Lauri Markkanen, Jimmy Butler’s replacement in Chicago, the next European sensation
In hindsight, Bobby Portis breaking Nikola Mirotic’s face in an altercation in practice was the best thing to happen for the Chicago Bulls this season.
When you’re the 2017-2018 Chicago Bulls, you’ll take all the good things you can get. With Portis suspended and Mirotic requiring surgery on his face, Chicago is left with one playable power forward, and he’s turning to be better than them all.
Enter Lauri Markkanen, the largely unheralded 7th pick of the 2017 NBA draft. Back then, no one paid any attention to the 7-foot Finnish prospect because he was traded from the Minnesota Timberwolves in exchange for Bulls superstar Jimmy Butler. Even without the trade happening, Markkanen was considered a project more than an immediate boost. Scouts were raving about his offensive potential but berated his lack of “a degree of explosiveness, length and physical strength,” according to scouting site DraftExpress.
Six games into the new season, and people can throw all those criticisms out of the window. So far, despite the Bulls having a 1-5 record, Markkanen is a double-double threat averaging a team-high 17.2 points and 9.3 rebounds to go along with 0.6 steals and 0.4 blocks on 45% shooting. In a team devoid of perimeter threats, he’s enjoying sole control from downtown with an average of 2.8 threes made per game, more than established perimeter threats like JJ Redick, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love.
His ceiling continues to climb after he recorded a career-high 25 points with 8 boards and 2 steals in a close loss against the Miami Heat. With his 6th straight double-figure scoring game, he joins local legends like Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and Derrick Rose as one of only 6 Bulls rookies to score 10 or more points in their first 6 games.
There’s also more to that last game than meets the eye, according to blogabull.com. Remember that scouting report which says that he lacks explosiveness, length and physical strength? Well, in that last Heat loss, he only sank 2 treys and made the rest of his 9 field goals by banging and spinning in the post. Blogabull noted that “Markkanen showcased his offensive versatility last night with a blend of speed, athleticism, and touch around the rim that a player over seven feet tall has no business being able to do.”
They even went as far as labeling Markkanen a “unicorn” – a praise reserved for freak talents like Giannis Antetokoumpo, Nikola Jokic and another unheralded 7-footer who proved everyone wrong, Kristaps Porzingis. Sure, it’s a Bulls page, but they’re not necessarily wrong. (Also, let's let the Bulls fans have fun. This season's hard enough for them.)
If he keeps this up, Markkanen may very well be the latest addition in the recent explosion of All-Star caliber European talents coming into the NBA. As early as 10 years ago, European players were looked down upon and heavily scrutinized for not having the jacked qualities of American studs, especially after former 2006 #1 pick Andrea Bargnani fizzled out and never lived up to the hype. Now, everyone is scrambling to find unicorns in the draft hoping to find the next big thing.
Drazen Petrovic would be proud. Thanks, Bobby Portis. – Rappler.com