7-footer, Stretch Big

Lauri Markkanen Scouting Report

(First posted at RealGM.)

CONTEXT

Seven-footer Lauri Markkanen posted dominant numbers at the FIBA European Championships U20 this summer, averaging 33.8 points per 36 minutes on 62.7% true shooting and posting a 42.5 PER – according to our stats database.

Finland lost four out of seven games and placed 15th out of 16 teams in a tournament hosted in Helsinki but Markkanen’s individual greatness cemented his status as a high end NBA prospect. As he enrolls at Arizona, looking for a level of competition higher than the one he’s faced in Finland’s second division, Markkanen starts the season ranked 13th in Draft Express’ top 100.

In Tucson, Markkanen will have a more talented group around him and will have the chance to compete for wins in a way he wasn’t able to with the Finnish junior national team. The flipside of that is he will get the ball less than he is accustomed to. Markkanen posted a 35.5% usage-rate in the European Championships U20, which will certainly not be the case in a team with Allonzo Trier, Parker Jackson-Cartwright, Dusan Ristic and Kobi Simmons in it.

Markkanen possesses a combination of size and skill level that immediately places him in the conversation of which guys have potential to eventually end up becoming the number one overall pick next year.

But it’s questionable whether he’ll get enough shots to stand out that much, especially considering Markkanen – as is the case with most 19-year-olds – does not have a fully-developed game yet and will need the help of his coach to get the sort of shots that make him look his best.

SHOOTING

His top skill at this point of his development is the catch-and-shoot outside shot. Markkanen has proven himself able to make shots off the catch from just about anywhere on the floor, not just out of standstill position on spot-ups but also after setting a ball-screen and moving to an open spot around the wing or getting a pindown screen himself.

Spacing the court as a threat who commands a weak-side defender not to have two feet inside the lane is important and being an asset who can come off screens is nice[1] but it’s his ability to make shots out of the pick-and-pop that will make Markkanen a more valuable commodity.

He is not an elite shooter yet, with a release that needs a little bit of time to load up, but has a clean stroke and great touch on his shot. Markkanen projects as especially deadly if paired with the sort of attacking guard whose speed on dribble drives forces the big defender to track him one or two steps into the lane, as the release on his shot is high enough that such long closeouts don’t seem to bother his attempts.

POST GAME

Outside shooting is also Markkanen’s best asset in the post as well.

He has a weak 225-pound frame in the context of his seven-foot height and lacks toughness on top of that. Markkanen often struggles to establish deep position or bully his way into short-range shots against opposing big men. Maybe he’ll grow into it as his body develops but, as of now, Markkanen is not cut out to make a living with his back to the basket.

That’s not any sort of deal breaker, though. Players with his skill profile really only need a viable post game in order to prevent opponents from going small against them without any repercussions. Markkanen can punish smallball or switches with his turnaround, fade-away jumper – borderline impossible for smaller players to contest effectively – and his passing. He hasn’t shown advanced, Boris Diaw-level passing skills or anything but has proven can make simple kick-outs against soft double teams, even when those require an escape dribble into tight spaces.

And even when he is pushed to 17-20 feet away from the basket on stationary, ‘fight-for-position’ post-ups by more physically imposing big men, Markkanen’s face-up, no-dribble, mid-range jumper off a jab-step is a high percentage proposition considering he can get those shots off cleanly because those opposing big men tend to give him some space in fear of his dribble drives.

FLOOR GAME

A play the Finnish junior squad ran quite a bit for Markkanen was loading up one side, and then simply giving him the ball at the opposite elbow for a face-up drive. No big men in his age group at that level seemed able to stay in front of him, with his quick first step, and Markkanen often earned lots of scores at the rim elevating with power out of one foot and foul shots[2] via those isolations.

