Finnish forward Lauri Markkanen signed a letter of intent last fall to play for the Arizona Wildcats in the 2016-2017 season. However, not many people know who the seven-foot, 19-year-old forward is, who, unlike any other Wildcats player recently, has the skill set of a guard in a center's body. Arizona head coach Sean Miller has yet to coach a player of Markkanen's potential and caliber.
On the court, Markkanen was certainly the Wildcats' top recruit. At seven feet, the Finnish forward can rebound, play with his back to the basket, and shoot like a shooting guard. He is expected to become a top NBA draft prospect when he decides to move on to the next level. Finland's national team head coach even predicts Markkanen will become an NBA All-Star in the future.
Many expected Markkanen to choose the University of Utah because his club coach, Hanno Mottola, played for the Utes in the late 1990s. Others thought he might go to North Carolina, since his father played under coach Roy Williams at Kansas in the early 1990s. However, Markkanen felt most comfortable at Arizona.
Miller had a good look at Markkanen before the big man signed his letter of intent as the head coach of USA Basketball's U19 team in the 2015 World Championships. Miller was impressed with his size, his ability to shoot the ball, and his rebounding skill. Markannen was the lone star of the Finnish national basketball team at the U20 European Championships, registering a whopping 24.9 points and 8.6 rebounds per game.
Markkanen's strengths include shooting, rebounding, agility, moving feet on defense, and the ability to create his own shot. In today's NBA, much of the league has elected to go small at the power forward and rely on centers who move their feet on defense, particularly on pick and roll switches. Quite surprisingly, Markkanen has the ability to move his feet on defense and defend the pick and roll well enough to not force his team to rethink their defensive strategy. Furthermore, his ability to shoot from the perimeter fits the current NBA game, either as a pick-and-pop player or as a spot-up shooter.
The freshman’s weaknesses include his slight build, post position, and passing. Despite being seven feet tall and 230 pounds, Markkanen needs to improve his slight build to fight for better post position against stronger centers and forwards. Furthermore, while a willing passer, the Finnish product has not shown how well he can pass under pressure in situations like a double team or a half-court trap, for example.
Overall, Markkanen has the potential to become one of the most coveted NBA Draft products. However, the Finnish forward/center has a ways to go to establish himself as an important player for the Wildcats. Markkanen still needs to adjust to a faster basketball pace and new defensive principles, which will ultimately prepare him for the NBA. The success of other recent similar European players will definitely help Markkanen’s stock, plus the perfect coach to both get him acclimated to college basketball and prepare him for the NBA.