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Arizona basketball: Chicago Bulls ‘excited’ about Lauri Markkanen’s shooting ability and potential

The Bulls were one of the worst 3-point shooting teams in the NBA last season

NCAA Basketball: California at Arizona Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

Even though he’s a 7-footer, Lauri Markkanen’s favorite players growing up were shooting guards, not big men.

“I just try to take small moves from different players, but when I grew up I really liked Kobe Bryant and Dwyane Wade,” he said in December. “But obviously they’re not players in my position, but mostly when I grew up I played the 2 and the 3.”

Fittingly, Markkanen’s NBA career will begin where the best shooting guard ever spent the majority of his NBA career (and where Wade currently plays).

The Finnish big man was selected 7th overall by the Chicago Bulls in the 2017 NBA Draft on Thursday night.

"I'm really honored to be a part of this organization," Markkanen told reporters. "I can't wait to go there and do what I can. It's just a blessing to be here. And of course Michael Jordan, the greatest player ever to play, so it's huge to be a part of it."

The Bulls are equally excited to have the sweet-shooting big man. They finished tied for 25th in the NBA in 3-point percentage last season, connecting on just 34 percent of their 3-point attempts.

Markkanen shot 43.2 percent from distance in his lone season with the Arizona Wildcats.

“Lauri Markkanen is a very good basketball player. We’re really excited about his potential,” Bulls vice president John Paxson said. “Maybe as good a shooter that was in the draft this year. And the way our game is going, those big, mobile guys that can space the floor give your guards opportunity to create and find gaps.”

Markkanen should be an immediate contributor on a Bulls team that is headed for a rebuild. Chicago dealt All-Star guard Jimmy Butler to the Minnesota Timberwolves for the rights to Markkanen, along with guards Kris Dunn and Zach LaVine who are in their early-20s.

Plus, the Bulls don’t exactly have a plethora of talent at power forward. They have Bobby Portis, Paul Zipser, and Nikola Mirotic currently manning the position.

Portis, entering his third season in the NBA, has just 17 career starts. Zipser, a 2016 second round pick, appeared in just 44 games in his rookie season.

Mirotic is the most experienced player in the trio, having just finished his third season in the league, but he is set to hit restricted free agency. And like Markkanen, Mirotic is known for his ability to space the floor, so the Bulls may not want to spend the money to re-sign him after drafting the Arizona forward.

Markkanen believes his shooting ability will translate immediately to the NBA game — and it’s hard to imagine why it wouldn’t — but acknowledged he wants to become a more well-rounded player.

Most pre-draft evaluations claimed Markkanen needed to improve on defense and as a rebounder.

"Definitely my biggest strength is stretch the floor, make shots and help the team," Markkanen said. "I'm trying to be a complete player. Much of it is staying in the weight room and getting stronger."

The Bulls posted a 41-41 record last season and reached the NBA Playoffs, but are expected to take a step back in 2017-18 after dealing Butler for younger pieces.

Thus, Markkanen will have ample opportunities to showcase his skills, and the Bulls believe he will take advantage of it.

"He’s mobile, he’s got a motor, he’s a worker," Paxson said. "And we just thought he was, at that spot, gonna be a fit for the direction we’re headed and a guy that fits with how we want to build this team and fits in today’s NBA."


Follow Ryan Kelapire on Twitter at @RKelapire