Over the last two weeks, many of the top European prospects made their way to Greece and Finland to compete in the FIBA U-20 European Championships. Those prospects looked to lead their team to a gold medal while also staking their claims to either NBA or other international squads.
One of those top prospects is 7-foot Finnish big Lauri Markkanen, who entered the tournament as one of the best international prospects. That reputation was due to Markkanen having a bevy of success in prior FIBA tournaments. In the 2015 U-18 European Championship, Markkanen had 18.2 points and 6.3 rebounds on 54% from the field and 41% from beyond the arc.
In the following year, Markkanen retained that excellent performance for Finland. On 26 minutes per game, Markkanen averaged an incredible 24.9 points, 8.7 rebounds (2.7 offensive) and 2.3 steals per game on 50% from the field Although the performance didn’t help lead Finland to a gold medal, as they finished 15th in the final standings, Markkanen still established himself as an elite European prospect.
That label as an elite European prospect was solidified by Markkanen exhibiting his fantastic versatile skill-set throughout the tournament. With Finland, he showed an ability to score in a variety of different ways which included: perimeter and mid-range shooting, on-ball cutting and offensive rebounding. While he’s solid in all those areas, Markkanen’s perimeter shooting stands as his go-to offensive weapon.
Markkanen had a plethora of success as a perimeter shooter during the tournament, as he shot 38% from beyond the arc on 5 attempts per game. Most of those attempts came through pick-and-pop attempts as Markkanen would set the screen and step back to the perimeter to launch a jumper. The young Finnish big has a pretty smooth shooting stroke, as the jumper is quick and has a high release point.
Alongside that, Markkanen’s future as a stretch four is solidified by his work as an on-ball cutter. For a 7-footer, Markkanen combines a great first-step with solid handles as he looks comfortable making drives to the rim. Although he’s currently only comfortable working toward the left side of the rim, that cutting ability should still separate him from other young bigs that haven’t displayed that ability. Markkanen’s cutting is displayed in the clip below, as he works past the Lithuanian defender for a big dunk.
Markkanen’s also effective as an off-ball weapon as he became a great pick-and-roll target for Finland. That was due to his imposing 7-foot frame, soft hands, and solid explosiveness. Throughout the tournament, he continued to show off flashes of being a great alley-oop target as Markkanen’s definitely not afraid to explode towards the rim no matter if there’s an opposing big waiting right there for him.
The final skill to solidify Markkanen as a bonafide pick-and-roll stud would be his facilitation. While that skill isn’t seen through the statistics, as he only averaged a single assist per game during the U20 tournament, Markkanen does show flashes of being a solid facilitating big. One of those flashes is seen in the clip below, as Markkanen makes the perfect dish to a cutting Finnish guard. If he continues to build and make those flashes seem commonplace, Markkanen would establish himself as an all-around offensive threat.
On the defensive end, Markkanen was able to use his length and quickness to be an effective weapon. During the tournament, Markkanen worked as a 7-foot free safety, someone that would maneuver around the court and work as a huge help defender. He did great in that role as went out of his way to force turnovers whether they’d be steals (2.3 steals per game) or blocks (1.3 blocks per game). That work as a huge free safety is seen below, as Markkanen works his way towards the cutter to make the big block.
As he embarks to Arizona to begin his freshman season, Markkanen stands as a prospect that any hoops fan should watch out for. His work as a stretch big that can cut to the rim and work as a big defensive threat are some of the skills that should excite Arizona fans and scare other Pac-12 squads. Those skills allow Markkanen to be such a unique and exciting prospect, as we’ve rarely seem players with his size and skill-set at the NCAA level.
In terms of his potential as an NBA Draft prospect, Markkanen seems to sit in between a one-and-done prospect or someone that might need to spend two years at the college level. While he’s already a fantastic and versatile stretch big, there are some concerns regarding his skinny frame (currently stands 225 pounds) and having not seen enough from him as an offensive rebounder or post-up defender. That combined with the absolutely loaded incoming freshman class could have Markkanen spending more than one season with the Arizona Wildcats.
No matter what happens, Lauri Markkanen definitely has the chance to be an electrifying player for Arizona Because if he was ready to show those skills before Europe’s finest, then you’d be damn sure he’d be ready to mark his territory in the Pac-12 and NCAA basketball.