Lauri Markkanen is a 7-footer from Finland that can hit shots from all over the court, and naturally the comparisons to Dallas Mavericks forward Dirk Nowitzki — another European big man that can shoot — have come pouring in.
The similarities are hard to deny, but Markkanen didn’t necessarily model his game after the German big man.
“I’ve watched him a little bit, but not too much,” the Arizona Wildcats forward said of Nowitzki.
Markkanen has also drawn comparisons to New York Knicks young star Kristaps Porzingis — a 7-foot-3 big man from Latvia — who also can shoot it and put the ball on the floor like Markkanen can.
Both have above average athleticism for their size, too, but Markkanen isn’t buying the comparison.
“Some people talk about it, but I don’t think we’re that similar,” Markkanen said. “There are some similarities obviously, like shooting the ball, but he’s 7-3.”
Markkanen probably would disagree with any other comparison, too, because there was not a single player he imitated as a kid.
“There wasn’t like one certain player,” Markkanen said when asked who he tried to mirror his game after when he was growing up. “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.”
Soon enough the comparisons won’t matter as Markkanen will be able to make a name for himself in the NBA.
The Finn is projected to be selected No. 8 overall in the 2017 NBA Draft by Draft Express.
Markkanen knows three languages
Markkanen isn’t just good at basketball, he is good with language. The Finn is trilingual, as he speaks Finnish, English, and Swedish — sort of.
“I’m not that good at Swedish,” Markkanen said. “I mean I understand a little bit of it, but it’s kind of embarrassing that I can’t speak it, because they teach us (in Finland) from middle school.”
Markkanen used to play soccer
The Markkanen family is full of athletes. Lauri’s father, Pekka, played college basketball at Kansas, his mother, Riikka played basketball professionally, and his oldest brother, Eero, is a professional soccer player in Sweden.
Lauri tried his hand in soccer for seven years, but chose to pursue basketball when it was time to pick one or the other.
“I just played soccer just for fun, and when...I had to choose, it was an easy decision for me,” he said.
Lauri said he has heard that playing soccer helps with coordination as a basketball player, but he can’t tell if that is true for him or not.
“I really can’t notice that during games,” Lauri said. “There’s a lot of benefits [of playing soccer], but I don’t concentrate on those, so I can’t really notice them by myself.”
Ball is life for Markkanen
Student-athletes — especially those that have a realistic shot of going pro — are often asked what they would be doing if they weren’t on track to be a professional athlete.
Markkanen admittedly has no idea.
“I’ve been trying to think about that, but there’s really nothing that interested me,” he said.
Markkanen did say a leadership class that he is taking at the UA stands out because the material is “useful for everything in life.”
But in the end, basketball is what Markkanen is all about.
“Just trying to improve my game every single day,” his Twitter bio states.
You can follow this author on Twitter at @RKelapire