Lauri Markkanen is Becoming a Problem for Opposing Teams

Lauri Markkanen, the Finnish sophomore, causes problems. What's the appropriate response from opposing teams?

Lauri Markkanen is on an impressive hot streak. He has nine straight games of at least 20 points and 9 rebounds, with four scoring 30-points or more, including a monstrous 31 point, 18 rebound game.

Markkanen started the season slowly, not playing until the first of December after sustaining an elbow injury in practice. Since then he's torching opponents on the backboard and the scoreboard. Markkanen is averaging a cool 18.7 points with 8.8 rebounds, numbers that are good, but don't seem to fully communicate his potential for bursts.

There are some players who average 18 and 8 because that's just about what they get every night. Think of Al Horford, a man whose value lies in the predictability of his game. There is an intangible, totally unquantifiable value in being confident a player will produce a certain set of stats without much variance. It is value based on dependability. Horford is a prototypical "high floor" player, and per usual, these players have a lower ceiling. Horford isn't ever going to go for 40 and 20, but he will punch the timecard and get the job done, just like he did the night before, and the night before that. That is a special, underappreciated type of value.

Markkanen provides a different value.

Though he shares players like Horford's high floor (he's only failed to reach double-digits scoring 12 times in his 108 career games), he offers something a little bit extra. Where Horford operates as the lynchpin of every offense he's been in, Markkanen projects to operate as his team's first or second offensive option; less of a playmaker and more of a play-receiver.

Markkanen offers a high floor paired with the value of possibility.

On any night, he may score 30 or 40 points and snag 20 rebounds. There are many, many very good players who have the numbers but don't have the trait of possibility. Like Horford, they are at or near their averages every night. A smaller, more exciting group of players keep a lightning bolt holstered, always ready to strike.

Lauri Markkanen is one of those players.

What happens when Lauri gets hot? What sort of plays fuel his "lightning in a bottle" games?

He's a Killer Shooter

Markkanen's numbers and game logs tell the story of a player who relies on the natural "feel" of the game. Over half of his shots come after 0 dribbles. Just over 40% of his shots are catch and shoot three-pointers. He's got a quick release, and he's always ready. This is not news. It's well known that Markkanen is deadly from deep. This mirrors his time at Arizona, where he made a reputation for himself by knocking down three-pointers off the catch.

If we, the fans and watchers, know this, then of course opposing defenses know this. The same rhythm that powers shooting off the catch can be used to time the attack of closeouts, which is another thing Markannen excels at.

...and who's supposed to guard him?

Per Synergy Sports, Markkanen is scoring in the 81st percentile spot-up opportunities, which includes both spot-up shots and drives off a spot up.

His game begins at the 3 point line. From there he can feel the defense and react. If they aren't there, he shoots. If they're on their way, he can make them pay.

What's a defense supposed to do? Though he's not a strong post up player, any professional big is going to feast on smaller defenders, so sticking a wing on Markkanen isn't the best option. Worse still may be guarding him with a big, where Markkanen can lure them to the three-point line and either slither past them for a layup or dish it to teammates who rush inside – an area now unpatrolled by said big.

Markkanen shouldn't be viewed as a big so much as he should be viewed as a wing trapped in a big's body. Athletic, but also quick, smart, and nimble.

Does this look like a big?

This looks like an athletic wing, not a 7-footer.

Markkanen turns defenses into a yo-yo, constantly moving in and out, never showing where he will attack. The nights Markkanen goes off are when the defense guesses wrong.

There is still one weakness in his game: 10% of Lauri's touches are in post-up situations, a setting where he does not thrive. Some of these come from mismatches that must be taken advantage of, but some of these are deliberate play calls. Markkanen does poorly here. Defenders that are his size can usually push him around, forcing him into off-balance fadeaways or smothered layups.

These types of plays can be mitigated through coaching. If Jim Boylen wants to play post up basketball, let Robin Lopez (or Wendell Carter Jr) do it. The Bulls should let Markkanen thrive on the three-point line and let defenses wonder what to do: get up on him, or wait for him.

Conclusion

Watching Markkanen is exciting. It's clear after just a few minutes that he has all the tools to be a really, really valuable player. He already is, but imagine what's possible with maturation under the guidance of professional coaches, strength trainers, and medical staff.

Markkanen has the frame and the brain to grow. He has NBA-level post moves and once he builds a strong physical foundation, he can execute them as he pleases, unbothered by strong defenders. That's a scary thought. A 7 footer who is a post up threat, a dribble-drive threat, and a shooting threat.

What's a defense supposed to do?

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