By Panos Katsiroumpas/ firstname.lastname@example.org
While the general quality of basketball is not the best, we’ve seen several dramatic games, many surprises, but most of all a player who has attracted all the limelight, and rightly so.
Lauri Markkanen is introducing himself to the European basketball audience in the most convincing of ways, with performances that are making a lot of noise. The Finn is doing inconceivable things on the court and in his team’s first three games he has averages reaching 22.6 points and 6.2 rebounds. He’s already among the top five scorers and has the best shooting percentage with 55.1% compared to the other four. Also, he has the amazing – for his size (2.13m.) – 50% from outside the 6.75 line.
The early credentials
For those in the know, Markkanen is not an unknown player. He had already created a buzz last year before the start of the Under-20 European Championship that took place in Finland.
In a remarkable game of that tournament, the amazing Finn led his team to victory in overtime over Spain and tallied 33 points, in a great performance. Curiosity turned into enthusiasm. The next victims were the French, with Markkanen tallying 27 points and 12 rebounds, leading the Finns to another victory. His team didn’t make it since they lost to Lithuania in the first knockout game, but with him having yet another great game.
Before 2016, he’d had another excellent tournament in the summer of 2015 with his national team in the Under-18 European Championship, scoring an average of 19 points per game.
His year in the Wildcats and the draft
Already by the end of 2015 and before he had that magical tournament last summer, Markkanen had signed the scholarship offered to him by the University of Arizona. The Wildcats are one of the best basketball programs in college basketball, with many appearances and good runs in March Madness.
The college was coming from a season in which they had an excellent run but without managing to reach the Final Four and with many players being in their last year. So, Markkanen’s selection was essentially a move to find the team’s new leader.
The Finn justified the expectations that had been created around his name and he had an excellent year with the Wildcats. He had just over 15 points and 7 rebounds on average, with excellent percentages in shooting. He was selected to the first team of the Atlantic Conference (Pac-12) where the University of Arizona belongs, and the third All-American team in the college championship. His numbers, for a freshman, were more than good and he entered the draft. He was selected by the Minnesota Timberwolves with the No. 7 pick, but his rights were traded to Chicago along with those of LaVine and Dunn so that the Timberwolves could acquire Jimmy Butler.
A young Nowitzki, a young Gasol, or something else…
Each player traces his own course in the sport and remains in everyone’s memory for his own accomplishments at an individual but also at a club level.
Markkanen is a phenomenal player and he doesn’t need to be identified with anyone else. Yes, it’s true that his whole style of play brings to mind the iconic German. But it’s a little unfair for this kid (as he is still a kid; he became twenty only a few months ago) to make such a comparison, which can only weigh him down with even more responsibility.
Markkanen is a truly authentic talent. A point forward with the size of a center, he can do everything on the court. He’s unbelievably flexible for his size, he can put the ball on the floor with ease, while he has an incredible shooting ability, both in terms of technique as well as effectiveness.
He can execute under any circumstances and from any part of the court. He’s quite athletic and aside from attacking facing the basket, which is his favorite way, he has also improved his post game.
He’s a very good defender both in terms of individual marking as well as covering spaces, while he can read plays very well and provide the right back-up, as a result, blocking many shots and often functioning as a rim protector.
He can run the court very well both in the offense as well as on defense, and he can keep his body balanced by absorbing contact when he attacks the rival basket.
Compared to last summer, he has become stronger and less reluctant regarding contact, something that he worked on in college where spaces are smaller and opponents very athletic. If he works a bit more on the creative aspect too, we’ll be talking about a more than complete player who will have a thousand ways to hurt rival defenses.
But what he seems to have beyond talent, is his character. Like he did in many games with the Arizona Wildcats and keeps on doing with his national team now, he’s not afraid to step up when things get tough and take the team on his shoulders.
He will surely have unfortunate moments like he had against Randolph in the game against Slovenia, a turnover that almost cost the game, but after all these kinds of moments are what make the character of big players.