDonough seems to want to create. If Markkanen was to be switched in PnR onto a quicker, more aggressive guard, I still don't have confidence that his length would be enough to disrupt him.
Markkanen has the one elite trait in his game scouts look for, but outside of that what will he be able to realistically offer you unless you are willing to really develop and invest in his defensive potential?
I still expect the Suns' brass to bring in Markkanen for a workout next month, but come actual draft night I can guarantee he will not be in Phoenix after.
The 7-foot Finnish prospect's draft range I believe is anywhere from 7-12, and even McDonough said in a recent radio interview that Markkanen could go anywhere from the 5-10 range -- sounds like someone really who's not on their radar in terms of potential fits alongside the rest of the current roster at No. 4.
Stay tuned for the final two Bright Side draft profiles for Frenchmen mystery point guard Frank Ntilinkina and Gonzaga big man Zach Collins, who I believe would be an even better fit than Markkanen in Phoenix.
However, don't be surprised if the former Arizona Wildcat steps in wherever he goes next season and makes a high-end impact in terms of offensive production.