He also got plenty of opportunities to attack off the bounce from the perimeter, even getting a ball-screen here and there for some big-small pick-and-rolls. Markkanen has proven to be an adept dribble driver with straight-line paths to the basket, able to maintain his balance through contact to get within close range or take a stop-and-pop pull-up jumper against soft ball pressure, though his finishing against length at the basket was subpar.

We’ll see how much of his dribble drive game translates against American athletes or if he’ll even get many opportunities to attack off the bounce a whole lot within Sean Miller’s offense. Having the chance to flash some floor game is the sort of stuff that could elevate his stock into top-five status.

But even based on what he showed at the junior level in Europe, Markkanen should not be confused with the sort of new age power forward who can often create offense for himself and others 25 feet away from the basket; guys like Draymond Green, Ben Simmons, Dario Saric and Dragan Bender. He hasn’t shown much of a tight handle, side-to-side shake to play with pace or the ability to pass on the move; all assets needed to break down a set defense with regularity.

DEFENSE

Much like his floor game, Markkanen’s defense is also a mixed bag.

He possesses the agility and coordination to develop into an above average defender guarding above the foul line.

The Finnish junior national team had him hedging-and-recovering a lot against high pick-and-rolls and it seems Arizona will use that approach quite a bit as well, based on what they showed in their televised intra-squad scrimmage. Hedging is an iffy strategy because it demands the three defenders behind the play to be attentive to their zone responsibilities and that’s not always the case. But Markkanen, specifically, is pretty good at doubling the ball and slowing down the development of the play in a way that’s very effective due to his lateral quickness.

That side-to-side agility also makes Markkanen an asset to pick up smaller players on switches. He doesn’t bend his knees to get low in a stance but has proven able to keep pace with these smaller players when they attempt to drive around him and he can challenge shots from behind effectively. That said, Markkanen is not suited to staying with these smaller players if they give up the ball, as he tends to get lost in space as a weak-side defender and doesn’t closeout to shooters very well.

But the biggest issue with Markkanen’s performance on that end regards his defense close to the basket.

He is attentive to his responsibilities rotating to the front of the basket in help defense but lacks length (average seven-foot wingspan in the context of his seven-foot height) and explosive leaping ability to act as a constant shot blocking threat.

Markkanen also struggles holding his ground in the post and boxing out opposing big men in order to control the defensive glass. He’s often posted good rebounding numbers in the events he’s participated but that tended to be the case because of uncontested boards attained due to fortunate positioning close to the basket. Markkanen should gain more strength as his body develops and expand his natural rebounding area but has never really shown much tenacity fighting for 50-50 balls.

PROJECTION

Markkanen’s upside is as a stretch-five who can open up the lane entirely for perimeter players to drive and cut without worrying about a rim protector challenging them at the basket. But those concerns regarding interior defense keep that strategy from being viable for long stretches right now.

At this point, Markkanen projects as a pure stretch-four type who can have gravity working with an attacking guard on the pick-and-pop and punish opponents who try to go smaller against him (as he’s also able to keep pace with them in the perimeter on the other end) but needs a center who can anchor an above average defense by his side.

[1] Though you don’t see teams running pindowns for big men all the often, other than baseline out-of-bound sets.

[2] He averaged 10.5 shots per 36 minutes at the FIBA European Championships U20 this summer.

Editor’s Note: Rafael Uehara is the managing editor of ‘Basketball Scouting’. More of his work can be found here or at RealGM, where he is a regular contributor. He can be followed on twitter as @rafael_uehara

Standard
3D wing, Stretch Big

Jonathan Isaac Scouting Report

CONTEXT

After Thon Maker was ruled eligible, it was reported in February that Jonathan Isaac was also considering declaring for the 2016 draft straight out of high school. But the NBA informed teams he was unlikely to be made eligible, so Isaac is taking the common path and will play college basketball for at least one season.

At Florida State, even with the departure of Malik Beasley, Isaac is joining other NBA prospects in Dwayne Bacon and Xavier Rathan-Mayes. It’s unclear if he will get enough shots to stand out but Isaac starts the season rated as lottery-caliber, according to the latest update on Draft Express’ mock draft.

