Lauri Markkanen: A Big Piece To The Puzzle

The old guys—like, well, you know who—think of Mel Counts. How about Bill Laimbeer? Brad Lohaus? Jack Sikma? To the evolution of Ryan Anderson and Kristaps Porzingis?

Somewhere in there, and the Bulls hope beyond, may be Lauri Markkanen, the No. 7 selection in Thursday’s NBA draft. He came to the Bulls Thursday as part of the Jimmy Butler trade to the Minnesota Timberwolves. The Bulls also obtained point guard Kris Dunn and shooting guard Zach LaVine, who is out injured now after an ACL tear last February.

“I’m just excited to get to Chicago,” Markkanen said in New York after the selection was confirmed as a trade to the Bulls. “I’m going to bring a lot of energy and I can do things for the team and not just shooting the ball. I can stretch the floor a lot and I can help the team on rebounding. A lot of things."

In comments on the telephone (no confirmation on whether it was a cell) to reporters in Chicago after the draft, a laconic Markkanen said in response to a question: “Strength? Definitely ability to stretch the floor, make shots and help the team. That’s my biggest strength.

“I’m trying to be a compete player, but my main thing is to stay in the weight room and get stronger,” said Markkanen. “(I’ve) actually never been in Chicago. Will be my first time and looking forward to it. Definitely a little bit of a surprise (to be traded to the Bulls). I’m definitely happy to be there.

“I’ve been working on my shot for shooting NBA threes,” said Markkanen. “I can make that shot, I would say, better than college threes; it’s not a problem for me. I’ve been playing lot different ways; however coach wants me to play. That’s how I am going to play.

“I know it’s an historic (Bulls) organization and I’m extremely proud to be a part of that,” Markkanen said. “Looking forward to be there.”

Markkanen, a seven footer who is about 225 pounds, just turned 20 last month. He is a native of Finland, the third Finnish player to be in the NBA. The previous was Erik Murphy, briefly with the Bulls as a little used reserve.

But Markkanen is a high level prospect who was a critical player for an excellent Arizona team as a freshman. He averaged 15.6 points and 7.2 rebounds. He shot 42.3 percent on three pointers as the elite big man shooter in college. He was about 84 percent on free throws playing primarily outside and on pick and pop type play.

His father, Pekka Markkanen, played at Kansas under Roy Williams and then in Europe. Lauri averaged more than 20 points for his native team in Finland before spending one season with the U. of Arizona.

Markannen is something of a new age NBA player, not physical or particularly strong for a seven footer, and also not a post player. That’s not the NBA game anymore. Markannen is unusually agile for a big man shooting off the catch and over screens. He’s not a great athlete, but he’s competent on defense in being able to blitz or hedge on screens. He’s not going to be an isolation type offensive player or a great rebounder or rim protector. Likely more of an offensive threat with enough quickness to chase out on defense and cover with his size.

“Lauri Markkanen is a very good basketball player,” said Bulls executive vice president John Paxson. “We’re really excited about his potential; as good a big man shooter, 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. It’s an important piece. It’s all about building the type of team that you want. And we’ve been able to reset that, and we’re going to go about it in that fashion.”