More and more NBA teams are building around a budding European player these days. The latest team to pin their hopes of a bright future is the Chicago Bulls. The Bulls traded away the former “face” of their franchise, Jimmy Butler to the Minnesota Timberwolves during the 2017 NBA draft. In exchange, the Bulls received guards Kris Dunn and injured high-flier Zach Lavine (ACL), as well as the seventh pick of the draft. With the pick, Chicago selected University of Arizona’s Finnish big man, Lauri Markkanen (213 cm).
Markkanen is a rare gem. He comes from a family background that fostered serious interest in competitive sports, back home in Jyvaskyla, Finland. Lauri ended up taking up basketball very seriously and has grown into what the league considers a valuable asset in recent times, a stretch five. He is a center who is able to spread out the defense and knock down a three-point shot when left open, making things more difficult for opposing defenses to adjust. One of the NBA’s best stretch bigs of all-time is Dallas Mavericks’ very own Dirk Nowitzki. The German big man won an NBA title with the Mavs in 2011. His success has paved the way for many of today’s young European players to get a chance to live the dream and make it big in the top basketball league in the world.
Losing a superstar like Butler means that the Bulls will be looking to a core of young(er) players who will take the team to new heights in the not-so-distant future. Markkanen is believed to be part of that vision. Coach Fred Hoiberg hopes to work with Lauri’s no-nonsense work ethic and develop his already commendable skill set. Markkanen posted averages of 15.6 ppg and 7.1 rpg while shooting 43.0% from long-range in 36 games in his senior year at Arizona (2016-17). The Bulls organization clearly see some promise that they can work with in Lauri and their haul of young guards via the trade.
Who knows, somewhere down the road, Markkanen will be able to proudly join the likes of Greece’s Giannis Antetokounmpo and Serbia’s Nikola Jokic who are the centerpieces of their respective franchises’ youth movement. Even CSKA Moscow’s very own Milos Teodosic has rumored to have expressed serious interest in coming to the NBA and possibly joining the Utah Jazz. The “odd man out” in the trend appears to be the New York Knicks, who via team president Phil Jackson, appears poised to part with Latvian phenom Kristaps Porzingis. Reports point to Jackson and Porzingis and his camp getting into a falling out after the player failed to show up for a team’s exit interview at the end of the 2016-17 season. Whether Porzingis remains in New York or finds a new home with a different team this 2017-18, he has already established himself as a promising asset that almost any team can build around.
As a rookie, expect Markkanen go through his own ups and downs. He will be someone to watch as Hoiberg attempts to mold him into a future superstar.