That’s because Isaac looks like the prototypical combo forward for this era of basketball. At six-foot-10 with a seven-foot-one wingspan and a nine-foot standing reach, he is lengthy enough to defend close to the basket on one end while flashing enough ball skills to suggest he could become the sort of player who can make plays off the dribble on the other.

Every team in the league is looking for that sort of “big” who can draw opposing big men 25 feet away from the basket and force them to defend in space in a way they are not used to. But as is the case with most 19 year olds, Isaac is still a long way from materializing that sort of potential.

BALL SKILLS

The most appealing skill of Isaac’s is his ability to create off the bounce. IMG didn’t run a particularly sophisticated offense that got him catches with the defense already bent, so most of Isaac’s offense came out of straight isolations on the side of the floor.

His handle is only OK and his first step is not all that explosive but Isaac has proven able to shake opponents side-to-side and use a little bit of a hesitation move in order to get by them.

The few times he had a ball-screen to work with, Isaac didn’t seem to have much speed even on straight line drives but did showcase the ability to drive with either hand and some polish waiting for driving lanes to clear in front of him rather than desperately attacking the soonest he could.

Isaac, however, has not shown to be much of a passer working against a set defense at this point of his development. According to d1circuit.com, he accumulated only 20 assists and 27 turnovers in 14 appearances at the Nike EYBL circuit in the summer of 2015.

When he is able to go around his defender without much struggle, Isaac can get all the way to the basket. He has not yet shown much lift attacking the rim off the dribble with explosiveness or the ability to hang in air around traffic close the basket but has flashed nice touch on non-dunk finishes, converting 60.2% of his two-point shots at last year’s EYBL.

Isaac struggles when his defender can move his feet laterally and stay in front of him, though. He lacks strength in his thin 205-pound frame to absorb contact and maintain his balance, which often results in him forcing tough shots out of awkward positions.

Isaac is also an iffy decision maker with regards to his pull-up shooting when the defender takes away the path to the basket. He can make a shot off the bounce but isn’t particularly good at it at this point of his development, yet that fact that hasn’t deterred from taking many of them during games.

Isaac uses head fakes and also likes step-backs from time to time. These moves tend to get him good separation to get his shot off. He elevates with good balance, plus the arc and touch on his shot look OK. But there isn’t a lot of consistency in his misses; he doesn’t miss just short or just long or just off target.

WEAK-SIDE OFFENSE

Isaac is at his best at this point working as a weak-side threat.

He’s not substantially better a three-point shooter off the catch than he’s shown to be a mid-range shooter off the bounce, converting just a third of his 63 three-point shots in AAU ball last year.

But Isaac has flashed glimpses of instinctive cutting. He can catch the ball on the move, leap off the ground quite easily for someone his size and play above the rim as a target for lobs, not just diving baseline or diagonally in the half-court but also filling the lane in transition.

DEFENSE

Because of his frame, Isaac will be tried as a pure wing for parts of his career. As of now, guarding in space is not what he does best.

At the Nike Hoop Summit, Isaac was coached to pick up smaller players on switches a few times and failed to stay in front of them. He didn’t get low in a stance and didn’t show enough lateral agility to keep pace when these guards shook him side-to-side, though he used his length well to bother a shot from behind.

Contesting shots is what Isaac does best on defense, which is why he is probably best suited to defend close to the basket. He was the tallest player at IMG and when they played man-to-man, Isaac was essentially their center. Opponents tried posting him up to take advantage of his relative weakness at that position, as did the World Team at the Nike Hoop Summit. Isaac gave up ground often but was also tough to finish over due to his standing reach.

He is not a very impressive help defender yet but when he finds himself well positioned, Isaac is a legit shot blocking threat, able to elevate off the ground out of two feet in a pinch and swat close range attempts with his long arms.

