Basketball is technically a team sport, but with only five players a side, star players can easily change a game. For the 11-2 Arizona Wildcats, Lauri Markkanen has become that player.
The 7-foot forward currently leads the Wildcats in scoring (16.1 PPG), rebounding (7.3 RPG), free throw success rate (83.3%), and three point percentage (a whopping 43.5%). His combination of skill and size had made Markkanen the focal point of Arizona's offense and has some NBA scouts and executives comparing him to Kristaps Porzingis.
It hasn't been a surprise to anyone familiar with his play in Europe's youth leagues. Arizona entered this season expecting a lot from Markkanen, and he has delivered for them in almost every way possible. He also comes from a family full of athletes, with both parents and all of his siblings having played competitive basketball or soccer at some point. Markkanen is one of seven Finnish players playing in Division-I this season.
With all the praise and success around Markkanen, it's no surprise that the Wildcats passed him the ball with a slim lead late in the Texas A&M game, despite Markkanen himself admitting his defensive mistakes helped slim down that lead. Although he ended up passing the ball, this proves that coach Sean Miller trusts Markkanen’s skills with the ball as much as his Arizona teammates do.
However, it hasn't all gone perfect. He's still adjusting to the college game, and has had to grow through the season so far to reach this point. For starters, he usually plays as a small forward despite having the size of a power forward. In the second game of the season, Markkanen actually had to learn his new position on the fly with a few players unavailable.
Markkanen also fouled out of a game against Missouri. FIBA doesn't reward players for attacking the basket as much as the NCAA does, so Markkanen has taken blocking fouls that U.S. born players might not have. It has not been a consistent issue, as he usually finishes with only a couple of fouls, but it's an issue to watch in case it turns into a larger problem later on.
One thing is for sure: Markkanen has managed to adapt so far, and should have an impact on every Wildcats game this season. Texas A&M won't be the last time Markkanen gets the ball with the game potentially on the line, and it definitely won't be the most important moment he is a part of this year. The real question is what he's going to do in March.