The concern with him defending close to the basket regards rebounding. Isaac can pursuit the ball off the rim quickly and high-point it in impressive fashion at the high school level. But he didn’t show much attention to his boxout responsibilities, which might turn problematic as he rises through the ranks.

Editor’s Note: Rafael Uehara is the managing editor of ‘Basketball Scouting’. More of his work can be found here or at Upside & Motor and at RealGM, where he is a regular contributor. He can be followed on twitter as @rafael_uehara

Standard
Pure Passer, Tall Passer

Luka Doncic Scouting Report

With Sergio Rodriguez transferring to the NBA and Facundo Campazzo loaned to Murcia once again, expectation was that 17 year-old Luka Doncic was going to be a more active part of Real Madrid’s rotation this season, even after the signing of Don Draper – a favorite of head-coach Pablo Laso.

And that has not only materialized but the Slovenian phenom is also up to a very strong start. He’s logged 72 minutes against tough competition – Barcelona, Unicaja, Oklahoma City and Valencia – and as of now should probably be expected to log something like 1,500 minutes this year.

The biggest issue with teenagers at the pro level is the physical nature of the game but there is no such concern with Doncic. Real Madrid still lists him as a six-foot-six, 218-pounder but he’s come back from the summer noticeably taller and with a bulkier frame.

Doncic has consistently proven he has the strength to hold ground in the post against men 10-15 years older than him.

But more impressive was this drive against Victor Oladipo on a straight isolation, where Doncic was able to maintain his balance through contact and get all the way to the basket.

At that size and possessing that sort of strength to hold his own on defense against wings and even true big men on switches, Doncic provides tremendous flexibility for his coach to adjust lineups around him according to the opponent.

Against Unicaja, he struggled to defend Nemanja Nedovic, who blew by him on a couple of straight isolations.

Doncic also doesn’t navigate screens particularly well at this point of his development.

As he still works through those issues, Doncic should probably log most of his minutes this season alongside Draper, freeing him up to act as a weak-side defender more often. Doncic has some lapses in attention at times but has tremendous quickness closing out to spot-up shooters and preventing catch-and-shoot attempts.

And he’s also flashed some potential as a help defender, rotating inside to contest close range attempts.

Pairing him up with a point guard who matches up against opposing point guards is also what is best for Real Madrid on offense.

While Doncic has flashed the ability to go to the post now and again, he doesn’t often look to back down smaller opponents and Real Madrid’s offense is not too focused on exploring mismatches.

Doncic is at his most comfortable controlling the game 25 feet away from the basket and with a full view of the defense in front of him. He has phenomenal court vision and can anticipate passing lanes a second before they come open (though his high turnover rate continues to be a problem).

Doncic has proven he can be relied on to create offense on an every-possession basis, so it makes sense that Laso would prefer surrounding him with taller, lengthier, more threatening shooters like Jeffrey Taylor, Jonas Maciulus, Rudy Fernandez and Andres Nocioni, so he can build a more dynamic defensive lineup at the same time.

But the biggest advantage is forcing opponents to guard him with bigger wings who struggle navigating ball screens and generally defending in space, especially because Doncic can be a more dangerous scorer matched up against such types.

Doncic is not particularly explosive off the dribble, mostly relying on a sweet-looking floater to finish over length from the in-between area on dribble drives against a set defense.

But as he grows older and probably even stronger, the expectation is most of his interior scoring will come via bullyball; bulldozing his way to the basket (maintaining his balance through contact) or earning lots of free throws (five foul shots per 40 minutes so far this season).

At age 17, Doncic is already a rotation regular and a viable option to finish games for his team, which happens to be one of the five best in the continent and is expected to win every single game it plays but a few here and there against other giant powerhouses who spend just as much money. No other player in his age group has accomplished as much by this point.

Editor’s Note: Rafael Uehara is the managing editor of ‘Basketball Scouting’. More of his work can be found here or at Upside & Motor and at RealGM, where he is a regular contributor. He can be followed on twitter as @rafael_uehara

Standard